Marvão village and Serra de São Mamede seen from the castle walls

9 Reasons To Visit Marvao Castle And Medieval Village

When I first visited Marvão, in the Alto Alentejo region of Portugal, I was on foot and weary after a couple of botched attempts to follow a walking trail uphill to the village. After eventually finding the correct cobbled path through the cork oaks, I emerged in a fairy tale setting of whitewashed stone cottages, crowned by the gorgeous Marvão castle. This more than compensated for the adventures involved in getting there.

I was instantly smitten but this was back in the days before I started blogging about Portugal. I’ve been wanting to share my love of Marvão with you but wanted to make sure my information was current before writing this post. To that end, 10 years later I made a return trip and spent a couple of nights discovering what to do in Marvão and the surrounding area.

See my Marvão accommodation picks if you’re thinking of staying overnight

1. Gaze at magnificent views

This time, I arrived by car in time for the sunset and made a beeline for the balcony at our guesthouse only for the wind to practically blow us back indoors. We weren’t too concerned as we knew we had the whole of the following day to enjoy the privileged views.

Imagine the disappointment when we woke up the next day to find ourselves in the middle of a cloud! We could barely see 20 metres in front of us.

Thankfully this mist cleared by about 10 am to reveal the picture-perfect castle in all its glory as well as the surrounding plains, lakes and Serra de São Mamede mountains. By the afternoon on our second day, the weather was warm enough for us to sit on the balcony with a glass of Alentejo wine.

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2. Conquer Marvão Castle

Marvão Castle was started in 876 by an Islamic knight and taken over by King Afonso I’s Christian army in the 12th century. Various innovative military reinforcements and embellishments were added over the course of the next five centuries and despite Spanish attacks in the 18th century, the castle is in remarkable condition.

The garden in front of the castle adds to its photo-worthiness but the views across the village and landscape are the best part.

Tip: I struggled to find the oval ‘window’ that I had taken a photo through last time. It’s right opposite the ticket office.

Another tip: Buy the €2.50 combo ticket that covers entrance to the Marvão Museum.

Marvao Castle is open daily from 10 am to 5 pm.

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3. Discover quirky artefacts in Marvão Museum

I’ve been in many village museums over the years and consequently had fairly low expectations of Marvão’s. I might even have skipped it if we hadn’t been waiting for the mist to clear. I’m more than glad we went inside.

Housed inside St. Mary’s church, with its frescoes of saints and dragons and decorated chapels, the small museum contains artefacts donated by the local community. Where else could you find such oddities as furry knee pads for pilgrims and contraceptive soap balls?

Open Tuesday to Sunday from 10 to 12:30 and 1:30 to 5 pm.

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4. Find your favourite letter box

As Jules and I wandered around the cobbled village streets in the fog, I noticed a rather unusual letter box built into the walls of a cottage.

Then I noticed another.

And another.

It seems that Marvão is full of unique postal orifices!

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5. Shop for gifts and gourmet produce

Such a quaint village is bound to attract visitors and a natural extension of this is the sprinkling of souvenir shops and gourmet stores. Some of them stock good quality crafts from around the region, such as O Poial da Artesão. If you won’t have the opportunity to visit the pottery village of São Pedro do Corval near Monsaraz, this is a good place to buy ceramics.

We were lured into Marvão Com Gosto gourmet grocery store by the bags of home made cookies on display in the doorway. The friendly owner gave us some samples and pointed to a narrow window through which we could see his wife busy making a fresh batch. I can highly recommend both the ginger and oat snaps. They also sell a range of Portuguese foods to be enjoyed here or to take home with you.

Mercearia da Vila is a useful combination of mini market that serves the needs of the local population as well as offering a range of carefully selected crafts and gourmet food and drinks.

Another gem of a store is the artist’s shop within the castle. Dutch watercolourist, Leone Holzhaus, paints adorable lifelike watercolours of typical country scenes, such as women doing laundry in the communal tank or old men gathered on a bench.

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6. Top up your reserves in an atmospheric café

There are a few cafés scattered around Marvão. Among our favourites was the one that’s part of the cultural centre, Natural Bar, which was presumably an old grocery store or adega, judging by the counter. It now has an eclectic collection of furniture and serves nibbles and drinks including wine and craft beers.

My other top tip is O Castelo. In summer you can enjoy the views from the outdoor terrace or cosy up by the open fireplace in winter. It’s attached to Varanda do Alentejo, which serves lunch.

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7. Explore the countryside on horseback

I wasn’t sure that horse riding was going to be such a good idea. Both me and my friend have gained weight over the years and neither of is a particularly experienced or confident rider so we were somewhat concerned about overburdening and controlling the animals.

We needn’t have worried. Caballos Marvão issued us with sturdy placid horses as requested and took us on a leisurely hack along old smugglers’ routes. Their farm has enviable views of Marvão and the surrounding countryside is really pretty.

Sara told us plenty about the area as we plodded along and surprised us by ending the experience with wine and Spanish cured meat (her family are from across the border) in their courtyard.

Horse riding near Marvão
Horse riding near Marvão

8. Get your walking shoes on

I am going to have to come back (poor me) to do some more walking in this area with a more willing companion. Thanks to Alentejo Feel Nature, there are several marked hiking trails of varying lengths and difficulty, as you’ll see from the map on this page.

9. Go for a swim at the river beach

At the foot of the hill, there’s a small village called Portagem. As well as having a great seasonal outdoor pool, there’s a river beach so you can pick your bathing spot to cool off on summer days.

If you’re not sure what to expect from Portuguese river beaches, see this post.

Marvão river beach, Portela
Marvão river beach, Portela

Where to stay in Marvão

We stayed at Casa do Arvore and chose it primarily for the views from the shared balcony. The husband and wife team have been running the guesthouse for many years and offer a warm welcome. If you’re looking for a simple, cosy place to stay with stunning views and parking outside, it hits the spot. Check availability and reviews.

For a more upmarket stay, consider the 4-star Pousada de Marvão, which combines comfort, style and charm with stunning views from the dining room, seating area and balconies in some of the rooms. There is parking but it’s limited and a bit tricky when full. Check current prices and availability

The 3-star hotel El-Rei Dom Manuel is in the heart of Marvão and offers classically decorated clean, comfortable rooms and good service. The onsite restaurant is very good and there’s ample easy parking outside the hotel. See reviews and photos

If you’d rather stay closer to the main road and the swimming pool/river beach, the modern 3-star Hotel Sever Rio is a good option and has a decent restaurant onsite, not to mention great views of Marvão perched on its hill. Check availability and prices

BEFORE YOU GO...

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18 Comments

  1. Sorry but I find your comments completely unnecessary. Julie is sharing amazing information and I love Marvão – it’s so beautiful and picturesque. Go there in early morning or late afternoon, get lost in the small back streets and come back again here to talk.

  2. It’s long been on my list, Julie, despite the killjoy from Spain. Each to his own but with enough time I’d like to pop over for a look. The views are fabulous and I love the postboxes too. 🙂 🙂 Thanks for sharing.

    1. Author

      I think you’ll enjoy it, Jo 🙂

    2. Not a killjoy, just someone who lives here. I have seen Marvao go from a really forgotten little place with derelict houses, to a tourist trap. It is still pretty but always was overrated. And over priced. The only thing special about it is the view from the top. You can get similar in Castello de Vide, which is not so twee, or even Portalegre. If you want old walled places, Alberquerque’s Villa Adentro is older and better preserved than Marvao, Not quite so picturesque but when the Medieval festival is on, who cares?And the approach to the town from any angle equals Marvao So how the hell am I a killjoy For telling you warts and all, not on commission and giving you new places to see? Weird

  3. Marvao is getting a bit posh tourist/snobby expats. I don’t go there anymore. The swimming pool at Portagem is just that. Portagem is dull as hell, Castello de Vide is a bit touristy too but worth a walk around if you can do hills. And no mention of Portalegre? It’s more than supermarkets and Chinese bazaars! The old town is just what you expect. Big market every 3rd Sunday. And a carpet museum. What about the dolmens, The Roman remains scattered about? I think you are missing the fact that this is borderland. The people who live here don’t. Marvao and Badajoz have a big dual festival celebrating the Moors every year. Marvoa has just had one celebrating the Romans. Then there is the chestnut festival which is a joy. If you can find anywhere to park. Lol You forgot to mention it is 5kms up a mountain road and not much parking up there. Ooh there is the bone chapel at Campo Maior. To be honest I find Portugal boring and much prefer my side of the border. Sorry :))
    But if we are talking Serra Mamede . no that’s boring too. Alegrete, with a castle an 8 year old described as disappointing, I live here, believe me folks, it is being Massively oversold. My side is better, but only just and the food is rubbish either side. Marvao wil be ok because that is the way they took it, but you will have precious little else to do. If that is all you what you want to do , perfect
    As for swimming, La Codosera on the Spanish side is beautiful Way better than Portagem, Alberquerque is a Medieval delight, all within reach of Marvao. Just adding information

    1. Author

      Thanks for your insights, Shelagh 🙂

    2. Wow, what a Debbie Downer….This is a Blog for Portugal not Spain……

      1. Not a downer at all. Somebody who actually lives here and isn’t on commission tells you warts and all, tells you of festivals no one who wasn’t a local would know about, suggests other places to see, and that is a downer?? The very fact that we are interlinked aroud here: Marvoa and Badajoz share a festival in honour of the Muslim times and the Alentajo and Extremadura work together on tourism, they are intermarried, bilingual, but you aparently want to screech to a halt at the border seems very odd to me. If this was about the Algarve, of course I would not mention Spain. But it isn’t, its about border country that mixes and blends and has done for centuries. For instance I could take you to a bridge that claims to be the smallest international border bridge in Europe, if not the world. it’s in a village, or two, which is El Marco on the Spanish side and Marco on the other. Or the other way around, I never remember. It’s about 30 houses altogether and they are one community. If you want to do tourist, fine, if you want to actually get an understanding of where you have been…..

  4. We loved Marvao! The castle was great,so where the tiny cobbled streets. We stayed at the pousada,very nice,and since it was march,lower priced.Both the pousada dining room and a charming place at the bottom of the mountain just beyond the gate offered really great food and wine.

    1. Author

      Hi Collette, happy to meet a fellow Marvão fan. It’s such an easy place to love, isn’t it?

  5. Hi Julie! Thanks for this. I was interested to see what you had to say as this is one of our favourite corners of Portugal. I’ve never been in the museum, but will try to fit it in next time!
    Our favourite place to stay is in fact the Rio Sever, at Portagem – not least because of its restaurant (I’d say excellent rather than decent) serving traditional Alentejo dishes, including several types of game (hare, partridge, pheasant, etc. at very reasonable prices.

    Also worth a mention are the Roman ruins of Ammaia, just a short way to the south of Portagem, with a great view of Marvão, especially when the early evening sun turns the rock pink or gold!

    1. Robert, completely agree about the restaurant at Rio Sever.We spent a week in the area and ate there 3 times. As you say, excellent – though it was 18 months or more ago, and alas, chef’s sometimes move on. I will certainly give it a second try next time we are there.

      1. chefs, not chef’s – it’s the pedant in me.

    2. Author

      If it hadn’t involved a drive after dark, we’d have tried the Sever restaurant for sure. I think I’d probably stay at Rio Sever next time so should get the chance to try the food. Good to know that Ammaia is worth a visit – we considered it but ran out of time.

      1. It is hardly ever open, and not much Better to do the weird route from Castello de Vide that will take you on a 7 km circular route journey where you will see dolmens Roman graves, Medieval olive mills, sacred stuff. One Dolmen is 7 feet high. The highest in Europe or something But like all of the stuff on this route you can’t actually go to it It’s a bit like an archaeological safari park, you just gaze from the car. Lovely ride though And big ressie with some bars and places to park a van.

  6. Spent almost 3 weeks Sept 2017 driving throughout Portugal and Marvao was one of our absolute favourite stops. Such a pretty and charming town, we wish we had spent longer than our 1 night there. Stayed at the El Rei Dom Manuel which was excellent..had the room with the little terrace which was great to relax with a glass of wine and enjoy the views after wandering the town and before dinner. Loved the well preserved castle and gardens as well as the artists shop inside. Enjoyed this review of Marvao…and the opportunity to relive our visit. Would love to come back to stay again in Marvao (and Portugal) someday.

    1. Author

      Hi Susan, I’m so happy to hear that you enjoyed Marvão, and reading about it! We ate at El Rei Dom Manuel both nights but your tip about the room is a winner!

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