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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
It seems that Marvão is full of unique postal orifices!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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