We have left the big city of Lisbon for the small city of Évora, deep in the heart of Portugal. It was once a Roman town, from the second century BC to the fourth century AD. It had wheat and silver, and it was fortunate to be located on a trade route to Rome. The Moors eventually took over, and left their mark design-wise and 15th/16th century kings visited often.
Today it is a university town with many retirees, missing a few generations in the middle.
We have barely scratched the surface, using this as a travel day and the chance to have a nice meal here, as the town is known for good food.
But we’ve peeked down a few alleys, located the laundromat, and have a sense of the size of the old center, which is very well-preserved. Many of the buildings are decorated with yellow, believed to repel evil spirits, which I am all in favor of. Very little tile work here, but maybe there is less need, due to less humidity.
Our hotel is built into the old city wall, begun by the Romans and updated in the 14th century. The original Roman aqueduct was restored in the 16th-century and is also part of our view.
The wall is in high contrast to the modern style of this building, which – unlike most Roman edifices – seems to sacrifice function for form. (Witness the sleek lines of the oh-so-painful desk chair.) We are not sure we want to meet the fellow travelers who demanded a picture window into their bathroom from the bedroom, but this is one of the stylish design choices made by the builder of this so-called fancy place. Thank goodness there is a screen we can lower to preserve a bit of privacy in these troubled times. But I ask again – who are the people who think this is a great addition to the overall hotel experience? Identify yourselves and then leave the room.
While I’m ranting about form over function, allow me to share a glimpse of the major railroad station in Lisbon. Clearly another victim of excessive EU beneficence, this monster rivals New York’s Port Authority for its brutalistic use of poured concrete, and its ability to inflict confusion on its users. The train was lovely, but the station was a horror. Would hate to be there on a dark and cold winter night without a lot of people around. It’s a mugger’s paradise.
Don’s Food Corner
The guidebooks promise that this region of Portugal — the Alentejo region — is a culinary highlight of the country and different than any other. OK, we’ll try it and stick to regional specialties. And since we are at it and have survived on sandwiches the last few days while battling the crowds in and around Lisbon, we decided to go to the most traditional and finest restaurant in town. We were able to get a reservation via the hotel when we checked in. And a good thing, too, because those without reservations were turned away.
Though we are inland, fish still featured prominently on the menu, although there were plenty of lamb, pork, beef and rabbit choices available. I went for a regional fish stew with rice specialty called arroz de tamoril. The rice along with clams, shrimp and succulent chunks of some type of white fish was all cooked within a thin tomato broth that seemed to also feature cilantro. It was a cousin of risotto, but not as dense and heavy. I also had a very nice glass of local red wine I’d call “full bodied.”
Jo started with a delicious vegetable soup that proved there is more than one version in Portugal. She next had a large piece of pan-fried sole served boned in a very light flour dusting. A very nice job on this delicate fish. A large salad accompanied her choice.
A highlight, however, was one of the many starters that are automatically brought to the table at every Portuguese restaurant meal. These little dishes are spread out in front of you and if you try any one of them you’ve bought the dish. None of this comes gratis with a meal — including the bread. If you don’t want any — or all — of these dishes you wave them away. But today with some bread we tried a fantastic creamy sheep’s milk cheese. What we didn’t realize at the time is that the cheese is a specialty of Évora made from unpasteurized sheep’s milk. As with the real Camembert cheese in France made from unpasteurized milk, today’s delight could never be found in the U.S., where cheeses made from unpasteurized anything are illegal. We didn’t die from the Camembert in France and I doubt we will die from the pasteurized sheep’s milk version we had today. But we will soon find out. If we live, we will search it out daily as long as we’re here.
For a little dessert, we shared a slice of a local moist and heavy cake made of almonds, lots of cinnamon and lots of egg yolks. It was a little too treacly for our taste, but the waiter was so proud of it that we expressed total delight, for which he gave us total approval.
It was the best meal we’ve had so far in Portugal.