Located on the fertile right bank of the Tagus River, the town of Cartaxo is a sea of vineyards.
Wine is an integral part of Cartaxo’s story: every autumn, the town even elects the year’s vineyard king and queen.
Whether you’re cruising through old churches or traditional fishing communities with wooden houses built on stilts, there’s plenty of little things to see and do in the city.
Bullfighting is still a way of life in the Ribatejo region, with bullfights taking place during the summer months, while a more family-friendly activity might be horseback riding on a sprawling estate in the countryside.
Let’s explore the best things to do in Cartaxo:
1. Igreja de São João Batista
The parish church of Cartaxo has all the characteristics of a Portuguese place of worship: the walls of the altar have typical blue and white glazing (painted glazed tiles), reminiscent of the life of St. John the Baptist.
Finally, there is the main altar, shining in the baroque gilded wood that was all the rage in Portugal in the 18th century.
An inscription on the façade records the church’s dedication in 1522, replacing the church that had been here since 1329.
2. Cruzeiro Manuelno
The magnificent cross on the side of the parish church was carved in the early 1500s.
During this period, during the reign of King Manuel I, the prevailing style of art and architecture was a decorative fusion of High Gothic and Renaissance, known as Manuel.
The cross representing Senhor dos Aflitos Crucificado (Lord of the Martyrs of the Martyrs) has the same characteristics: the complexity and level of craftsmanship is fascinating, the figures that adorn the cross and the columns are so small that you need to stand up to close and examine them thoroughly.
It’s also surprising to think that it was all hewn from a single piece of stone.
3. Museu Rural e do Vinho do Cartaxo
You can learn about Cartaxo’s agricultural roots in this fine museum in an old farmhouse (quinta). The museum opens a window into the everyday life of Catasso in the first decades of the 20th century.
The original wine cellar has been restored, with extensive display of typical clothing and utensils such as saddles, farm implements, bullfighting gear and copper stills.
This was all complemented by the vivid archival photography of the time.
You can also walk into the period bistro, which is decorated with retro posters and antique wooden furniture in a recreated interior.
4. Capela do Senhor dos Passos
This chapel on Rua Mouzinho de Albuquerque in Cartaxo was also built in the early 16th century and was once part of the mansion Casa e Solar dos Sousa Lobatos.
The house was the headquarters of General Wellington in 1810, so he may have prayed here.
The chapel, built in the Manueline style, is evident on the façade, where there is a simple and elegant portal covered with coat of arms.
The high point inside is the coffered ceiling of the altar and the decorative arches between the altar and the nave.
5. Centro Cultural Município do Cartaxo
If you find yourself in Cartaxo at night and have no plans, the Municipal Cultural Center should have something.
Opened in 2005, this modern building used to be the town’s cinema.
It is a multidisciplinary venue with two auditoriums that hosts live music, theatre, dance and regular screenings of new films.
If your Portuguese isn’t up to par, this can be a good option, as the films shown in Portugal come with English audio.
6. Aldeia de Palhota
Away from the tourist trails, Palhota is a fishing village at the end of a long trail that stretches from the main road to the riverbank.
It’s no exaggeration to say that it’s like stepping back in time, as the people of Parjota still live off the river.
Villages like this were born at the turn of the 20th century, when families of fishermen moved from the coast to the Tagus River.
Fishing gear is everywhere, there’s a rickety pier and a couple of painted weatherboard houses standing on stilts to avoid flooding.
Palhota came to the attention of the Portuguese in the 20th century, when famous writer Alves Redol spent months living and writing about the local fishing community.
“Quintas” are Portuguese farmhouses with large plots of land attached.
These properties may be hundreds of years old, but what usually comes to mind is a baroque mansion from the 1700s.
The city of Catasso has many such examples, and the good news for tourists is that there are five attractions to take part in the countryside.
They are Quinta de Baia de Baixo, Quinta do Gaio de Cima, Quinta das Malhadas, Quinta da Marchanta and Quinta da Broiera.
Often, you can take horseback riding lessons with Lusitano horses, swim, take a treetop assault course, and the little ones can feed the farm animals.
8. Estátua de Marcelino Mesquita
While it’s a small sight, the statue honors the prolific turn-of-the-century writer Marcelino Mesquita, probably Cartaxo’s most famous son.
He was a noted playwright, journalist and poet, and after his death in 1919, local newspapers raised funds for a statue in his honor.
Conceived by one of the most important sculptors of the time, Leopoldo de Almeida, it has been in the square in front of the town hall since 1956. There is a small garden next to it, where the elderly residents bask in the sun under the deciduous trees.
9. Praçade Toiros do Cartaxo
This town, like many others on the Ribatejo plain, has a centuries-old tradition of bullfighting.
Cartaxo’s current bullring held its first bullfight in 1874. It can now hold 5,500 spectators, filling the summer’s “corridas” program.
If that sounds like your thing, Cartaxo’s tourist office will give you the details of your next battle.
In Portuguese bullfighting, the bull is not killed in the ring, but it’s still not for everyone.
If you’re more interested in viewing the arena, there are occasional summer concerts in this impressive space.
10. Igreja de Nossa Senhora da Purificação
The parish church in Pontével dates back to the 1100s, although it has seen many updates since then.
Most of the buildings today are from the 1600s, with some interesting accessories from before that date.
You can’t miss the bright carpet-like tiles on the walls, which may be as old as the 1500s, along with the tombs of some of Ponteville’s more prominent figures.
The fine baptismal font was made in the 1600s and is about the same as the frescoes on the altar ceiling.
The three altars are slightly younger, with sinuous gilt wood carvings in the style of the 1700s.
11. Eleição do Rei e da Rainha das Vindimas
This lighthearted custom is approaching its 30th anniversary.
Every fall, when the grapes are harvested in September or October, the king and queen of the vineyard are crowned based on qualities such as the candidate’s skill and knowledge (or so they call it). All young people from Cartaxo’s six parishes are competing for the honor, which is meant to put Cartaxo’s wines on the map and strengthen local customs and culture.
Until 2014, there was only one Queen of the Vineyards, but for gender equality, there will be another king each year.
12. Falcoaria Real
In Portugal, the art of falconry is a UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage, so it is always a privilege to see a well-trained falcon up close.
You can do this at Salvaterra de Magos, a picturesque road that crosses the Tagus River, through vineyards and farms.
The town once had a royal palace, but it burned down in 1824, leaving only a chapel and the Royal School of Falconry.
In the mansion there is an exhibit about the Portuguese royal family’s relationship with falconry, and you’ll visit the historic aviary to see the birds up close and watch a live flight demonstration.
The flat countryside of the Ribatejo plain is broken by the romantic medieval city of Santarem, ruled from abrupt cliffs.
With kilometers of low-lying terrain to the south, east and west, it’s not hard to see why the city has been a strategic treasure since prehistoric times: you can see for miles from the plains of Portas do Sol, which It is a garden on the walls of the castle of Santarem.
Splendid Gothic churches (such as Igreja da Graça) and the ornate Parish Museum of Sacred Art underscore the city’s exalted status.
The town of Cartaxo named itself “Capital do Vinho” in 1988 because the countryside of Cartaxo is full of vines. This is a major tourism and agricultural initiative, and also hosts the annual Festa do Vinho, a four-day fair and band fair for us.
The fertile soils of the river plains, and the climate moderated by the Tagus and the Atlantic Ocean, provide us with highly rated, balanced wines.
The two main growing areas of Cartaxo are “Campo” for white wines made from Fernão Pires, Arinto, Chardonnay or Sauvignon Blanc, and “Bairro” for red wines made from Touriga Nacional, Merlot, Carignan or Syrah.
15. Local Food
Since the discovery of the New World, the Tahoe plains have been harvested in abundance and grown for pão de milho (cornbread). Buy a loaf of this very aromatic bread at a bakery, or taste it in migas, which are soaked in water and fried in olive oil and garlic.
Ribatejo has many recipes passed down from generation to generation: Sopa da pedra “Stone Soup” with beans, bacon and sausage, the stone is not an actual ingredient but part of a humorous origin story.
Open-minded diners can indulge in other rustic dishes such as pork trotters, roasted goat or mullet with lemon pepper sauce.
Where to stay: The best hotels in Cartaxo, Portugal
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