Montemor-o-Novo is set in a picture-book-like hill scene covered in a layer of pale cork oaks. It’s an unpretentious town in the heart of the Alentejo countryside with some heavyweight sights to circle on your map. The Alentejo is full of prehistoric monuments, 12 in this municipality alone.
In the 17th century, a stone tomb gate was even converted into a chapel, and there are petroglyphs in the Escolar Cave here. The medieval castle of Montemor-o-Novo dominates the town, with ruins and views that will stop even the most jaded tourist.
Let’s explore the best things to do in New Montemore:
1. Castelo de Montemor-o-novo
The town’s castle has traces of three gates, the remains of a cistern, long ramparts and a Gothic bell tower.
There is also a guard house from around the 16th century with the coat of arms of King Manuel I above the door and a vault inside as well.
The Chapel of San Thiago dates back to the 1300s and hosts an exhibition about the site explaining its ancient origins and some of the events that took place here.
Once in 1495, at the court of King John II, plans were drawn up for Vasco da Gama’s voyage to India.
The church also has its own frescoes from the 1600s and 1700s, which are worth seeing.
2. Convento de Nossa Senhora da Saudação
Also within the castle walls, a few steps away from the crumbling stone building, is a Dominican monastery built in 1502. You can find some clues to this period on the main entrance and on the “Porta das Freiras” (Nun’s Gate), both covered by an armillary sphere.
It was a personal symbol of Manuel I, celebrating Portugal’s maritime power.
Dormitories and churches appeared in the second half of the 16th century.
The decoration in the church is a bit new, from the Filipino period in Portugal, when it was under Spanish control.
So the retable is in the style of the Royal School of Valladolid, with patterned coloured tiles, while the lower choir is adorned with frescoes in the vaults and green tiles on the walls.
3. Gruta do Escoural
A must-see for their prehistoric art, these caves were left in the late Paleolithic period, dating back 10,000 years.
This attraction has never been easier to visit as it was recently modernized with a new pedestrian bridge system and an interpretive center.
There are images of animals, mostly cows and horses, but also some odd hybrids.
Later, during the Neolithic period (5000-3000 BC), farming communities used caves to bury their dead, some of whose remains can be seen in the Interpretive Centre, where the paintings were also analysed in detail.
4. Capela-Anta de São Brissos
You’ve probably never seen anything quite like this little monument in Santiago Escoral.
Capela-Anta de São Brissos is a chapel built in the 1600s, but what makes it special is that it was built in a 5,000-year-old stone tomb that forms its altar.
Standing outside it is easy to figure out which part is prehistoric because the rear end of the church bulges out.
This section has three standing stones on which a horizontal slab rests.
5. Ermida de Nossa Senhora da Visitação
The highest hill northeast of Montemor-o-Novo has a trail that climbs from the edge of town to this small refuge.
The chapel was built during the Manuel period in the early 16th century, and there are hints of this architecture on the patterned stone door.
The interior walls have 18th-century tile panels with scenes from Mary’s life, and if you can get into the sacristy, pilgrims have left as many as 200 former votes over the centuries.
The oldest of these is 1799. Stay to investigate the town from the top of the hill and stop by the small cafe here near the hermit.
6. Igreja do Calvário
In the 1700s, the chapel, which had existed since 1593, was transformed into an impressive baroque church, equipped with a liturgical hall of the Fraternity of the Church (Order of the Brotherhood of Souls).
In the hall, now a sacristy, the walls are painted with blue and white varnishes painted in 1716. As for the old fittings in the church, including the pulpit and ornate tiled panels, there is a passionate painting painted in 1956 by the illustrious Azores artist Domingos Rebello.
7. Old Center Tour
The Tourist Office has developed a 16-stop walking tour on New Montemore’s network of cobblestone streets, stairs and small squares.
Street planning has not changed since the Middle Ages and the most inspiring traces you will see are the Manueline from the 1500s.
Some palaces from this period still stand, while the town’s monastery is intact and easily recognizable.
The route starts at the market hall at the turn of the century and beckons you past the mansion of Rua 5. de Outubro to the old town hall of Largo Paços do Concelho.
You’ll walk along Rua dos Almocreves, where a 13th-century arch leads to the 16th-century Espirito Sant’Andrea Hospital.
9. Santo Domingos Monastery
South of the old center, on Dr. Banhard Andrade, professor of Largo, is a baroque monument with some early Mannerist buildings.
The colorful 17th-century tiles in the nave and altar are a delight to the eye.
But the reason to put it in your itinerary is to visit the small museum in the monastery.
In addition to various ceremonial arts, there is archaeology (pottery and tools) from local prehistoric sites, and an exhibition of the bullfighting tradition of Montemore.
10. Piscina Municipal Montemor-o-Novo
When summer mercury temperatures are above 30, you know the charm of a small town outdoor pool.
Montemor-o-Novo is an hour from the coast, so it’s a good, cheap alternative if younger members of the clan need a cool place to go crazy.
The main complex is outdoors, with a full-size swimming pool with lanes for serious swimmers, alongside a spacious children’s pool with slides and fountains.
Surrounding the pool is a lovely meadow where you can plant a picnic under an umbrella.
11. Boulder Route
Impressive monuments left by the area’s prehistoric inhabitants are scattered throughout the countryside around Montmorrow.
Including Capela-Anta de São Brissos, a total of 12 routes can be found, and again all are included in the itinerary.
The steles and dolmens are approximately 5,000 years old, dating back to the time of human remains in the Escoral cave.
If all this prehistory piques your interest, the largest megalithic site in the region, in fact, the whole of Portugal and Spain is located in Almendres Cromlech half an hour’s drive away.
The monument was built 8,000 years ago, and archaeology shows that it was visited and changed over the next three thousand years.
12. Montado Rota
If you had to choose one image to sum up the Alentejo countryside, it would be an arid highland dotted with cork oaks.
These trees are never in dense bushes, but are scattered sparsely in the countryside.
Free-ranging pigs and cattle roam the grass between the trees, and acorns from the oak trees are a staple of these black pigs, which are raised for curing ham.
The Tourist Office has a route that allows you to enjoy this typical Portuguese landscape.
If you’re vacationing in a larger group, you can also book a tour of the cork factory for an insight into life in Alentejano.
13. Tapetes de Arraiolos
A short drive east will take you to the town of Araiolos, famous for its hand-woven rugs.
The craft has its origins in the Moorish period, and the historic former hospital houses an interpretive centre to introduce you to craftsmanship and patterns.
Hanging on the gallery walls are exciting works of needlework, some adorn stately homes, others Christian motifs from churches and monasteries.
There are antique looms, and most of the time, weavers will be in museums to show you how they were made, or even hand you needles and threads to try on your own.
14. Wine Tourism
The warm climate around Montmore provides us with full-bodied and very drinkable red wines.
These are usually a mix of Portuguese varieties, such as Touriga Nacional and Touriga Franca, and grapes, such as Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah.
You can easily make wine the theme of your entire holiday in Montmore.
Herdade do Menhir and Quinta da Plansel are just seconds from the city center and are happy to show you their vineyards and wineries, and offer tastings at the end.
Monte da Ravasqueira is right on Arraiolos and also has olive groves, so if you sit down for lunch here, a lot of the ingredients come straight from the countryside in front of you.
Alentejo food is simple and delicious, relying only on ingredients from the region.
A little that goes a long way in the past is the spirit of açorda, a thick paste made from leftover bread, eggs and olive oil.
Lamb and pork are at the heart of the traditional diet, and roasts and stews are seasoned with local wild herbs such as garlic, oregano, mint and coriander.
Snacks include empadas da galinha, small chicken pies, sold in bakeries.
Accompanying the full-bodied local wine is the soft cream cheese of Alentejo, which, like wine, has an appellation of origin.
Where to Stay: Best Hotels in New Montemore, Portugal
Lowest price guaranteed.