15 things to do in Reguengos de Monsaraz (Portugal)

The eastern corner of the Alentejo, just minutes from the Spanish border, was completely transformed in the early 2000s. At the time, the Alqueva Dam blocked the Guadiana River, flooding the valley and creating a huge body of water. Never mind that the lake is man-made; the reservoir and its banks are absolutely stunning and equipped with a beach and a water sports center.

Historically, the old village of Monsaraz was like a living museum, built on top of a slender hill, protected by medieval walls. At night, the town lights out so you can marvel at the glowing night sky.

Let’s explore the best things to do in Reguengos de Monsaraz:

1. Monsaraz Village

Monsaraz Village

The stunning village of Monsaraz is crammed into a ridge on top of a high mountain next to the Guadiana Valley.

The ancient core is surrounded by its walls, a fusion of medieval and early modern.

There’s a small car-free driveway lined with schist and whitewashed cottages with handicraft shops and traditional restaurants.

The quiet vibe and lack of cars here will make you feel like you’re in a time warp.

Come early in the morning to see the chapel, walking stick and Mannerist parish church.

On the east side there is a lookout (miradouro), where the Alqueva Reservoir is breathtaking in its cradle of fields of gold and dark green.

Although, to be honest, the views from all sides of the village are amazing.

2. Monsaraz Castle and Walls

Monsaraz castle and ramparts

You might be inspired to spend more time examining town fortifications.

The ridge was the perfect refuge for invaders, and the Moors, Visigoths, Romans and Bronze Age tribes all built forts here.

If you look around, you’ll find 500-year-old military buildings, all made of small schists.

The 17th-century fortifications are easily discernible from their low profile and diagonal slant: there is a metal pedestrian bridge on the east wall, from which you can overlook the remains of the fort.

This 13th-century castle is located on the highest point in the south of town.

Strangely, there is a small bullring surrounded by walls, and the view is even more spectacular.

3. Wine Tour

Herdade Do Esporão

In 2015, the European wine city network RECEVIN named Reguengos de Monsaraz “European Wine City”. There are seven cooperatives and wine estates in the countryside.

One of them is Herdade do Esporão, one of the most famous wine brands in Portugal.

Twenty years ago, they opened a wine tasting center and restaurant overlooking the rows of vines and the reservoir behind.

Red wines, which dominate this warm climate, are stored in a somewhat peculiar way: at Adega José de Sousa and some other local wineries, wines are matured in clay amphora, a method that dates back to Roman times.

4. Olaria de São Pedro do Corval

Olaria de San Pedro Docoval

As soon as you enter Kovar, you know that pottery is the lifeblood of the village: in fact, Kovar is known as the largest pottery center in Portugal.

The main road is lined with pottery and shops selling wares.

The pottery tradition here is prehistoric, making use of the rich clay deposits underground.

Corval has 26 pottery shops open, and in addition to browsing their exquisite offerings, you can go behind the scenes to see the master potters.

Also visit the Interpretive Centre at Casa do Barro to learn how the pieces are baked, painted, rebaked and glazed.

Corval’s specialty is plates, bowls and pots decorated with bucolic patterns.

5. Alqueva Reservoir

alqueva res.

When you’re faced with this huge body of water, it’s hard to believe there’s anything else here.

But the Alqueva Reservoir is less than 20 years old.

In 2002, during the construction of the multi-billion-dollar megastructure Alqueva Dam, the valley that branched off the Guadiana River was slowly flooded.

Even if the lake is man-made, it doesn’t detract from its charm.

Along the valley there are narrow creeks, while on the higher grounds are islands stranded in lakes, still adorned with olive, cork oaks and holm oaks.

Walkers and cyclists can ride on land, and there’s a lot more to do in the water, as we’ll find out later.

6. Reserva Dark Sky Alqueva

Alqueva Dark Sky Reserve, Alentejo, Portugal

Avid stargazers will need to pack their telescopes, as the towns along the Alqueva River all cooperate to keep artificial light to a minimum.

In the process, the region has been certified as a “Starlight Tourism Destination”, an initiative launched by UNESCO and the World Tourism Organization.

The climate of the Alentejo contributes to this, as there is little rainfall and few clouds.

There is a lot of flat countryside around, and the reserve’s night sky is vast and bright.

Constellations, nearby planets, and millions of other stars and other celestial objects stand out with an unimaginable sharpness unless you see them with your own eyes.

7. Observatório do Lago Alqueva

Observatório Do Lago Alqueva

Eight out of 10 nights of the year without light pollution and clear skies should put the lake’s observatory on your agenda.

Keep an eye on the weather forecast and you’ll see a dazzling show at this new attraction.

Meetings are of course nightly, starting around 21:30 in summer and continuing until 01:00. You’ll observe the sky with a bilingual guide who will point out the moon’s different planets, stars, craters, and moons traveling through the night sky.

Families with children will get easy-to-understand and fun demonstrations, but if you want more scientific knowledge, your guide can also dive into the physical makeup of galaxies and nebulae.

8. Cromeleque do Xerez

Cromeleque Do Xerez

The city of Reguengos de Monsaraz is full of prehistoric monuments, the most striking of which must be this cromlech near the shore of the reservoir.

This remained hidden until the 20th century and was not properly identified until the 1960s.

It was restored quickly, although the whole set had to move a bit after the Alqueva Dam was built.

The cromlech dates back 5,000 years or more, and there are 50 granite stones with the expected phallic shape.

They vary in height from 1.2 to 1.5 meters and are arranged in a square around a freestanding tall central stele.

9. Esporan Castle

Esporan Castle

This medieval castle tower is featured on the Herdade do Esporão wine label, and its image is known far and wide due to the brand’s popularity.

This whitewashed tower is located in a wine estate and was built in the second half of the 15th century by a nobleman of the Braganza family.

Following the discovery of the megalithic settlement on the estate in 1996, a solid vaulted portal leads to the prehistoric archaeological exhibition. A spiral staircase takes you to a parapet on the roof for a satisfying view of the flat vineyard.

Also see the hermitage of Nossa Senhora dos Remédios, with frescoes on its altar.

10. Ermida de Nossa Senhora do Rosário de Corval

Ermida De Nossa Senhora Do Rosário De Corval

The monastery, with its whitewashed walls and blue corners, dates back to the 1500s and was remodeled two centuries later.

It is a building that can be admired from the outside, especially its conical turrets and the jagged walls behind it.

Visit this chapel with a prehistoric megalith just a short walk away.

In the past, especially during droughts, people would make pilgrimages from the chapel to this stone, called Rocha dos Namorados.

This echoes the town’s pagan traditions, as the stone is associated with fertility, perhaps because of its faint resemblance to the womb!

11. Boulder

Rocha dos Namorados

Cromeleque do Xerez and Rocha dos Namorados are two of six megalithic sites near Reguengos de Monsaraz, so students of prehistory can explore.

Another outstanding museum is the Museu Megalítico José Maria da Fonseca, which has a 6,000-year-old stele in an indoor gallery.

You have to see this because the stone is engraved with images of prehistoric dimples and circles as well as trapezoidal axes, snakes and rods.

The display case has hand axes and other tools from the same era.

If you want more, head to the steles of Outeiro and Belhoa, and the funeral burial tomb of Olival da Pega.

12. Aldeia da Luz

Aldia Daluz

One of the victims of the Alqueva dam project is the village of Luz, which is located on a flood path.

In the early 2000s, it was decided to relocate the entire village 3 kilometers up the mountain.

It’s a tall order, and its residents will likely be on the same street and with the same neighbors as before.

It’s an incredible feeling, walking down the alley of a typical whitewashed house that’s only been here for 15 years.

The Museu da Luz will fill up with your information on the move, with a window facing the reservoir point where Luz used to be.

13. Praia Fluvial de Monsaraz

Praia Fluvial De Monsaraz

Over the past decade, the city government has established an activity center on the lakeshore.

One element is the river beach (Praia Fluvial de Monsaraz), which opened in 2017 and received a Blue Flag in its first year.

The beach has a strip of golden sand, bars, umbrellas, showers, picnic areas and sparkling clear waters.

You might be tempted to get out on the lake, and if so, Monsaraz Adventure lets you cruise one of Europe’s largest reservoirs in a canoe, stand-up paddle board, rowboat or even a yacht.

14. Alqueva Cruises

Cruzeiros Alqueva

The Centro Náutico De Monsaraz by the beach is the local boarding point for reservoir cruises.

Monsaraz Adventure and Cruzeiros Alqueva are two companies with a range of tours to choose from.

You can set sail in a group or privately, go fishing, find interesting spots on the shore, and dock on the islands of the reservoir.

Your guide will point out the wildlife that begins to inhabit the shore, and the stunning view of Monsalaz and its hilltop castle is the best reason to get on board.

And night stargazing cruises

15. Food

Alentejo bread

With all the goodies that come from the land, even a simple snack in the Alentejo can be a treat.

With a glass of wine, you can enjoy local olives, sheep or goat cheese, and cured sausages made from porco preto (free-range Iberian pigs). These are great with a slice of crusty Alentejano bread.

For a sit-down meal, the food at Monsalas is simple and satisfying.

We’re talking game like wild boar, hares, rabbits or partridges, or hearty stews with lamb or a mix or sausage and pork.

There was a time when a little bit went a long way, which is how recipes like açorda and migas came about, both of which turned leftover bread into meals with olive oil, meat, vegetables, and a little creativity.

Where to Stay: Best Hotels in Regan Gos de Monsalas, Portugal
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