The capital of Alto Alentejo, Évora, a designated UNESCO World Heritage Site, is a historical curio. Considering its size and location, it’s also something of an architectural phenomenon. Its builders freely adapted whatever styles they desired, from Mudéjar to Manueline to Roman to rococo. Évora, once enclosed behind medieval walls, lives up to its reputation as a living museum. Sixteenth- and seventeenth-century houses, many with tile patios, fill nearly every street. Cobblestones, labyrinthine streets, arcades, squares with bubbling fountains, whitewashed houses, and a profuse display of Moorish-inspired arches characterize the town.
Many conquerors passed through Évora, and several left behind architectural remains. The Romans at the time of Julius Caesar knew the town as Liberalitas Julia. Its heyday was during the 16th-century reign of João III, when it became the Montmartre of Portugal; avant-garde artists, including the playwright Gil Vicente, congregated under the aegis of royalty.
Évora today is a sleepy provincial capital, perhaps rather self-consciously aware of its attractions. One local historian recommended to an American couple that they see at least 59 monuments. Rest assured that you could capture the essence of the town by seeing only a fraction of that. Évora is a popular day trip from Lisbon, but it’s a long trek, which doesn’t leave enough time to enjoy the town thoroughly. Most of the best shops in Évora are on Rua do 5 de Outubro, which leads from a point near the cathedral to the perimeter of the historic town. Beyond that, your best bet is wandering and window-shopping in the neighborhood around the cathedral.
Évora’s major festival is the Feira de São João, a folkloric and musical extravaganza. All the handicrafts of the area, including fine ceramics, are on display, and hundreds of people from the Alentejo region come into the city. The event, which takes place over the last 10 days of June, celebrates the arrival of summer. Food stalls sell regional specialties and regional dances are presented.
The town’s historic core contains a few sleepy-looking bars, any of which might strike your fancy as part of an after-dark pub-crawl. The bar of the Pousada de Évora, Lóios, is a dignified option for a drink in a historic setting. If you want to mingle and dance with the city’s high-energy Lisbon wannabes, head for Praxis Discoteca, which attracts both young locals and visitors to its precincts off Rua 5 de Outubro.