Convento São Francisco de Mértola
Things to do and see
The stunning town of Mértola is perched high on the banks of the Guardiana and Oeiras rivers, guarded by the town's impressive Moorish castle.
The town boasts several small but superb museums, including the Casa Romana (Roman House; ingeniously displayed under the Town Hall), Museu Islâmico (Islamic Museum), Museu de Arte Sacra (Museum of Ecclesiastical Art), and Museu Paleocrista\~o (Palaeo-Christian Museum). These provide an excellent historical context to this medieval town, not to mention creative inspiration.
The town and surrounds form part of the Parque Natural Vale do Guadiana, whose rivers and valleys are full of birds and excellent walks.
Only 15km away from Mértola is São Domingos, which features an eerily captivating disused mine and mining ghost town, plus a beautiful lake - great for swimming - with sandy beach.
The walled town of Beja, is only 50km from Mértola and is linked by a daily bus service.
Beja was an important Roman centre. Today, several interesting museums grace the old town, including the Convento de Nossa Senhora da Conçeiçao & Museu Regional, with religious and interesting Roman artefacts.
Writers may relish in the fact that the Convento de Nossa Senhora da Conçeiçao was the site of the love affair between a nun and soldier that lead to the highly controversial Letters of a Portuguese Nun, (now published in several languages).
Artists will love the Jorge Vieira Museum, housing a changing collection of sculptures by the Portuguese artist.
A new archaeological museum - revealing Islamic and Roman constructions - will inspire the designer in all of you, as will the Visigothic Museum which houses beautiful, original columns with fascinating carvings.
Alcoutim, 40km south of Mértola on the Guadiana River, makes an enjoyable brief visit. A 14th-century castle (containing an excellent archaeological museum) looms over the town, facing a similar castle on the opposite riverbank - in the Spanish village of Sanlúcar. Ferries run across the river - you can head there for Spanish tapas.
Alcoutim's river bank has a small and pleasant sandy beach, even with its own lifeguard.
This small, quaint place, 60km from Mértola and only 3km north of Vila Real, holds many surprises. Not only does it have a castle (yes, another one!), but there are some fascinating walks around the area, covering salt pans to mountains, nature trails to villages. The village is on the edge of the marshy Reserva Natural do Sapal de Castro Marim, a popular area for flamingos (and for bird watchers).
Vila Real de Santo António
Vila Real de Santo António is the transport hub for connections to Mértola. If you are filling in a day, head 65km to the built-up, but vast, sandy beach of Monte Gordo, or wander through Vila Real's quaint streets.
Other towns in the Alentejo region accessible from Mértola and worth researching and are:
LOCAL CUISINE OF ALENTEJO
The Alentejan cuisine is marked by its hearty, robust nature and local produce. Specialties include game dishes - partridge, rabbit, hare and wild boar. Herbs feature heavily in the cuisine, as do pork and bread. Admittedly, vegetarians might find it a bit tricky to eat in Alentejan restaurants... but they will find plenty of fresh, sweet herbs at the Convento to flavour their own creations. Besides which, there are plenty of fresh vegetables and products available at the local market and small shops around Mértola.
Useful links: www.rt-planiciedourada.pt