Sorry for taking so long on our travel posts. They take a bit more time and effort....I want get things right.
Anyway, it was a bright Monday when we left Lisbon for Evora, the largest city in the region of Alentejo, which stretches from East of the Tagus river to the Spanish border. It is a vast stretch of land, taking up one-third of Portugal's land area, but is also the least populated region of Portugal as well. Evora is about an hour and a half to two hours from Lisbon via bus, or like we did, by train. The rail line from Lisbon to Evora had just reopened as of 2012, so we decided to try it out.
We left from the amazingly designed Orient Station, which is one of the major hubs in Lisbon, linking both commuter and international trains, the metro, and many major buses.
The station was designed to coincide with the 1998 World's Fair. The station supposedly services 75 million passengers a year. It really didn't seem too busy, but that could be because of how laid-back Portugal is.
The train ride seemed a lot quicker than an hour and a half and we arrived in Evora and got into cab in no time at all. We were staying at the Albergaria do Calvario. This boutique hotel gets tons on rave reviews on travel sites and there's a reason why. It's probably one of our favorite places we've ever stayed at...which says a lot. The service was exceptional, not too cloying, but just perfect for us. We arrived before our room was ready, which we were prepared for. What really surprised us was the fantastic one on one service when we arrived.
One of the staff brought us refreshment and sat down with to discuss what activities we desired, handing us a booklet with all the information. Everything from tours of the local wineries to private visits to the megaliths or nearby villages. It became obvious that the folks running the Albergaria do Calvario really want you to enjoy and appreciate the area.
I soon mentioned food and the young lady brightened up. Alentejo is renown for Black Iberian Pig, known as Alentejano. Megaliths and all that is great, but I'm here for the black pig, which I learned is raised on acorns which is what they claims gives the pig all of it's wonderful marbling. The young lady turned the book over to a listing of restaurants. Which actually matched my list! She was totally honest in her assessments and helped us make our decisions. Eventually, the front desk even made reservations for what might be our favorite dinner of the trip. More on that later.
The city of Evora boasts a population of about 60,000. Ask folks from outside the Alentejo about Evora and after the swooning mention of black pork, they'll use the phrase "medieval city". The center of Evora is surrounded by walls built in the 14th century, but has a history going back 2,000 years. During the 16th century, the city was declared an archbishropic and had it's own Archbishop and much prestige until the decline of the Avis line, the banishment of the Jesuits in the 18th century closed the famous university, sending Evora into decline. The city inside the walls is beautifully preserved and it's easy to see all the sites in a couple of hours, making Evora a favorite of day tours.
We had a place in mind for lunch....the only place on the list that took no reservations, with good reason as you'll soon see. Off the tourist path, the back streets of Evora are winding and charming. It's hard to get lost here; the middle of the city is set upon a hill and somehow you'll always end up there, staring at the Roman Temple.
Which is quite a surprise to see! It was built either in the first or second century by the Romans who conquered the city in 57 B.C. and rules it until the city was taken by the Moors in 715. In the 14th century, the temple was covered up and was used as the foundation of a butcher shop, which probably helped to preserve it. We found the temple as fascinating landmark. We passed it so many times, that we noticed how it seemed so different during various times of the day.
Across the way from the temple is a small, but quaint park, Largo da Porta de Mouro.
Which is also a nice place for the view......
By now, our lunch destination was set to be open in a few minutes. We headed down the winding streets and waited by the entrance to Boutequim de Mouaria.
The owner saw us through the window, opened the door, and welcomed us in. It's a husband and wife team manning what looks basically a 10-12 seat bar.
It's small plates here. No wonder they don't take reservations! The menu is small, but tight and full of local specialties.
So......I'm sure you've heard of Jamón ibérico, right? The treasured cured ham from Spain. Well, I mentioned the Black iberian Pigs from Alentejo, right? Meet some absolutely fantastic presunto pata negra, carved from a leg mounted on the back counter of the bar.
Man......smooth and rich, with a flavor so savory it edged on sweet. Now this was good eating!
I saw something in the menu called "Cabeza de Xara". Now, I really didn't know what it was going to be, but had an idea. Plus, if it was head of anything, it was bound to be good. This was a wonderful head cheese.
Nice and swiney, with a hint of preserved sourness. This was major delicious.
The Missus saw Quail Eggs with Linguisa on the menu and we had to order it.
So simply cooked, with a presentation that has stayed with us. The quail eggs had much more flavor than what we get at the market here. The sausage was very nice and crisp, mild smokiness, wonderful seasoning. The sausage had been cooked to render some of the fat to help get the eggs started.
The owner came over and served us this dish appropriately.
Next up were some local mushrooms with olive oil.
The mushroom are very meaty and earthy. This is another dish that I've learned to make....it seems simple, but there's an important way of making it. We had a better version the next evening.
Well, by this time I had to give in and get a Sagres. At which time the owner brought me some house made "chips"....because....well, I had to have that with my beer.
Next up was the eggs with local baby asparagus.
The Missus, who loves eggs just went ga-ga over this. Something so simple, yet so tasty. The asparagus was so tender and sweet, that I had a hard time believing it was actually asparagus. Until I had some verification later in the day. So simple.........man, this was good.
It was one of those meals.......we didn't want it to end. So we decided to get one more thing...what they call "flour sausage".
Also known as Farinheira, this is a sausage made with mostly wheat and pork fat. It had a really strong paprika flavor and a mushiness that was kind of weird to us. You could also taste the flour, which made me think of bad gravy for some reason. Loved the tomatoes drenched in olive oil and garlic....would eat that all day, but these sausages were tough.....the Missus ate part of one piece and made me finish the rest. We didn't want to insult the owner who was so very nice to us.
This was, by far, the best meal we'd had so far in Portugal.....I'd come back here to eat n a second. The owner has a neat ritual. He takes photos of every customer who visits and puts it in a slideshow on the small television. He also has a little bowl with flags from the countries of the folks who have visited. Really neat....nice folks, great food, nice vibe......great meal.
Botequim da Mouraria
Rua da Mouraria 16A
We "rolled back" to the Albergaria do Calvario in dire need of a nap.
Of course our room was ready by now. It was large and comfortable. If you're going to stay here, getting a "premium room" is worth the few dollars/Euros more. I just wish that we had some reason to spend more time on the deck.
Albergaria do Calvario
Travessa Dos Lagares 3
I know this was a long one. Thanks for reading!