Moving on from Alcáçovas on the second part of our road trip, we headed over to the larger neighbouring town of Viana do Alentejo, again parking at an ASA on the outskirts at the Parque Municipal Santa Joana, a lovely little park, manned by a park keeper but unfortunately no dogs allowed.

Viana’s Gothic castle

Viana do Alentejo Castle

Igreja Viana do Alentejo

Leaving the van there and taking off on foot, the first place we visited was the castle, which occupies a prominent spot looking back over the centre of town. It is a somewhat unusual style for the Alentejo because it has five pointed towers one on each corner, which are gothic in style. The complex includes two churches, one of which, the Igreja Matrix, features a beautiful Manueline doorway. The cost is €2 to enter and wander around, but you can’t access the ramparts (which is our favourite bit).


In the main Praça da Republica square, which has a lovely Manueline fountain, is the Museografia (I think meaning a little museum?) with a collection of artefacts related to the town over the years, from Roman to the Battle of Patuleia of 1846. On the floor above is a permanent exhibition by José Manuel Agua Morna, a 99-year-old artist from nearby Montemor-o-novo. Still alive, he works in Choupa (poplar) wood and the exhibition, which is split into two parts, is made up of busy tradition pastoral scenes showing how life was in earlier times in the Alentejo.

Jose Manuel Agua Mornas

The other half of the exhibition is a collection of devils or demons in various grewsome and/or erotic poses (not really my cup-of-tea). The girls working at the centre were very pleasant and happy to give a personalised explanatory tour in English. Entrance is free of charge.

After wandering around Viana do Alentejo and exploring its narrow, whitewashed streets, we headed back to the van for a picnic lunch before driving a couple of kilometres out of town to an amazing place – the Sanctuary of Our Lady of Aires.


Sanctuary Viana do AlentejoPlace of pilgrimage

We had originally planned to walk to the sanctuary from the castle, which is the route of the annual Romaria (pilgrimage) but as the temperature had reached 30 degrees, we decided to drive out…and what a fantastic place! The Sanctuary itself is a huge place of worship sparkling in gold and white and just sitting there in a completely flat landscape. Even though it appears more modern, I suppose because of its continuous upkeep, work started on it in 1743 and the first religious service was in 1760.




It is one of the most famous religious sites in the Alentejo and is extremely popular with bused-in local tourists (while we were there they arrived from Montijo and then Mora), but people were very respectful and many had come to pray. Inside the chapel has an unusual square altarpiece and has corridors running the whole circumference of the place, packed full of photos and offerings of hair, personal items and wedding dresses. I’m afraid, not being Catholic myself, I am not sure of the significance of these ex-votos but I think they are devotional objects given in thanks for blessings?

Sanctuary Viana do Alentejo

Exvotos Viana do Alentejo

April’s Romaria a cavalo

Ruins of ShrineAround 200 metres from the sanctuary is a ruined little shrine or hermitage of Lord Jesus of the Cross, dating back to the 17th century. While we were there we were shouted at by a shepherd, initially I thought because of the dog, but when I went over he explained that he didn’t want us to camp there as the previous night some campers with a dog had frightened his sheep and broken fences. As we chatted more, he proudly told us about the horse pilgrimage that takes place at the end of April, with around 400 horses walking from Moita in the Ribatejo, a journey of 120 km and all camping around the sanctuary to receive the blessing of Nossa Senhora d’Aires. That must be an incredible site to see, with the Virgin being carried ahigh from the castle in Viana do Alentejo to the chapel. The town’s annual festival also takes place here in September.


3 bicas fountain



For dinner we went to Churrasqueira Três Bicas, next to the fountain of the same name, and had special dispensation to eat on the terrace with the dog. We had a hearty grilled Febras and Cação Frito followed by an excellent mousse de chocolate!

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