Castelo de Vide is one place in the Serra Sao Mamede region of Portugal you simply should not miss if you visited Alto Alentejo.
A very relaxed small town with many characterful places to sample Northern Alentejo specialities. It is popular but never too busy. On market day it changes from relaxing to vibrant. It is always a joy to stroll around the old part of town which has been described as the best preserved medieval town of Portugal
The town is located in the foothills of the northern reaches of the hills of the Serra Sao Mamede natural park and the Alentejo plain to its north is strewn with granite boulders.
This picture shows the old part of the town which was once a typical Portuguese hill-top village with a Castle. To the right you see the church of Santa Maria da Devesa which is a vast in proportion to the size of the village it originally served so clearly this was at some point a very prosperous place.
It has a modern looking central square called the Praca de Dom Pedro V fringed with some 17C buildings including the Baroque Palacio da Torre and the town hall, plus some ornate 18C mansions.
In the lovely old part of the town located in one of the steep narrow lanes adorned with flowers is an ancient synagogue dating from the 13th century.
In the Jewish quarter the streets meet at the towns fountain, Fonte da Vila, the oldest font in the area thought to be from the 16th century. The water from the towns many fountains is reputed to have healing powers and is among the best in the country.
That prosperity is said to have been influenced by the commercial acumen of a significant Jewish community whose existence is traced to the 15th Century. Although they suffered an expulsion some remained as "New Christians".
Several streets were reserved for the Jewish community so the town has a well preserved area called the Jewish Quarter (Judiaria) which contains the oldest Synagogue in Portugal and some say it is the oldest in Europe.
The Jewish Quarter is an interesting area to wander around with its cobbled paths and small white-washed houses with gothic doorways. The main route from the Castle through the Judiaria is Rua da Fontes which leads down to the fine 16th Century Renaissance fountain, Fonte da Vila made of marble and granite.
For example Casa de Pasto - Os Amigos has Roasted goat leg with new potatoes (Perna de cabrito assado com batata nova) and Febras casserole (Febras na cašarola). Febras is a thinly sliced cut of pork.
Click here for the Castelo de Vide Tourismo Restaurants page and use their website menu for Cafes too (Coffee shops).
The castle's fortification encloses an area of houses which made up the original village. Later a town wall was built to encompass the town's expansion.
The castle was built by Dom Dinis and Dom Alfonso from 1280 to 1365. The castle resisted attack from the Spanish in 1704 but was later yielded to a threat by Lord Berwick. It is said that gunpowder dumped into the well exploded a year later and destroyed much of the castle. There is still an intact well next to the main castle building so it was probably rebuilt.
The castle tower is well worth the climb since it gives a clear view of the town and surrounding countryside with Marvao clearly visible in distance.
Menhir of Meada
The collection of megalithic menhir, dolmen and antas around Castelo de Vide is called the Megalithic Park. These are dispersed mainly on private farm land but have sign posts to tell you the route to view them.
Pick up megalithic park map from the Tourismo in the Praca Dom Pedro V square near to the large chruch (Igreja de Santa Maria da Devesa).
Closest to Castelo de Vide are the Necropole Megalitica dos Coureleiros (necropoli or burial vessels), Anta do Pombal, Anta da Melrica. Further afield but just a few kilometres more is the Anta do Curral do Galhordas at the Barragem (reservior) da Povoa and to the north the - not to be missed - Menhir da Meada.
Castelo de Vide is declining in population like many regions of Portugal close to the border with Spain. There are not enough providers of employment to keep the younger generation in the area so the demographic make-up leans towards the older generation. This makes tourism a more important aspect of the economy and luckily the town is a lovely and relaxing place to visit.
Tourism is very low key because the Sao Mamede region is off the beaten track and yet it is a very attractive area that is a bit of a hidden gem for the discerning. This appeals to some northern Europeans from crowded developed countries who buy up some of the more remote properties for holiday homes or to move here for a more laid back existence.
As well as being a town it is also an administrative region call a Concelho (like a small county) of 265km2 with a year 2001 population of 3872 and that figure is a decrease of 6% over ten years. Source: portalegredigital.biz. You can see other population figures on Wikipedia's page.
The contribution of low-key tourism to the economy mostly comes from hotels and restaurants. One restauranter told us the competition was tough since he had counted 28 places to get a meal in the small town. Not so good for him but great for tourists.