Sometimes you make the most wonderful discoveries by chance. We had no intention of visiting Castelo de Vide Portugal, other than to stock up on food before continuing our Portugal road trip through the Alentejo region. I’m so glad we did, as we chanced upon one of the most beautiful places in Portugal.
Castelo de Vide is one of the best of Portugal hidden gems. You’ll rarely see it on any things to do in Portugal lists, partly because it’s quite remote, near the Spanish border. Even if you plan to visit Alentejo and research the area, you’ll struggle to find much about it. So why are we suggesting you include such an obscure place as part of your Portugal itinerary?
It came as a complete surprise to us, but Castelo de Vide turned out to be one of the best places in Portugal that we visited. It’s almost untouched by tourism, and its old town and Jewish quarter among the best Portugal attractions you’ve never heard of.
WHERE IS CASTELO DE VIDE PORTUGAL?
Castelo de Vide is in the Alto Alentejo (the Upper Alentejo), near the border with Spain. It’s also on the edge of the Parque Natural da Serra de Sao Mamede, a region that contains the stunning medieval castle and hilltop of Marvao.
It’s in the far north of the Alentejo, to the north of the regional centre of Portalegre. It’s 121 km (77 miles) north of the Alentejo capital Evora, and 225 km north-east of the Portuguese capital, Lisbon.
GETTING TO CASTELO DE VIDE
If you intend to explore the Alentejo, public transport options are very limited. You can reach the town on a 4-hour bus trip from Lisbon with Rede Expressos, but getting anywhere beyond that is a challenge. There’s not much in the way of infrastructure in this part of the world. Castelo de Vide is just 10 km (6 miles) from Marvao, one of the most beautiful castles in Europe. Yet only one bus runs there each day.
Driving is by far the easiest way to get to Castelo de Vide. We drove up from Evora, which took us around two hours. It’s around a three-hour drive to the outskirts of Lisbon – count on a good hour extra if you’re driving from close to the centre (not something we’d recommend). We took the E802 / N246 up from Evora and Estremoz – a pretty easy road to drive, without too much traffic. Bear in mind that the town is sometimes written as ‘C. Vide’ or ‘Castelo Vide’ on road signs.
DESCRIBE CASTELO DE VIDE
Castelo de Vide is a small country town built on a steep hill near the Spanish border. Narrow stepped streets of medieval whitewashed houses with red rooftops wind their way up to the Castelo (Castle) at the summit of the hill.
This might sound familiar to anyone who has visited this part of Portugal. We passed several towns which, on the surface, looked similar – Evoramonte, Alandroal, Vila Vicosa, Mourao, Moura to name just a few. We simply didn’t have time to stop to see them all. There are too many places to visit in Portugal, at least in the time we had.
We stopped in Castelo de Vide ostensibly for a supermarket shop before a three-to-four-hour drive down through border country to Monsaraz. We had pencilled in a stop at the border bastion of Elvas on the way down. We had a coffee in the main square, I went for a wander around the backstreets for five minutes, returned and said to Faye,”Come for a walk, just for five minutes.”
Roughly five hours later, we finally left. Elvas would have to wait.
WHAT’S SO SPECIAL ABOUT CASTELO DE VIDE?
Castelo de Vide is one of the best-preserved, most unspoilt medieval towns in Portugal. We’ve visited many of the most beautiful towns in Europe of similar age, and you see the same pattern in most places. Tourism gradually develops. You find cafes, restaurants, souvenir shops selling local crafts. There is some of this in around the edge of the Old Town.
Then you’re transported back centuries. There’s hardly any development here at all. You could picture a lovely café on a stepped street corner with tables outside, or a shop selling cork souvenirs (common in Alentejo). There’s hardly any of it.
All you have is a warren of narrow streets, many accessible to pedestrians only. As you reach the heights, you get some great views back down the cobbled streets. You’ll see two old men stopping for a chat on a corner, while an indolent cat lets out one last yawn before a very long siesta. You get all this to yourself.
It’s not the most obvious way to do your Portugal sightseeing, but it’s one of the most enjoyable.
CASTELO DE VIDE JEWISH QUARTER
The former Jewish district of Castelo de Vide is one of the best-preserved in Portugal. The streets are amazingly well-preserved, and there are two main sights – the Fonte de Vila fountain and the Sinagoga (Synagogue).
Sadly the Synagogue – which contains a small museum chronicling the town’s Jewish past – was closed when we visited. At least we were able to explore the streets – including Rua da Judiaria and Rua da Fonte – and the alleyways leading up the side of the hill to the Castle.
CASTELO DE VIDE CASTLE
You can’t visit Castelo de Vide without making the climb up the hill to see the castle. It’s not as impressive as the lone at Marvao, but it’s well worth the walk.
It’s a very atmospheric place, with wide views over the town and countryside to the Serra de Sao Mamede mountains. There are still houses around the castle walls, undisturbed in their cobbled alleyways.
AN ALENTEJO TIP
The main reason most people visit this part of Portugal is to see the magnificent Marvao Castle. It’s one of the best places to visit in Portugal, and what lured us to this part of the world.
We spent one night in Marvao, which was as great an experience as we had hoped for.
However we would have loved to have spent an extra day in the area, possibly overnighting at Castelo de Vide or spending a second night up in Marvao.
It’s one of the most fascinating Portugal places to see in Portugal, and so different and far removed from the more obvious Portugal tourist places. .
David Angel is a British writer and photographer who has been travelling and photographing the world for over 25 years. His work is regularly featured in worldwide media including the BBC, the Guardian, the Times and the Sunday Times.