Marvao Portugal is a mountaintop village near the Spanish border which is home to one of the most beautiful castles in Europe. Its dramatic, remote location in the Serra de Sao Mamede Natural Park makes it one of the best places to visit in Portugal.
It’s best known for the magnificent Castelo de Marvao, of course, but the village of Marvao is also beautiful. It’s stretched out along the ramparts that run along the mountain ridge, and its whitewashed houses make for some of the most evocative places to stay in Portugal.
Marvao is like a mountain eyrie, an eagle’s nest and vantage point from which you can survey the surrounding land far below. It’s among the most beautiful places in Portugal, up there with the likes of the stunning village of Monsaraz. It’s worth including in any Portugal itinerary, it’s that special. One of the best ways to visit Marvao is on a Portugal road trip, as we did. One night there is probably enough – it’s a wonderful way to experience the best of Portugal.
MARVAO IN A NUTSHELL
Marvao Castle is one of the most dramatic castles in Europe
It’s also a long way from anywhere else – you really should contemplate hiring a car if you plan to visit
The medieval Castle was considered impregnable – the only time it was captured was when the defenders were betrayed
The castle and village enjoy outstanding views over the mountains of the Serra de Sao Mamede and the plains of Extremadura in Spain
Stay a night in Marvao if you can – it’s an incredibly atmospheric place at night
We found visiting the Castle to be one of the best things to do in Portugal – worth going well out of your way to see
WHERE IS MARVAO PORTUGAL?
Marvao is located in Alentejo Portugal, a few miles from the border with Spain and the western province of Extremadura. The nearest town of any size is lovely Castelo de Vide, 10 km (6 miles) down the mountain.
GETTING TO MARVAO
The only way to explore the Alentejo is by car. We drove from Evora north to Portalegre and then Castelo de Vide – often shown on road signs as C. Vide. We took the N246 road, turning off for Castelo de Vide, then the minor M1033-1 to Marvao. This was the first sign we saw for it, just 6 km away.
Public transport to Marvao is a non-starter, realistically. There is so little tourism infrastructure in this part of Portugal. You would imagine there would be a regular service to one of the best castles in Portugal. There isn’t: you can just about make a return journey there from Castelo de Vide, with one bus a day each way currently allowing you three hours in Marvao. But first you’ve got to get to Castelo de Vide.
HISTORY OF MARVAO
Marvao appears to have been founded in the 9th century AD by Muslim knight Ibn Marwan, who gave the village its name. It remained in Muslim hands until 1168, when Portuguese king Afonso I conquered it.
The old Castle was rebuilt around the turn of the 14th century on the orders of Dom Dinis I.
CASTELO DE MARVAO
Marvao is a classic Crusader-era castle, with features including arrow slits and a long winding entrance, which would hold up any assault on the gates.
The stout walls and main keep are made of granite, as are the adjoining town walls. You can walk around most of the ramparts and also climb the main tower.
The best time to appreciate this most impressive of Portuguese castles is to visit at sunrise. Officially the castle doesn’t open until 9.30 am, but the ticket seller told us the evening before that the gate is never locked.
We set the alarm clock and climbed the hill early. The door was unlocked as promised. We had the entire castle to ourselves. We walked onto the ramparts and watched the first rays of the day reach the castle walls from across the Spanish plains. If anywhere is a Portugal must see, this is it. We spent an hour or so there by ourselves, savouring this magnificent place.
The whitewashed, red-roofed village of Marvao makes for a tremendous setting for the castle. One of the best things to do in Marvao is walking the streets very early or very late in the day, when nobody is around and the traffic has gone. If you enjoy silence, you’ll adore it – it’s so atmospheric.
The Municipal Museum of Marvao is housed in the former church of Santa Maria, at the base of the Castle. There is also a lovely garden across the road with great views of the castle and valley below.
HOTELS IN MARVAO
Ideally, it’s best to stay in Marvao overnight to get the full experience. The Pousada de Marvao is a fine 3-star hotel, like other pousadas in an amazing setting. The Pousada Marvao differs slightly in that it is spread across four separate cottages throughout the village. Some of the other Marvao hotels have a similar arrangement, with some rooms in separate houses in the village.
We opted for the Dom Manuel Hotel Marvao, five minutes down the hill from the castle. It’s another 3-star hotel with spotless rooms and one of the best Marvao restaurants, where I enjoyed a hearty cataplana stew.
Hotel Dom Dinis I is another good Marvao hotel option. As well as excellent 3-star facilities, it has one of the best views of Marvao from. Its jacuzzi and terrace.
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.