Bypass crowded Sintra for the walled city of Évora.
"A better choice is enchanting Evora, a city in the Alentejo region that, like Sintra, boasts a designation as a UNESCO World Heritage site. Travelers to Lisbon sometimes think Evora is too far, not realizing that a 90 minute train ride inland will take them to one of the prettiest places in Portugal, with whitewashed buildings tucked inside the medieval walls of a walkable town. Evora, which is called a “living museum,” offers layers of history, religious art and a foodie experience and receives about one-eighth the number of annual tourists that Sintra does.
The Romans lived here, then the Moors, and then, for a while, Portugal’s kings (only part of the royal palace remains). A Roman temple relic can be found in the center of town; its 14 Corinthian columns are dramatically lit at night. Moorish influence is seen in the wrought-iron balconies, and narrow, meandering streets. An impressive 16th-century aqueduct cuts through the city, with buildings carefully inserted into some of its arches. Visitors can spend hours wandering cobblestones lanes lined with whitewashed homes edged with mustard yellow, said to ward off evil spirits.
The Gothic Evora cathedral is the largest medieval cathedral in Portugal. Inside is the Museum of Sacred Art; look for an entrancing ivory statue of the virgin and child that opens to reveal tiny scenes from the life of Christ. The 16th century Church of St. Francis is best known for its Chapel of Bones (Capela dos Ossos), designed by monks to remind Evora’s residents of the transience of life.
A visit to Evora offers another bonus not found in Sintra — the opportunity to try a different regional cuisine. Hearty, bread-based Alentejo food emphasizes cheese, cilantro, salt cod and lots of garlic.
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