Gluten Free Family Travel: Evora, Portugal

We arrived in Evora, a small city in the Alentejo region of Portugal, in the early evening. Evora's train station is located outside of the historical walled portion of the city, but boasts some really pretty azulejo murals. We took a cab to our hotel, and the sun was just setting as we got our first glimpse of what is left of an ancient Roman temple. Unfortunately the kids were hungry and tired, so sightseeing would have to wait until the next morning.

Evora's historic city center that lies within the old walls is a designated UNESCO world heritage site, and contains incredible historical buildings and sites at every turn. From medieval walls, to Roman ruins, to churches and even an aqueduct, Evora is definitely worth a trip.

The Alentejo region of Portugal has not traditionally been associated with a lot of tourism, but there are a few towns that have managed to consistently attract visitors. Originally we had planned to visit Evora, Monsaraz, and Beja, but after realizing how crazy that would make our overall itinerary we extended our stay in Evora by an extra two nights and cancelled the other two destinations. My husband and I were really disappointed to do it, but to make the trip easier on the kids we thought it was necessary.

We made up for our disappointment by ditching our usual AirBnB stay and opting for the very elegant and luxurious Pousada Dos Loios. Portugal has a whole chain of state-run historic hotels called Pousadas, which are typically located in renovated historically significant buildings.

In this case, the Pousada in a convent dating from the 15th century that has been converted into a hotel, but that retains many of the original features. Guests stay in the former cells that have been converted into luxury hotel rooms. While most of the rooms are said to be quite small as a result, we stayed in a family room and it was actually really big.

There is an outdoor terrace, a bar and lounge, two outdoor pools including a small children's pool, as well as a fine dining restaurant. The hotel is absolutely gorgeous, and is located literally right beside the Roman temple and a historic church, Igreja Sao Joao. We enjoyed a breakfast that was included in our stay, and there were enough gluten free options for my son to have a great breakfast every day, including hard boiled eggs, fruit, yogurt, meats, and cheeses.

 

Day 1

We started off the day with a great breakfast, and then stepped outside and directly toward the remains of the Roman temple. It's thought by some to be a temple to Diana, although the official word seems to be that there's no consensus as to who it was erected for. After taking photos from every angle and looking on in disbelief as an entire family jumped the barrier to climb the monument, we walked across the road to the garden (ironically called Jardim do Diana) that overlooks the valley below. It offers an incredible panoramic view of the city.

Then we walked over to the Sé cathedral, which stands just a few steps behind the Roman temple. The church was started in the late 1100s, and is historically significant for several reasons, not the least of which is that it was where Vasco de Gama's ship flags were blessed in 1497. We didn't climb the towers, but rather took a walk around the interior and admired the Gothic styling inside.

In the afternoon we wandered down the Rua 5 de Outobro, one of the main tourist streets of the town to the Praca do Giraldo, the main square in the old city. The square itself is a point of interest. Old men sit in the shade around the edges while café tables dominate the centre of the square. On one end of the square is the Igreja Santo Antonio. The church was started in the 1500s, and is considered representative of the end of the Renaissance period. It's free to enter, and is worth a look. The kids really liked the fountain located just in front of it. The view across the square is very pretty, particularly at sunset.

To the right of the church is a little street called Joao de Deus, which contains a cute little ice cream shop that makes smoothies and a shop called Ale-Hop that sells accessories. The real draw of the store for kids is the giant cow statue outside that has a bell the kids can ring. Kept my little guy entertained while I went in to buy cheap sunglasses! We wandered around for the rest of the day before heading back to the hotel for dinner.

Day 2

We started day two at the pool after breakfast. The temperature was scheduled to hit 39C so we decided to wait out the worst of the heat by the pool. There weren't any complaints from the kids!

We stopped for lunch at a bar/restaurant called Restaurant do Tunnel. It's down a small street off 5 de Outobro, and we stopped there because they have tv screens playing rock videos, which caught my guitar-loving 6 year old son's attention. They offered a main dish that is gluten free, and he didn't have any reactions. Plus, he got to listen to rock the whole time, so it was a win-win!

We popped into Igreja de Sao Fracisco, with its nautical themed decorations before heading back up toward the main square. Located just next to the church is the famous Capela dos Ossos, a chapel built in the 16th century by a Franciscan monk that is lined with the bones of about 5000 monks. We didn't take the kids to see it because there are two skeletons that hang from the ceiling, including one of a child. We didn't want to scare our 6 year old, but it might be the kind of thing that older kids would find interesting.

We spent a bit of the afternoon just exploring and buying some souvenirs before taking the kids to the park to play ball for a while. We then had a quick dinner that we ordered from room service before turning in for the night.

Day 3

Our last day in Evora before leaving for the Algarve was spent much like the first. The heat wave was still in full force, so we took advantage of the pool and spent our morning there. When the kids got hungry, we went in search of the vegetarian restaurant Salsa Verde. It's not a gluten free restaurant, but there were many gluten free options available. Plus, it was a nice change from the meat-heavy dishes we found on most menus in the area. It's a bit out of the way from the main plaza, but we thought it was worth the walk.

In the afternoon, we went to the Igreja do Sao Joao, which is a privately owned church that contains some of the best-kept azulejo murals in the country. There is a fee to enter, but it really isn't to be missed. Along with the murals, the church often contains art exhibits. We were there when a display of designer wedding dresses was on exhibit. Each dress was a one of a kind, often belonging to royalty.

There are small grates in the floor of the church that are easy to miss, but which reward to the visitor if they notice them. One shows the underground cistern, and the other shows the ossuary. It's not as gruesome as the chapel of bones, and my son thought it was interesting that the monks were laid to rest in that manner.

We beat the heat with some ice cream before checking out some of the backstreets of the city. Then we headed back to the hotel to pack for our trip to the Algarve the next day.

Evora can seem like a bit off the beaten path, but it was well worth the extra effort to get there. It gets extremely hot in the summer due to its location in the interior of the country, so I recommend a place with a pool. We did spend one night in a rental apartment there because there wasn't any room left in the hotel the last night, and it was fine because it was just one night. If we had been in a place without a pool and without air-conditioning in 40C weather, it wouldn't have been as enjoyable a visit.

I liked that it was a small enough town to get around on foot, and the food was affordable. however, not many people were aware of what gluten free meant, and most cafes offer a wide variety of sandwiches and not much else. We found that sticking to rice dishes, as well as fresh fruits and vegetables allowed us to eat well and keep our son safe. If you're planning a trip to Portugal, Evora is a must-see.