Marvão is a small municipality located in the northeast of the Alentejo, only 15km from Spain. It’s the typical medieval fortress town, located at the top of a mountain and with an exciting castle to explore. Marvão is located in São Mamede Range, inside São Mamede Natural Park.
Marvão is very close to another castle city, Castelo de Vide, and fairly close to the UNESCO heritage site of Elvas. Nevertheless, it feels far from everything, and it’s really far from the most touristic routes in Portugal. Yet, it is one of our favorite regions in Portugal.
In this article we will explore the best things to do in Marvão, plus what to eat, and where to stay during your trip.
Best things to do in Marvão
The Castle of Marvão
Marvão Castle is one of the most beautiful in Portugal because of the great conservation and the amazing views one gets from it. Without a shadow of a doubt, it is the best tourist attraction in Marvão and the main reason people visit it.
Yet, the greatest thing isn’t the perfectly preserved castle or the amazing views from it, it’s that you can freely roam through the towers, courtyards, and walls. During low season it’s almost magical, as there are very few people around. This is almost impossible in any other tourist attraction of this kind.
This medieval castle was built on the highest point of a ridge of the São Mamede range. Despite what you might read elsewhere, it isn’t the highest point of São Mamede, that’s Pico de São Mamede with 1025 meters of altitude. Marvão Castle reaches “only” about 850 meters.
Similar to many others in Portugal, the castle of Marvão has Muslim origins. When Afonso Henriques (the first Portuguese King) conquered Marvão between 1160 and 1166, the castle already existed. The castle’s construction is usually credited to the 9th-century Islamic knight, Ibn Marwan, who began to dwell in the castle between 876 and 877. The castle was later expanded and rebuilt, as it’s perfectly located.
One of the most interesting features of the Castle is the huge cistern. The cistern used to store rainwater and keep it fresh for a few months, which was crucial during the medieval sieges. It’s very easy to find as it’s located immediately next to the ticket office, on the right.
- Tickets: 1.5 Euros;
- Timetable: From 10:00 to 17:00, everyday;
The walls of the castle
The walls of the Marvão Castle totally enclose the city of Marvão, making it a city-fortress. These walls are reinforced by towers and have 3 lines:
- The internal line, reinforced by two towers and a keep;
- The intermediate line which has battlements and enhanced by massive towers;
- The external line that surrounds and protects the whole city.
The preserved external walls give Marvão a medieval charm.
There are only two entrances to walls, Porta de Rodão and Porta Este, though you’ll almost surely enter through Porta de Rodão, as it’s today’s main entrance to the village. Porta de Rodão is an attraction by itself as it’s double protected by a star-shaped bulwark.
The village of Marvão
Marvão is interesting as it almost can’t be seen from the outside – particularly if you are coming from Castelo de Vide, as you probably are. However, when you reach the doors of the city – Portas de Rodão, you’ll start to see how charming it is.
As we said above, the whole village is protected by the external walls, and inside you’ll find the typical small alleys, cobbled streets, and old buildings. All of the buildings are whitewashed similarly to other Alentejo villages, which only adds to the visual effect.
Marvão is incredibly well preserved, and we don’t find many abandoned houses inside the walls. It feels both medieval and protected. Roaming around the smalls alleys and discovering the details of it is a genuine pleasure. However, remember that this town was built on a mountain, and there are loads of stairs and steeps paths! Bring comfortable shoes and lots of energy!
“The Town of Marvão and the craggy mountain on which it is located” have been on the tentative UNESCO heritage list for a few years now, and it’ll probably be designated a UNESCO heritage site in the future.
Marvel at Marvão at night from afar
If you are spending the night in Marvão or close to it, you really should go to Portagem and have a look at Marvão at night. During the day, barely anything can see, as the castle walls have a similar hue to the rocks of the mountain, and the village is hidden behind them. But at night, with the lights placed in the right positions, it’s stunning, and the views come to life!
In our opinion, this is one of the best things to do in Marvão and one of the most beautiful night views in Portugal! Don’t miss it, if you can.
The Museum of Marvão is located in the Church of Santa Maria, which isn’t a Church for a long time. The Museum is a good place to go if you want to learn more about this region’s history and culture.
The collections of the museum include mostly religious art (Christian), archeological artifacts (both paleolithic and Roman), and an ethnographic exposition composed mostly of customs and lost traditions.
Santiago Church is an old, gothic church in the middle of Marvão. It isn’t the most impressive church, but it’s an ancient one, and it’s worth the visit. Despite being from the 15th/16th century, it still preserves many of its original gothic features, which is the central reason for the importance of the building.
Portagem is the village located at the foot of the mountain where Marvão is. We have talked about the amazing view at night, but there’s more to it. If you are traveling in the Summer, you should know the Alentejo tends to be really hot – sometimes with temperatures above the 40ºC. Why am I telling you this? Because there’s a nice river beach in Portagem. A very nice one, in fact.
Right next to the River beach of Portagem, there’s an old Bridge that you can still cross. Despite being sometimes called the Roman Bridge, this bridge wasn’t built by the Romans. It’s accepted that it was built around the 16th century, with some Roman material (thus the confusion). So, it’s still impressive that after so much time, one can still use… on foot only!
You should note that It isn’t a big bridge, as Sever river is rather small, but it still impresses, and it’s considered one of the best medieval constructions in Alentejo…
Ammaia was a roman village located in S. Salvador de Aramanha, Marvão. The ruins are yet to be fully excavated, but it’s possible to visit the area. This rather unknown place is situated along the margins of the Sever River, and it’s a pretty cool place to explore with several interesting ruins:
- Porta do arco – an Arch doorway
- A forum and temple
- A Residence
- A small baths complex.
If you like obscure, yet to be explored places, this is a great place to go and one of the best things to do in Marvão.
The history of Marvão
Although there are records of previous occupations, Marvão was founded by Ibn Maruán, a Muslim who rebelled against the Emirate of Cordoba in the 9th century. He took advantage of the remarkable location of Marvão and started to build the castle, which was then developed for hundreds of years until today.
Despite its extraordinary defensive location, King Afonso Henriques managed to take it from the Muslims, and it became part of Portugal. Marvão was then a significant stronghold town in the Iberian Reconquista.
Even after the Reconquista, Marvão continued to be relevant, mainly as protection against Spain. To ensure that Marvão could fulfill this goal King Dinis, ordered the construction of the fortification around the village, making it a fully enclosed town.
During the following centuries Marvão continued to play a vital part defending Portugal and played an important military role one several wars: The restoration war (between 1640 and 1668), the Spanish succession war (1701-1715) the French invasions (1807-1811) and the civil war 1832-1834)
Where to stay in Marvão?
Many Marvão visitors only stay for the day, but there are some lodging options inside the castle walls of Marvão. And a few more in Castelo de Vide, very close by. Here the best lodging options in Marvão!
A very nice guest house with an in-house traditional local food restaurant at very inviting prices. One of the best value-for-money options in Marvão. There’s everything you need for a comfortable stay. The rooms good, have WIFI (though not great), aircon, but the view is the best amenity here…
This is a very typical and rustic lodging option! It’s a little more expensive than Varandas do Alentejo, but it’s still at a great price. The building has been renovated while maintaining its original structure, antique furniture. It’s right in the center of Marvão, and it has its own shop, selling traditional Alentejo things.
This is possibly the best hotel in Marvão, at least the best we know of… It was built on two traditional whitewashed houses, and offers everything you need – Wifi, Air Con, activities, good breakfast… for a 4-star hotel, it has a very acceptable price.
It also has a very good restaurant featuring both local/traditional food and international dishes.
What to eat in Marvão
Marvão is rather small and naturally tourism-oriented, but it still offers some great local and traditional food. You should note Marvão is Alentejo, and Alentejo has its own specials when it comes to food. The traditional food in Alentejo is rather different from the rest of Portugal. So, let’s explore some of the best things to eat in Marvão:
- Gaspacho Alentejano – the Portuguese version of the Spanish gazpacho, a fresh soup to have on the scorching summer days.
- Cação Soup – A fish soup made with the very typical fish “cação.” If you like fish soup, you are in for a treat.”
- Iberian pig / “Porco preto” – There are plenty of recipes using Iberian pig, which is typical of Alentejo. If you like pork meat, you can’t miss these…
- Açorda Alentejana – thinly sliced bread (pão Alentejano) with garlic, lots of finely chopped coriander, Portuguese olive oil, vinegar, water, white pepper, salt, and poached eggs.
- Migas – one of the most typical Alentejo dishes, uses bread, pork, garlic, paprika, and salt. Sometimes it uses other ingredients to spice the bread. If you find this, you have to try it!
- Sericaia (usually with plums) – One of the most famous desserts of Alentejo, particularly in this region, close around Elvas. It uses Elvas plums and lots of Eggs ad cinnamon. It’s a conventual dessert, obviously!
Where to eat in Marvão?
Now that you know what to eat, we have to share with you what to eat… Our favorite typical restaurant is Mil-Homens close to Portagem, so it isn’t inside the walls of Marvão. It practically only serves traditional Alentejo food, and it’s a very local experience, as it looks like an old tavern. Yet, don’t let the looks deceive you, it serves some of the best dishes in the region!
If you don’t want to go outside the walls, one of the best options is Varanda do Alentejo, which also serves some good traditional Alentejo dishes. We have already mentioned it when we discussed the hotels in Marvão. So, it may be a good option if you are staying there.
Best time to visit Marvão
Marvão is a great destination, all year-round. You can take a day trip or maybe stay for one or two nights. More than that, it will probably be too much time unless you are traveling really slow.
As we have mentioned above, Alentejo is very hot in summer, and that’s also the most crowded season in Portugal. So, in our opinion, the best time to come to Marvão is during May-June and September. During winter, it can be chilly, as Marvão is located on a hilltop. On the other hand, you’ll probably have the place for yourself.
Where to go next?
We suggest Elvas and Castelo de Vide. Elvas is a UNESCO heritage town with a huge aqueduct and a unique fort, while Castelo de Vide is the sister town of Marvão. It’s also a fortified city, but it’s bigger and a little busier. It’s also famous for having a Judiaria (Jewish quarter), which is fascinating to wander through.