Elvas Portugal; a tourism guide for 2023
Elvas is truly one of Portugal’s hidden gems. This highly fortified and historic town is situated on the arid border region with Spain, and was historically regarded as the strategic connection between Spain and Portugal.
Centuries of border disputes and the constant threat of invasion from Spain, resulted in Elvas become one of the most fortified towns in Portugal.
There are layers of interconnecting walls and battlements, but the real defensive masterly is truly appreciated when the town is seen from above, with a unique star shape to the town walls and forts.
The Nossa Senhora da Graça fort guarded the northern hill of Elvas
Today, hidden behind these endless defences is a delightful Portuguese town, with an unhurried ambience and numerous fascinating tourist attractions.
The location of Elvas on the far east of Portugal means that few tourists will visit, but those who do, will be rewarded with a captivating town steeped in history and character.
Highlights of Elvas Portugal
The beautifully restored Santa Luzia fort, which guarded the southern hillside of Elvas. Inside the fort there are concealed passages, stunning views from the battlements and a colourful history.
The magnificent Amoreira Aqueduct as it spans the final valley before reaching Elvas.
The extensive series of walls, battlements and fortifications that form the outer perimeter of the town
The Praca da Republica, the heart of Elvas and the setting for the ancient cathedral
Why is Elvas so highly fortified?
The rugged landscape of the Portuguese-Spanish border made the region surrounding Elvas the natural crossing point between the two countries.
When King John declared Portugal independent from Spain in 1640, a massive defensive construction project was initiated to make Elvas the first line of defence against any Spanish invasion.
The walls of the city were designed so that no side was left unprotected, resulting in the formation of a unique star arrangement comprising bastions, ravelins and hidden passages.
The yellow city walls of Elvas
Essential for outlasting a protracted siege was a reliable supply of clean water, and this was ensured by the large aqueduct to the south of the town. Later, the two hills overlooking Elvas were also transformed into mighty forts, thus preventing a staging ground to fire cannons from.
Although an incredibly expensive investment, the multi-directional defences of Elvas managed to fend off three separate Spanish sieges in 1658, 1711 and 1801, and was only defeated by the might of the Napoleonic army in 1808.
Why Visit Elvas?
Elvas is a scenic and characterful town, that has barely been altered since the era of grandiose forts and destructive cannons.
All of the town's defences have been lovingly restored and can be fully explored, including the two forts of Santa Luzia and Nossa Senhora da Graca.
Inside the town you will discover cobbled streets, ancient churches, white-washed roads, and family-run restaurants.
The lack of major tourist development means that hotels are small, personal and good value, while there’s a relaxed – if somewhat conservative – atmosphere about the town.
Elvas’ rich and intriguing history has so much to offer the intrepid visitor, and is highly recommended as an inclusion on any tour of central Portugal.
A day trip to Elvas
Elvas is a relatively small town and all of the major sights can be seen within one day of sightseeing. This day trip could be as an excursion from Evora or during a tour of the eastern Alentejo region. Elvas is too far from Lisbon to visit as a day trip.
Below is an interactive map showing our suggested 1-day tour of Elvas. The tour begins at the bus station to the south of the town, and close to the large carparks. The green line is the optional (and challenging) walk up to the Forte de Nossa Senhora da Graça, but this is better for the second day in Elvas.
Sights along the suggested walking tour: 1) Santa Luzia fort 2) Olivença gate 3) Fernandina tower 4) Praça da República 5) Senhora da Assunção church (former cathedral) 6) São Domingos church and convent 7) Military museum 8) Saint Vincent gate 9) Senhora da Graça Fort (optional as long uphill walk) 10) São Francisco church 11) British Cemetery (Wikipedia info) 12) Elvas Castle 13) Santa Clara arch and pillory 14) Igreja das Dominicas 15) Elvas market 16) Saint Paul convent (converted into a hotel) 17) Corner gate and Nossa Senhora da Conceição chapel 18) Amoreira aqueduct.
The yellow route is 7.5km and will take about 3-4 hours to complete. The highlights of the route are the; Santa Luzia fort (1), the Amoreira aqueduct (18) and the sights around Praça da República (4) and Largo de Santa Clara (13)
The delightful Largo de Santa Clara and the Pelourinho de Elvas
The interior of the Igreja das Dominicas, with its octagonal chapel and beautiful azulejos tiles that date from the 17th century
How long to spend in Elvas?
Elvas can be seen in a single day, but the remoteness of the town and the intense summer heat lend it to spending one night here. For the second day, you could hike up to the Senhora da Graça Fort or explore the town at a more leisurely pace. Elvas provides exceptional value for money, when compared to the cities and coastal towns
The other appeal of Elvas is the peaceful Alentejo atmosphere, and a chance to truly escape the pressures and worries of a hectic lifestyle.
As for recommended hotels and accommodation, the Travassos 11 is a delightfully converted manor house within the city walls. The Vila Gale hotel chain has lovingly restored the Convento de São Paulo into an atmospheric and modern hotel.
For a rural retreat and perfect location to unwind there is no place better than the Hotel Rural Monte da Provença 5km north of Elvas, which is surrounded by endless cork plantations.
The rural countryside of the Alentejo, is dotted with ancient cork trees
The following map shows the best hotels and accommodation in Elvas, if you adjust the dates to your stay it will display current prices and availability. (For the Hotel Rural Monte scroll the map to the north….it is in the middle of rural Portugal!)
When to visit Elvas?
Summers in Elvas are incredibly hot, spring and autumn are both warm, and winters are mild. There is no main tourist season for Elvas, as the town experiences a steady flow of visitors throughout the year. The best time of the year to visit is in the early spring, with the flowers in bloom and the countryside lush and green from the winter rain.
The average weather conditions of Elvas Portugal
When the rest of Portugal is experiencing its major influx of summer tourists, the extreme heat in Elvas tends to deter most visitors, with temperatures often reaching above of 30C/86F. During the winter though, central Alentejo is Portugal’s driest region, and the place to head if there is rain along the western coastlines.
Travel to Elvas
Elvas is less than 15km from the Spanish border on the very eastern edge of the country. Although a remote region of Portugal, there are still regular bus services to both Lisbon and Evora, operated by Rede Expressos the intercity bus company of Portugal.
The bus service from Lisbon (Sete Rios bus station) takes 3h15min, costing €17.50, while the service from Evora takes 1h40min and costs €12.00. For the latest timetable and the purchase of tickets please see the Rede Expressos websites: www.rede-expressos.pt/
There is an extremely limited bus service (Monday to Friday)from Elvas to Badajoz operated by the local bus company Rodalentejo, more information can be found on their website: http://www.rodalentejo.pt/
Elvas bus station is to the south of the city
Considerations for Elvas
The main consideration for a visit to Elvas is the intense summer heat, as the temperatures can make all sightseeing virtually impossible during the middle of the day. If you do wish to visit during this time, plan to start your days early and always carry lots of water. It’s also worth noting that the pretty cobbled streets and hills can make the town difficult to explore for less mobile visitors.
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