If you have seen me this summer then you know... I AM IN LOVE WITH PORTUGAL!
We spent 10 days there in early June this year as a part of a trip to celebrate our daughter's college graduation. I could wax rhapsodic on any given in-country moment, accommodation or meal and to be sure I will be posting on other Portuguese destinations in the coming months. (With such rich material, how could I not?) But today I start with a true standout--Monsaraz. Our afternoon there surely qualifies as one of those best days ever.
Monsaraz was suggested to us by François Savatier, co-owner of the fabulous inn, Villa Extramuros, in Arraiolos. He said it is an easy day trip--a mere 45 minutes away from the inn, past the nearby Roman-era town of Evora, on through the heart of the Alentejo region with its low-lying fields of cork trees, contoured rolling hills of wine grape trellises, gamboling sheep and castellated hill towns.
Indeed, the short car ride was in itself a wonder.
Monsaraz is known for many things, not least of which is its long--very long--history as evidenced by its neolithic megaliths followed by traces of Roman, Moorish and, as a result of the Reconquista, Portuguese Christian influences. This very long history in a now isolated corner of Portugal, snugged up against the Spanish border as it is, gives the village a land-that-time-forgot-picture-postcard-quality that is both vivid and dream-like.
We loved our Sunday lunch followed by a stroll down drowsy cobblestone streets lined with white-washed houses and stone battlements. And yet this is not the reason we were drawn to Monsaraz. These were the bonus delights.
What drew us there were the textiles. We found the blankets and rugs at Extramuros to be showstoppers. Everywhere we looked--in our rooms or in the dead dead gorgeous common spaces--we found these lush and beautiful works of art. Oddly, they reminded us of our much loved collection of New Mexican textiles.
As it turns out there was nothing odd about it. As Francois explained, these traditional textile patterns and techniques are a legacy of the Moors whose domination in the Iberian Peninsula predates the colonization of the New World--hence these influences not only continue to be felt throughout the Iberian Peninsula but also in former Spanish colonies of the New World.
He then suggested our day trip to Monsaraz, famous for their fine traditional textiles--most notably in the atelier of Mizette Nielsen.
What can I say? We went. We saw. We bought.
The quality and designs were superb. And it cannot be denied that in the long list of appealing qualities to be found in modern Portugal, a dollar goes very long way. It was easy to 'just say yes!'
My recommendation? See your for yourself...either by visiting the website for Mizette Nielson's textile atelier (click here) or better yet-- by taking the plunge--a visit to Monsaraz and the Alentejo region of Portugal.
It's my new favorite!!