Another link in the ancient Portuguese defence system, Palmela is a charming small town centred around a fortified castle at an altitude of 1200 metres at the edge of the Arrábida mountain range. Its past strategic importance is evident given that the views from here are astounding, taking in vast expanses of farmland, the Sado estuary to the south and even Lisbon to the north.
Originally a Moorish stronghold, the castle as was constructed following the reconquest in the 12th century and remains a solid example of fine military architecture of the time. Apparently the Bishop of Évora died a painful death in the dungeon here, punishment for his part in a conspiracy against the 15th century King João II. A monastery was also added to house the faithful of the Order of Santiago, and it is this part that has been painstakingly transformed into possibly Portugal’s most desirable pousada.
Although not a million miles away from the capital, Palmela lies at the heart of one of Portugal’s richest wine growing regions, often growing the Periquita variety of grape. This is reflected in the lively local festivities, the Festa das Vindimas, which take place in September to celebrate the wine harvest.
Palmela is also an excellent base for exploring the natural assets of the Arrábida National Park where ancient forests contain much wildlife and the odd secluded monastery.