Mertola, Portugal – A fun day trip to a Roman and Islamic Historical town in the middle of the Guadiana Valley National Park. Mertola is located near the border of Spain/Portugal in the East and about an hour north of the Ocean and the town of Vila Real de Santo Antonio.
As I explored the streets of Mertola I felt as if I’d been transported back in time and dropped in Morocco. The Moorish influence is still strong in this little town and can be seen everywhere you wander. I enjoyed looking closely at the keyhole shaped doors and vibrant colors, the design touches with stars, mosaics and lattice work bringing history alive in the streets, homes and shops.
I love the history here in Portugal and this town doesn’t disappoint as it’s origins date back to the Phoenician times. The town played an important part of the Mediterranean trade routes until the end of the 12th Century.
When the Romans ran it they called it “Myrtilis”, and then it passed into the hands of the Arabs. Conquered in the reign of D. Sancho II, it became the first mother house of the order of Santiago in 1238.
Strolling the streets you’ll notice that museums of museums pop up around each corner. There are over 10 museums to find while wandering around the old town. Stop into the information center just inside the city gates and pick up a free map so you can find the hidden parts of the meandering Mertola Museum. More is being discovered as ongoing archaeological studies continue to find more artifacts and history.
The main church which is located next to the castle used to be an Islamic mosque during the 12th and 13th centuries. It’s now a Christian Church but they’ve kept some of its important historical elements. The doors still have horseshoe shaped arches and you can view a Mihrab, an artifact which points to the direction of Mecca.
Keep your eyes open for hidden gems like this little cafe in the back of a large shop. A cold beer and view of the river is a great reward for poking around the town.
There are plenty of cafes and restaurants within the older section as well as around the newer sections of town. Parking can be found along the streets (I visited during the off season and found a parking spot right in front of the city gates). If you go during a busier time there is a large parking structure easily visible when you enter the town from highway 122.
We drove from Vila Real in about an hour and the town was easy to find with our cell navigation apps. The road was an easy drive Algarve on beautiful roads.
Categories: Tips and Tricks, Uncategorized, Travel, Portugal and the Algarve, Europe, General Travel, Road Trips