When planning my Portuguese adventure, there were some destinations that I bucketed under “must-see” while others were more optional. Towards the top of my list for places I simply could not skip was Evora. However, my day trip there left me disappointed.
What is Evora
Evora is a small city located in the south-eastern part of Portugal. Due to its many medieval structures, it has been declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Many describe Evora as a “university town” and, considering that I went in early-June, I did not get to see the youthful side of the population. Evora is accessible from Lisbon by car, bus, and train. While the city strives to be a top tourist destination, it lacks the finesse and thrill of other Portuguese destinations, like Sintra or Coimbra. It’s worth noting that there are many who will disagree with my not-so-positive assessment, so please do not read the below review of Evora as anything but one person’s opinion.
What I Liked About Evora
The countryside was pretty: Driving from Lisbon to Evora, we passed through the Alentejo, a rustic region known for cork and olives. The cork trees and picturesque farms proved quite stunning. On our way to Evora, we stopped at megalith stone formations called Cromlech of the Almendres. Unless you have a skilled tour guide to make the story interesting (we did not), the experience of seeing the rocks simply isn’t worth the bumpy trek to get there.
The sold cork products are fun: Off of the city’s main square, you’ll encounter a short but lively street in which every store sells products made entirely out of cork, one of the region’s most iconic exports. Umbrellas, dresses, shoes, coats . . . it’s fairly fascinating what can be made out of this light but sturdy material. I bought a necklace crafted from cork and it continues to be one of my favorite pieces of jewelry.
The view from Se Catedral: My mother and I paid €2.50 to go to the rooftop of Se Catedral, and the view was indeed quite nice. Plus, lack of crowds made it so we could walk about the roof unencumbered. The cathedral itself is quite nice but, in light of the many, many cathedrals visitors tend to see in Portugal, the interior of the structure proves forgettable.
What Disappointed Me About Evora:
It’s important to note that a tour guide can make or break an experience. For example, in Iceland I saw some very, very cool sites, but the childlike narration of the tour guide dampened the entire experience. Reversely, in Toronto, we had a wonderful tour guide whose rich stories made parking lots come alive. Unfortunately, for our trip to Evora, we had a sweet but humdrum tour guide who did little to build enthusiasm. However, I suspect that my lack of enjoyment should not be blamed entirely on this man, as even my time apart from him left me bored.
The chapel of bones was underwhelming: In theory, a 16th Century chapel lined with skulls and bones should be cool. And yet, somehow, it wasn’t. To begin with, my naive nature assumed that the Chapel would be larger than it was. However, to my disappointment, we were led into a single room where all we could do is stand, stare, and leave. And it will be crowded, as visiting the roped off part of the room in which we were allowed to enter is the main reason many tourists come to Evora. While our tour guide provided the bare minimum of explanations for the chapel’s historic significance, I was surprised to see that there were no visible staff to answer questions for those tourists visiting on their own.
The streets possessed a stagnant energy: The vibe of Evora was sluggish, and this translated to the main square and historic portion of the city. The buildings themselves were attractive, but there was a lack of people and a lack of excitement. In almost every other Portuguese destination I visited, sidewalk cafes and outdoor restaurants
Every single attraction was a let-down: We went to a store for wine and olive oil tasting, but the experience was simply them pouring the oil in dishes and telling us to “go at it” (I’m paraphrasing, of course). We went a market that Rick Steves recommended, only to find it with very stalls and limited options to pick from for a lunch-on-the-go. Upon first arriving in the city, we were shown a lovely ruins, only to be told that they were entirely fake. As for the Temple of Diana, it’s something you stop and stare at for a few seconds before you move on; it takes a knowledgeable, charismatic guide to breath life into the structure.
My Final Review of Evora
Evora was not unpleasant and, perhaps, with a better tour guide, I would have appreciated the city much more. However, of all of the destinations I visited in Portugal, Evora earns the lowest review. Those hoping to travel by themselves to this destination may find themselves disappointed and bored.