On the fertile plain of the Tagus River, Almeirim is a small provincial town near the city of Santarém. Equestrianism and bull-fighting are the culture in Almeirim, and on Ascension Day every there’s an annual bull-run led by riders dressed in classic livery on lusitano mounts.
The countryside around the town is fluted with wines, and Almeirim has plotted a wine route with eight stops at refined country estates and modern cooperatives. In the town are pretty squares, tile-clad mansions and a smattering of sights and attractions to pass the time.
Let’s explore the best things to do in Almeirim:
1. Casa dos Patudos- Museu de Alpiarça
At the start of the 20th century the author José Relvas commissioned the architect Raul Lino to build him a fine Neo-Renaissance mansion with arcades and galleries.
This is in Alpiarça, moments from Almeirim, and Relvas bequeathed the property to the town, along with all the things he’d collected down the years.
If you’re going to see one author museum in Portugal, this is the best shout, as the property is beautiful and bursting with antiques and art assembled from all over the world.
Room after room is rich with tapestry, painting, sculpture, fine furniture, porcelain and azulejos.
2. Igreja Matriz de Almeirim
The town’s main church is from the middle of the 16th century and merits a few minutes if you’re passing by.
It was originally a funerary chapel, and one of its earliest and most significant burials was Mestre Henrique who was the doctor for the court of King Manuel I in the 16th century.
Other things worth seeing inside are the 16th-century holy water font, the 18th-century polychrome statues of “Senhor Jesus dos Paços” and St John the Baptist, and the sensational ceiling fresco painted by the beloved turn-of-the-century painter Carlos Reis.
3. Jardim da República
For a moment of repose you could take a seat in this garden near the town hall in the centre of Almeirim.
This space has elegant, tile-clad townhouses on all sides, and was actually the grounds for a royal palace that was torn down in the 1890s.
It was then turned into a market square, and the stalls were set up here until the 1930s when they moved to their current home at the Mercado Municipal.
When Almeirim starting attracting tourists the square was landscaped with lawns and trees, and has been the town’s preferred meet-up spot ever since.
4. Almeirim Rota do Vinho
The fertile alluvial soils by the Tagus River and warm climate in Almeirim are just right for wien, and the town is one of the sub-regions for the Ribatejo DOC. The municipality has drawn up a wine route for you to discover, taste and buy the local whites, reds and rosés, as well as sweet and sparkling varieties.
The route has three cooperative wineries, like the award-winning and high-tech Adega Cooperativa de Almeirim, as well as family-run operations like Fiúza & Bright, and elegant old estates like the Quinta da Alorna and Quinta do Casal Branco.
There are eight stops to make in just this municipality, so oenophiles will never be stuck for ideas.
Seek out the fruity and faintly spicy whites made from the native Fernão Pires grape.
5. Paço dos Negros
A small village in the Almeirim municipality, Paço dos Negros takes its name from a sumptuous royal palace that used to be here.
This was ordered by King Manuel I at the beginning of the 16th century.
And while the palace itself has gone, there are captivating clues to what was here before in.
You can trace sections of the wall and find the palace’s watermill and chapel.
But the most interesting fragment is the entrance to the courtyard, as this has all the trademarks of Manuel I’s reign: The merlons on top are carved in the decorative Manueline style, while his coat of arms and Manuel’s symbol, the armillary sphere, are set above the portal.
6. Parque Zona Norte
The northern outskirts of Almeirim have been regenerated in the last decade, and this park was one of the main projects.
In between tufts of pine forest are lawns are a host of sports facilities, with tennis courts, a large skate-park and even a mini golf course.
There’s also a playground for toddlers and smaller children, and paths that weave through the pine and eucalyptus trees.
The park faces Almeirim’s municipal library, which puts on a few programmes during the summer like Cinema no Parque, screening Portuguese and international movies on the lawns.
7. Galeria Municipal
Another reason to pop by Almeirim’s tourist office is from the municipal gallery in the same building.
This has some high-quality exhibitions for a small town, by nationally recognised painters, sculptors, graphic artists, ceramicists and photographers, as well as local and amateur artists based in Almeirim.
There are around 10 different exhibitions each year, so you could spare a few minutes to see what Almeirim’s art scene has to offer.
8. Quinta-Feira da Ascensão
Every Ascension Thursday, normally around mid-May, Almeirim breaks into a town-wide party.
These festivities have distant pagan origins as a celebration of the fertility in the Tagus river plain.
It’s a time when people dress up in 19th-century costume, and folklore societies like Gentes de Almeirim put on events with a traditional theme, like dances, music performances and an old-fashioned market.
One of the headline events is the bull-run when a herd of bulls thunder through the streets, directed by riders on horseback until they charge into the Praça de Toiros.
9. Estátua Dedicada ao Frade da Sopa da Pedra
In Almeirim there’s a statue of a friar sitting in front of a pot, and this relates to Almeirim’s most famous recipe.
The story goes that a friar arrives in the town hungry, but too proud to beg for food.
So he asks a local family if he could use their kitchen to make “stone soup”, using a single pebble and water.
The owner gives him salt to season the water, but the friar suggests it might be better with some pork and chouriço.
And then the friar asks if there’s anything to thicken the soup like beans and potatoes.
And so on, until he has cheekily cooked himself a delicious soup without asking for a whole meal, and removes the pebble to play the same trick on the next town.
There are a few restaurants in Almeirim preparing the town’s hallmark Sopa da Pedra (stone not included!). This recipe has beans, potatoes, chouriço, morcela (black pudding), all flavoured with garlic, bay and coriander.
Like many Portuguese towns, Almeirim has its own salted cod speciality (bacalhau). Here it comes in a spicy broth with tomatoes, potatoes and pasta.
On another tangent, melons were first cultivated in Almeirim by the Moors, and the fertile soil and plentiful water help make melão d’Almeirim a coveted gourmet product across Portugal in summer.
Last up are coscorões, a pastry equivalent to donuts, deep-fried and with orange zest added to give them a zing
This is a marvellous city resting on strategic high ground above the river plain, and has been claimedby the Romans, Visigoths and Moors.
After it was retaken by the King Afonso Henriques 1147, Santarém was furnished with many churches, and now has the best ensemble of Gothic religious architecture in the country.
Try to see as many churches and chapels as you can, as many have unexpected treasures inside.
There are also many monuments representing Manueline (a fusion of High Gothic and Plateresque), Renaissance, Mannerist and Baroque design, as well as the remains of a castle dominating the river plain.