Ponte de Sor is a rural town in a land where cork oak trees cultivated for their valuable bark. And although Porte de Sor is rather quiet and unassuming there’s always something happening at the stylish “CAC” culture and arts centre. The countryside is dry and sun-bleached in summer, but water is still a constant theme in Ponta de Sor because of the Montargil Dam, where watersports are in store from June to September.
In the town the new Zona Ribeirinha is just the spot to hang out by the river. And if someone in the family loves horses, the royal stud farm in nearby Alter do Chão is a dream day out.
Let’s explore the best things to do in Ponte de Sor:
1. Zona Ribeirinha
On the right bank of the Sor is a new riverside park.
This inviting space has benches, lawns and deciduous trees, as well as outdoor venues where all the town’s big gatherings and concerts happen in summer.
On an ordinary day you could just take the weight off on a bench, watch the river go by and listen to the elderly townsfolk chatting.
In summer you can also take a dip in the public outdoor pools, open every day from June to September and just € 1.50 entrance for an adult.
There’s also a cafe and a modern footbridge, all part of this project led by local architect Nuno Matos Duarte.
2. Capela de Santo António de Montargil
Beside the Montargil Dam, on a hilltop dotted with cork oaks there’s an adorable 18th-century chapel.
For one thing you could wander up the hill just for the vistas of Montargil, the dam, reservoir and the sparse, undulating countryside.
The chapel’s fittings are all from the time it was built, and your attention will be stolen by the altarpiece with the exuberant gilded woodwork that was in style during the Baroque in Portugal.
3. Barragem de Montargil
The Montargil Dam was completed in 1958 and holds back a reservoir 1,646 hectares in size.
And despite being man-made this body of water is beautiful, and has quickly become a regional haven for wildlife, particularly birds.
It’s enough just to ramble along the shore, but the reservoir is also a hub for watersports in summer.
If this sounds like your kind of thing get in touch with the Clube Náutico Montargil, which rents out stand-up paddleboards, kayaks and jet-skis, and also organises motorboat trips and wake-boarding.
4. Centro de Artes e Cultura de Ponte de Sor
Unveiled in 2009, Ponte de Sor’s art and culture centre (CAC) is in an old factory at the upper end of the Zona Ribeirinha.
This was a cereal mill built in the 1920s for grinding flour and husking rice, and a lot of its machinery has been kept and put on show.
This building is capacious and has lots of uses, holding the town library, archives, a theatre, as well as exhibition galleries and a restaurant.
Something new at the CAC is the “Fablab Alentejo”, a high-tech laboratory and workshop with state-of-the-art workstations and a 3D printer made available for schools and artists.
5. Igreja da Misericórdia de Galveias
Inside Ponte de Sor’s limits is the parish of Galveias where a riveting piece of religious heritage awaits.
This church is from the 1700s and shares the same format as many religious buildings for the Misericórdia brotherhood, with a main temple and side-buildings like a meeting hall attached.
Something that may catch your eye on the facade is the paint scheme: Most Alentejo churches have white with one other colour, while this church, as well as its yellow border, has red and black on its pediment and portal.
The interior is mostly Rococo, as you’ll see on the imitation marble arch in the chancel, and the masonry altar with gilded mouldings.
6. Oásis – Parque Aquático
The littlest family members may need somewhere a bit smaller than a reservoir for fun in the water.
So fortunately at Galveais there’s a waterpark with a spacious outdoor section that has a pool, playground and two slides, one open and one covered.
Grown-ups will be able to park themselves on the green area, which is scattered with palms and is so large it’s almost like a park of its own.
You can bring a picnic, and if the weather doesn’t cooperate there’s also a 17-metre indoor pool on the site.
7. Ponte de Vila Formosa
East of Ponte de Sor on the Seda River is a bridge that has stood the test of 2,000 years.
The Ponte de Vila Formosa is a 100 metres long and is on the Roman road that linked what is now Lisbon with the city of Mérida, which at the time was the capital of Lusitania.
One of the telltale signs that this was a Roman bridge is the sequence of holes between the six arches.
These were designed to let water pass through the bridge during a flood to stop it being swept away.
8. Alter do Chão
Carry on to the town of Alter do Chão, 20 minutes east of Ponte de Sor and with a couple of top-notch attractions.
The obvious of these is the Coudelaria de Alter do Chão, the royal stud.
This was founded in the 1848 by King John V to breed horses for his royal riding school.
After a period of decline in the 20th century the centre has bounced back as a dreamland for horse-lovers.
You can take a lesson on noble Alter Real Lusitano horses, watch them grazing and take a tour of the historic stables.
Also make some time for the Castle of Alter do Chão, which looks much like it did when it was reinforced by Peter I during the 14th century.
9. Fluviário de Mora
Not far from the Montargil Dam is an aquarium all about the ecosystems of freshwater rivers and lakes.
There are only a handful of attractions like this in the world, and this one hosts more than 500 animals of 55 different species.
Easily the stars of the show are the European and Oriental small-clawed otters.
In tanks are various amphibians and turtles, as well as the likes of rays, catfish and sturgeons.
All are freshwater species, housed in habitats that mimic their natural homes, and have in-depth information about their biology and behaviour.
The Fluviário in park by the Gameiro Dam, where there’s also a campsite, picnic garden and river beach.
10. Cine-Teatro de Ponte de Sor
Ponte de Sor’s cinema is an Art Deco hall that first went up in the 1930s.
As the makes clear, this venue doubles as a theatre, hosting plays, music performances and conferences.
If you’re in the mood a movie, English speakers will be pleased to know that films are screened in their original language in Portugal, with subtitles instead of dubbing.
Come by during the day as it’s a landmark that merits a photo for its fluted pilasters and the geometric patterns on its stained glass windows.
11. Festas da Cidade
Ponte de Sor was granted city status in July 1985 and this date has been celebrated ever since with a series of concerts now staged in the Zona Ribeirinha.
There are also fairs for handicrafts and regional gastronomy and lots of side events like dance demonstrations and workshops.
Each night it all builds up to a gig by a well-known artist from Portugal’s pop scene.
To give you a taste, In 2016 two of the nights were headlined by singer-songwriter António Zambujo, and Youtube star Mia Rose.
12. Food and Drink
With plenty of waterways around Ponte de Sor, freshwater fresh like trout and carp are delicious, and are fried, roasted or cooked in stews.
In the wilderness people often hunted their meals until the 20th century, so there are ancestral recipes for game like partridge, pigeon, wild boar and rabbit.
Alentejo lamb stew hits the spot on cooler winter days, and the Iberian favourite, migas (leftover bread, refried) is cooked with pork and wild asparagus in spring.
Also very regional is açorda alentejana, a type of broth or paste with bread, garlic, olive oil and eggs.