Not for from the Spanish border, Moura is a medieval town with rich Moorish heritage.
Take the Mouraria neighbourhood , which looks much as it did 700 years ago when it was an enclave for a minority Muslim population.
Moura is still defended by a castle, and on the ramparts there’s a park with endless views of an idyllic landscape of olive groves and sun-baked hills.
A gargantuan reservoir is a few moments from Moura, for sailing and fun in the water in the summer.
And when the sun goes down the city is illuminated, not by street lights, but by what could be the brightest night sky you’ll ever see. This region has won awards for its stargazing.
Let’s explore the best things to do in Moura:
1. Castelo de Moura
The crest of the tallest hill in Moura has seen human activity for millennia, and way before the Romans arrived the Thebans from Ancient Greece would have had a settlement here.
Something that made this perch eternally popular was the presence of permanent water sources in an otherwise arid landscape.
The castle took shape in Moorish times, to be reinforced in the 13th century by King Denis I. The keep is the highlight, and has survived so well because of its sturdy marble.
It contains a sublime octagonal vaulted room, held up by slender columns.
Take the spiral stairway up to the battlements for a view to cherish.
2. Mouraria de Moura
Moura has the oldest Moorish quarter in Portugal, which had been used as a refuge from the Christians well before the city was captured.
For that defensive role it has very tight, winding streets.
After the Reconquista, the Moors were forced to resettle in this quarter, which is outside the castle walls.
They kept their identity until 1496 when they had to convert to Christianity or leave.
The quarter is an alley and three intersecting streets of single-storey cottages that have curious domed chimney stacks.
3. Convento das Dominicanas
On the same site as the castle, the convent was started in 1562 and is partially in ruins.
The church is still standing and has Renaissance design.
There’s no missing its bold whitewashed facade with three imposing arches.
In the ruins of the presbytery to the side you can make out a portal with a coat of arms etched into the tympanum.
The most fascinating thing inside is the Manueline (early 16th-century) tomb of two brothers Álvaro and Pedro Rodrigues, who helped plan the successful assault on the city in 1166.
4. Jardim Doutor Santiago
On the same level as the castle is a garden buttressed by walls constructed to fend off artillery attacks in the 16th century.
The park is from the 1800s and was given its current name in 1934 after the mayor at the time.
You’ll enter via a grand portal flanked by arcades, and an antique horse-drawn fire cart is on show in the gardens.
Once again, the scenery from this elevated position is sensational, and you make out the Alqueva Dam clearly.
Pause for a while and appreciate these views, kicking back under palms and evergreen trees planted more than 100 years ago.
5. Museu Municipal
Moura’s municipal museum has a trove of items recovered from digs or passed down the generations.
The kernel of this collection was first exhibited as long ago as 1884, but it wasn’t until 1993 that the museum had a permanent home.
The earliest pieces here are from prehistory, and the most recent date to the 1700s.
Among the antique weapons, ceramics, jewellery and glassware there’s one item that you cannot leave without seeing.
This is the figure of a “smiting god”, dating to the Iron Age, around 2,500 years ago.
6. Alqueva Reservoir
What used to be valleys of cork oaks and olive groves, is now one of the largest water reservoirs in Europe, covering 25,000 hectares.
This was only formed in the 2000s by the Alqueva Dam, a megastructure completed in stages between 1995 and 2013. It hasn’t taken long for people to recognise the potential for watersports here.
You can hire yachts, motorboats, kayaks or canoes, or have a go at waterskiing and wakeboarding.
If you prefer solid ground the banks are now laced with trails for cyclists and walkers, with views of the dam and the parched countryside.
With an immense body of water and no large cities, the eastern part of Alentejo is almost completely clear of light pollution.
This is aided even further by an agreement between towns like Moura and Barrancos to turn their streetlights down as low as possible.
The total area committed to this scheme is now up to 3,000 square kilometres.
The Starlight Initiative has labelled the region a “Starlight Tourism Destination”. The upshot is a brilliant tapestry of stars in the night sky.
You can bring your own telescope of course, but there are all sorts of experiences if you’d like help of an expert (think nocturnal canoe trips on the Alqueva Reservoir).
8. Atalaia Magra
Another fine destination for a walk is this lone watchtower at the crest of a hill dappled with gnarled cork oaks and olive trees.
You can drive part of the way there on the N258 or do it all on foot.
Your goal is a 14th-century circular Gothic tower, four storeys high.
When Portugal was at war with the Kingdom of Castile this was an early warning system of invasion.
The watchmen would send signals back to Moura, and communicate with three other hilltop towers in the area.
Given its age and remote setting the tower is in good shape, and you can still reach the upper with the spiral stairway.
9. Núcleo Árabe
On Largo da Mouraria in the old Moorish Quarter you there’s a museum all about Moura’s Islamic period.
The centrepiece is a Moorish well with clay walls, dating to the 14th century.
This is one of many riveting artefacts like a bone amulet, engraved stones, an Islamic casket, and a host of ceramics recovered from digs.
The museum also dips into the everyday lives of the Moors, documenting their cuisine and customs and how they navigated the Guadiana River.
10. Igreja de São João Batista
Moura’s parish church is from the start of the 1500s when King Manuel I was on the throne, and was built down the slope when the congregation outgrew the convent church in the castle.
An interesting thing about the layout of the church is that the central nave was reserved only for the clergy and nobility, while the townsfolk had to stand in the aisles.
In the nave, feast your eyes on the fine marble pulpit, while the Chancel has blue glazed tiles with geometric patterns painted in a Sevillan workshop.
11. Convento do Carmo
This convent was established not long after Moura was retaken, during the reign of Afonso III in the middle of the 13th century.
And due to later expansions and reconstructions the convent has a compelling blend of Gothic, Manueline and Renaissance design.
The convent was the first sisterhood for the Carmelite order on the Iberian Peninsula, and at one time it was also the seat of the order in Portugal.
If you’re a keen student of medieval history you might detect the symbols of the Order of Malta in the facade, main portal and the cloister.
In the nave lift your head to view the coffered ceiling, carved at the start of the 16th century.
12. Igreja Paroquial de Santo Aleixo da Restauração
This 17th-century church has an compelling story to tell, mainly because it has always been on the path of invading armies.
An earlier version was destroyed by Castilian troops in 1626. And again, at the start of the 18th century it was partly demolished in the War of the Spanish Succession.
The reconstruction in 1733 has left it with a fusion of the earlier Mannerist and later Baroque designs.
The facade is definitely Baroque, with scrolls on its gable, and inside the best features are the figurative blue and white tiles and the dainty stucco reliefs in the nave, evoking the Stations of the Cross.
13. Lagar de Varas de Fojo
Moura’s countryside has yielded olives for oil since the Romans.
And you’ll feel a connection to those hundreds of years of oil production at this mill, in a grove with trees that are more than a millennium old.
The first record of the mill is from 1810 and it produced oil until as late as 1941. At that time automatic machines took over, but the Lagar de Varas de Fojo shows you how things used to be done by hand, with only the help of a spring to press the oil.
Not a single piece of the mill is missing, which makes this a petty unique piece of agricultural history in both Portugal and Spain.
14. Azeite de Moura
Moura’s olive oil is so highly-rated it has its own protected denomination of origin.
And even if machines have taken over, the process is unadulterated: All it takes is washing, milling, mashing, spinning and filtration.
Food-lovers should make a note to get down to Moura’s agricultural cooperative (Cooperativa Agrícola de Moura e Barrancos). This is on the south side of the town and sells its virgin and extra virgin oil in 0.5, 0.75, 3 and 5-litre bottles.
Well five litres of oil might be excessive, but a small bottle of extra virgin oil would make a great gift.
15. Food and Drink
Besides that acclaimed olive oil, there are lots of other local products to taste here.
Where there’s olive oil there are bound to be great olives, and these will come as a snack at bars or restaurants.
Honey is superb in Moura, as are the cured sausages and cheese, while locally grown grapefruit is in season around late-winter and early-spring.
On the menu, Miga is leftover bread, soaked and fried with garlic, and accompanies many main courses.
Meanwhile açorda is a sort of broth with bread at its base and is a meal in itself.
Lamb stew is a trademark Alentejo dish and pairs beautifully with the region’s strong red wines.