I loved Evora in Portugal. This beautiful city has so much to offer, yet many people only spend a day here on a whistle-stop Lisbon to Evora day trip – they are missing out big time! I spent three days enjoying Evora at a relaxed pace, and with plenty of things to do in Evora, I wasn’t bored! However, one of my favourite activities in Evora was actually outside the city, when I took an Evora Megaliths Tour with Portugal Birds and Trails, organised by my hostel in Evora, the Heaven Inn. On the tour we visited three megalithic monuments in Évora, the Menir (Menhir), Cromeleque dos Almendres (the Almendres Cromlech); and Anta Grande do Zambujeiro, a huge dolmen.
I enjoyed a complimentary megaliths tour from Portugal Birds and Trails in exchange for my honest review. All opinions are my own, and the fact I loved the tour clearly influenced my review!
What are Megaliths?
Megaliths are large stones which have been used to build a structure or monument, and they can be stand-alone or be part of a larger megalithic site with multiple stones. Probably the most famous example of a megalithic site is Stonehenge in England, but these megalithic sites in Evora are around 2000 years older than Stonehenge, so are well worth a visit!
Why Visit the Evora Megaliths?
If you are remotely interested in history or nature, I highly recommend visiting the megaliths. These ancient monuments were built around 4000-6000 BC, and give us a glimpse of the past, with the inhabitants of the region leaving a long-lasting testament to their culture, and their prowess. These megaliths were carved in stone, and clearly took a lot of time and effort to build – something which shows how successful they were in the region; you don’t build monuments like these if you are short of food or resources.
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How to Visit the Evora Megalithic Sites
It is possible to visit the megaliths independently, either by car, or if you are feeling very adventurous, by bike. However, parts of the road are very bumpy dirt tracks which huge potholes, which makes biking difficult, and I highly recommend taking a tour so you can have a guide with you to explain the meanings of the stones, as well as having the chance to learn about the cork production in the region, and the nature and birdlife here too. Taking the tour with Nuno was a far better experience than I would have had alone!
The Almendres Cromlech (Cromeleque dos Almendres)
This was the first and the largest megalithic site we visiting on the tour. 100 huge stones were shaped and positioned in a roughly circular shape, on an eastern-facing slope. The site could have been of religious significance, or perhaps used as a kind of solar calendar to judge when to sow and harvest crops.
Some of the stones have carvings which are still visible, although they are hard to see due to erosion. You can still see circles and serpentine shapes and other carvings, although the meanings of these are unclear – the experts simply don’t know what the shapes may have meant.
We were the only ones here at the cromlech, and there are no fences or gates, we could freely walk among them and touch the stone. It was incredible to imagine that nearly 8000 years ago people had created this, without the use of metal tools, before the invention of the wheel. And that they still stand today! Unfortunately, it was clear that in places the soil erosion would eventually threaten the integrity of the site, but it is hard to know how to protect these incredible stones while still retaining their original state and keeping the magical feeling which still lingers.
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The Almendres Menhir
This single megalith known as the Almendres Menhir was found close enough to the Almendres Cromlech that experts believe it was created by the same people who built the cromlech. It stands about 4 metres tall, with no other visible stones around it. Nuno said it was probably related to fertility, and given its phallic nature, I’m not surprised the archaeologists came up with that one! It was strange to see it standing alone, in the middle of what is now a cork farm.
Anta Grande do Zambujeiro
The Anta Grande do Zambujeiro in Evora is huge! I had seen a dolmen before in Ireland on my Shamrocker backpacker tour, but this site is much larger, with huge stones creating a kind of entrance to the dolmen, which was covered with even larger capstones.
Unfortunately, this megalithic site has lost some of its charm as parts have been cordoned off, and a protective roof built over it. Although this does protect the site from erosion, it perhaps isn’t the best way to preserve the incredible monument. Apparently, when the dolmen was discovered, they blew apart the capstone with dynamite to get inside, which obviously caused some structural damage, so the roof and some support was required.
Nuno also told me that when he was as a student, you could still go inside the dolmen, which was a popular hangout for teenagers, but the entry is now blocked off. You can walk around and see inside the dolmen from above, where people were buried thousands of years ago. Due to the acidic content in the soil, the bodies would decompose completely, but when the dolmen was discovered, archaeologists found from the remains of cloth and offerings that the bodies were buried in a foetal position, probably so they were ready to be ‘re-born’ in the next life. Originally, the whole dolmen was buried beneath the earth, which just the ‘small’ entrance visible.
One of the bonuses of taking an Evora Megaliths tour instead of going alone was that Nuno also explained to me how the process of cork harvesting worked. I’d never seen a cork tree before, but we saw a lot on the way to the megaliths, and Nuno said that the trees took between 30-45 years to grow to the point where their cork can be harvested. The cork bark is then cut from the tree, leaving it looking like it had had a haircut! The year of the harvest was then marked on the tree, so the farmer would know how long to wait until the cork was ready to cut again – in at least 9 years time! Cork farming really isn’t a good way to make a fast buck…
We were also on the lookout for wild asparagus which grows in Alentejo, but it was a bit too early in the season, unfortunately! While we were walking and driving around the sites, we saw various birds, some of which I’d never heard of before like the Azure-Winged Magpie, and others I had heard of like the Red Kite. Nuno pointed out the birds we saw, and some of the native plants and herbs too.
About Portugal Birds and Trails
As you may have guessed by the name, Nuno, the founder and owner of Portugal Birds and Trails is a huge nature lover. He has over 20 years of birding experience in Alentejo, the largest region of Portugal, and where Evora is located. He offers several different kinds of tours in the area around Evora, and I joined him on an Evora Megaliths Tour. Along the way, Nuno explained the different wildlife and birds we saw (and heard) as we visited the megalithic sites in Evora.
I loved my tour with Nuno. He is clearly very passionate about wildlife and knew everything I asked about the birds and plants we saw. The megaliths themselves are fascinating, and it really helped to have some explanation about what we were seeing. I highly recommend taking this tour, or indeed any tour with Nuno!
How to Book the Evora Megaliths Tour
You can find the details of the tours that Nuno offers on his website here. Nuno speaks excellent English, so if you have any questions about the tours don’t hesitate to get in touch with him.
Where to Stay in Evora
If you are thinking about taking a day trip to Evora from Lisbon, why not stay the night in Evora? There are plenty of things to do in Evora, and great restaurants too. I stayed at the fabulous Heaven Inn Hostel, which was more like a boutique hotel than a hostel, with a gorgeous ensuite private room as well as plenty of dorms if you’re backpacking Portugal on a Budget. You can read my full review of the Heaven Inn Hostel Evora or book directly on their website for exclusive discounts, or through Hostelworld if you prefer.
Have you visited any megalithic sites? After taking an Evora megaliths tour I’ll look out for more on my travels!
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