At the very limit of Alentejo (which means “beyond the Tagus”) lies a beautiful castle, Belver (“beautiful view”). It is placed at the top of a hill that towers the river Tagus, the longest river of the Iberian Peninsula. The castle was restored in the 40s by Salazar, the Portuguese dictator, and it is the perfect location to bathe just across the river, at the beach. The name of this beach is Alamal, and it feels indeed like an oasis in the middle of the hot lands of Alentejo (temperatures of more than 40 degrees are quite usual). It is a hidden paradise that you can only reach by following a sneaky, narrow road that goes down the mountain. But the result is well worth it!
At the beach, the temperature of the water will cool you down immediately. Families can bring their lunch and even feed the friendly walking ducks, or they can choose to eat at a local, small restaurant there. Plenty of kids come here to learn how to canoe. Many times, you see scouts trying to find the way leading up to the castle. The hiking route there reminds of the shape of wooden Tibetan bridges that go over the water, alongside the riverbank. This part is suitable for all ages.
On the other hand, going up to the castle takes a lot more effort. The Portuguese builders certainly knew what they were doing when they placed it there. But, come to that, what is a castle doing in the middle of Portugal, away from all borders? Well, we cannot forget that this country was formed at the time of the Crusades when the Christians were fighting the Muslim invasion in Iberia and Jerusalem. And by 800, they had already occupied almost all of the peninsula. Long story short (let us not make this a history lesson), the Christians managed to start winning back their lost territory.
Thus, they decided to march south. Then they reached the Tagus, which was a much bigger river than it is now. It was very complicated to cross it, and therefore, it became the border between the two armies for a long time. To secure their side, the Portuguese decided to build there a castle. Nevertheless, there was a problem. At the time, the very young Christian kingdom did not have enough population to secure the gained lands (plus, people did not dare to live in such dangerous areas), so the kings had to charge its defense to the "religious, military Orders."
The one in charge of Belver was the Order of the Hospitalários. In exchange, they became the lords of these lands. Nowadays, the Order has disappeared, but that is another story. What matters to us is that they left us a bunch of magnificent castles in the area well worth a visit (Crato is the most known). Together with the Alamal river beach, it is the perfect plan for a summer day if you are in the Alentejo lands!
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