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MONSARAZ – known locally as Ninho das Águias (Eagles’ Nest) – is perched high above the border plains, a tiny village nestled into fortified walls close to the Spanish border, a 65-kilometre drive from Vila Viçosa. From its heights, the landscape of Alentejo takes on a magical quality, a sensational panorama of sun-baked fields, dotted with cork and olive trees. To the east, the Rio Guadiana has swollen into a giant lake following the building of the Alqueva dam, a watery panorama at odds with the aridity to the west.

The small village, with a permanent population of just a few hundred, has only two main streets, parallel to each other, Rua Direita and Rua de Santiago, with the Igreja Matriz at the heart of the village. Here in the square is the turismo and an unusual eighteenth-century pillory topped by a sphere of the universe. The Torre das Feiticeiras (Witches’ Tower) looms from the castle at the far end of the village, part of a chain of impressive frontier fortresses. The views from the walls are magnificent. When the Moors were ejected in 1167 the village was handed over to the Knights Templar, and later to their successors, the Order of Christ. Their fort now hosts the annual village festival, in the second week of September, which features bullfights here, along with concerts, dancing and spectacular fireworks.

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