Serpa, ensconced in the sunbaked plains of Alentejo, is a testament to the interwoven tapestry of Portuguese history, nature, and culture. This ancient town, with its whitewashed buildings and terracotta roofs, stands as a silent observer to epochs gone by, its narrow streets echoing tales of Roman conquerors, Moorish settlers, and Christian reconquests. The imposing walls of the Serpa Castle loom above, having once guarded the town from invaders, now standing as stoic sentinels of history.
Beyond its rich past, Serpa is also an ode to the timeless Alentejano way of life. Olive groves stretch beyond the horizon, and local shepherds guide their flocks over rolling hills as they have for centuries. The town’s intimate relationship with nature is palpable, both in its landscape and its produce; Serpa is particularly renowned for its delectable cheeses and high-quality olive oil.
Useful Resources for Your Trip to Serpa
Here’s our top tips and tricks for getting the best deals for your trip to Serpa.
- Accommodation: Booking.com and Airbnb are the two most comprehensive websites for finding hotels, hostels, apartments, and other types of accommodation in Serpa.
- Car Rental: Discover Cars and Rental Cars are the two most useful sites for booking local car rental.
- Airport transfers: There are taxis and Ubers at Lisbon and Porto Airport, but you can also pre-book an airport transfer with Welcome Pickups.
- Tours & Things to Do: Both Get Your Guide and Viator list lots of local tours and activities in Serpa and the surrounding Alentejo region.
- Luggage Storage: Luggage Hero and Bounce are two great sites for finding places to store your luggage in Portugal.
- Public Transport: Cp.pt is the main website for trains in Portugal. For longer distance buses, see Rede Expressos. Flixbus.pt often has cheap tickets between cities in Portugal.
- Flights: Skyscanner and Google Flights are the two most useful websites for finding flights to Portugal: The nearest airport to Serpa is Faro Airport, although Lisbon Airport isn’t too much further away.
What to See & Do
Castelo de Serpa
Nestled within the rolling landscapes of Alentejo, the Castelo de Serpa stands as a testament to the region’s tumultuous past and its enduring spirit. Erected on a strategic vantage point, this fortress has witnessed the ebb and flow of various civilisations, from the Romans and Moors to the Christian Reconquista, each leaving an indelible imprint on its stout walls and intricate architecture.
The castle, with its robust battlements and soaring watchtowers, paints a vivid picture of medieval military architecture. As one traverses through its ancient corridors and ramparts, tales of knights, sieges, and valour seem to echo in the wind. A prominent feature of the castle is its keep, offering panoramic views of Serpa’s terracotta rooftops and the sprawling plains of Alentejo beyond. Adjacent to the castle, one can also find remnants of medieval walls and gates that once fortified the entire town.
Visiting the Castelo de Serpa is akin to stepping back in time. Its walls and towers, scarred by battles and weathered by time, serve as silent narrators of the region’s rich history. A stroll here is not merely about appreciating ancient architecture, but also about immersing oneself in the tales and legends that have shaped the identity of Serpa and the broader Alentejo region.
Museu do Relógio
Nestled in Serpa’s historic center is the unique and intriguing Museu do Relógio, a haven for watch and clock enthusiasts, and the only one of its kind on the Iberian Peninsula. This museum is dedicated solely to the art and science of timekeeping, showcasing a diverse collection of timepieces that span several centuries. From ornate pendulum clocks that once graced aristocratic mansions to intricate pocket watches that told time for the elite, each exhibit offers a glimpse into the world of horology and its evolution over time.
Housed in the Palácio dos Condes de Ficalho, the museum’s setting further elevates the experience, merging history with the art of time. As visitors navigate through the museum’s corridors, they are treated to tales of craftsmanship, innovation, and the cultural significance of watches and clocks throughout history.
Igreja do Salvado
The Igreja do Salvador in Serpa stands as a remarkable testament to Portugal’s rich religious heritage. Positioned in the heart of the town, this historically significant church boasts a splendid Manueline architectural style, identifiable by its ornate portal and intricately carved stone features. Inside, visitors are treated to an array of religious artefacts, including a collection of gilded woodwork altarpieces from the 16th century and impressive tile panels that narrate biblical stories.
Aqueduto de Serpa
The Aqueduto de Serpa, a significant architectural marvel in the Alentejo region, stands as a testament to the town’s rich historical past. Constructed during the 17th century, this impressive aqueduct was designed to address Serpa’s water scarcity issues by channelling water from a nearby spring into the town. Spanning several kilometres with its gracefully arching stone arches, the structure not only provided an essential water supply but also became an iconic symbol of Serpa’s resilience and ingenuity.
What to Eat
The local Alentejo cuisine is a delight for foodies, and you should look out for dishes like black pork (porco preto) as well as olives from the region. If you’re just having coffee, look out for the queijada de requeijão.
The most famous dish, however, is the Queijo Serpa, or cheese from Serpa.
One of Portugal’s gastronomic treasures, particularly hailing from the eastern district of Beja, is the illustrious Serpa cheese. This semi-soft delicacy, crafted from the rich milk of local sheep, bears a striking resemblance to the renowned Pecorino in terms of texture and flavour. However, what sets Serpa apart is its unique curdling process, deeply rooted in the traditions of the Alentejo region.
In place of the conventional animal rennet, Serpa owes its distinct character to a native species of thistle found abundantly across Alentejo’s sprawling countryside. The thistle leaves undergo a meticulous drying process, after which they are immersed in water. The resultant extract, infused with the essence of the land, is then introduced to warmed milk, instigating the magical transformation into curd. Once formed, this curd finds its way into moulds, culminating its journey enveloped in a muslin cloth that aids its maturation. The cheese’s final appearance is nothing short of art – a tender, pliable rind that encases a luscious, pale-yellow core.