Off the beaten track, the fortified village of Mertola, Portugal, is breathtaking.
Located above a river, it is home to a castle and offers a variety of architectural influences and a unique church.
Below is my guide to plan your visit to this picturesque hilltop village - with map, tips and photos.
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Why visit the village of Mertola in Portugal?
Is Mertola worth a visit?
Yes, the village of Mertola is worth a visit.
It is away from the main touristic routes but it is one of the most fascinating villages in Portugal.
The combination is stunning: white houses, fortifications, castles, river, hills...
- white houses on a hilltop
- a castle and fortification wall
- a river just below
- a mosque / church
- splendid views of the region.
Video - Virtual visit
Let's start with a short video to give you an idea of what a visit to Mertola could look like:
I think it is one of the best places to visit in Portugal.
More photos and details after the planning tips.
Planning tips and Map - visiting Mertola, Portugal
Where is Mertola in Portugal? Map and Location
- In the Alentejo Region
- In the Parque Natural do Vale Do Guadiana
- At the border with Portugal, and not far North of the limit of the Algarve region
- Lisbon to Mertola = 2h30 drive
- Faro (Algarve) to Mertola = 1h30 drive
- Below is a map to help you get oriented:
This location with its GPS coordinates and planning info is included in my eBook to help you easily plan your Portugal road trip and itinerary:
Plan your ideal road trip around Portugal
How to get to Mertola
- This village is away from the touristic routes and far from the main touristic towns
- Therefore, you need a rental car to be able to go explore this stunning place
- There is public transportation but not that much
- No organized tours that I am aware of.
- Easy drive to access the village
- Carpark at the entrance of the village (outside the wall)
Need to rent a car in Portugal?
- Compare car rental prices on my favorite platform: Discovercars.com - one of the best rated sites!
- Choose the car and company you prefer (remember the villages narrow streets)
- Consider their full coverage option - I always take it for peace of mind!
- Book early to have a large choice of vehicles!
- The carpark is at the bottom of the village. You need to climb uphill a little to reach the castle and views
- Facilities between the Mertola church and the Mertola Castle
- Free Mertola maps at the information center and you can find map displayed in the village
- Cafes right near the entrance of the village and restaurants in town
- Plan half a day to walk around
Mertola Hotels and accommodations
- I stopped at Mertola on my way from Evora to Tavira.
- I wish I had spent the night in Mertola rather than in Tavira. It must be stunning when the light goes down and even better at sunrise
- Here is a link to the best rated hotels and accommodations in Mertola Portugal
Where to stay in Portugal?
- In Lisbon, to explore the vibrant city - see best rated accommodations
- In Sintra, to visit as many palaces as possible - see best rated accommodations
- In Porto, to feel the history - see best rated accommodations
- In Obidos, to walk on the medieval walls at sunset - see best rated accommodations
- In the Douro valley, if you love wine - see best rated accommodations
- In the Algarve, my favorite town is Lagos - see best rated accommodations
- In the Algarve, Portimao is practical to visit all the best beaches - see best rated accommodations
Find more inspiration in my article about where to stay in Portugal
Views of Mertola village & History
One of the best things about Mertola is that River Guadiana flows at its foot. See the bridge in the picture below? Well, you can cross to the other side of the river to enjoy absolutely breathtaking views of Mertola.
And below are the views you can get with the Mertola Castle at the top and the church just under it.
This is River Guadiana looking in the other direction from the bridge. This is the typical landscape of the Nature Park of Vale do Guadiana, in which Mertola lies in the center.
If you drive a little bit further along the river on the opposite side to the village of Mertola Portugal, you reach a small jetty with more views of the castle and the church, as well as the wall around the village.
Short history of Mertola
- There is evidence of settlements dating back to the Neolithic period.
- Its strategic location on the last navigable portion of the Guadiana River at the border with Spain made it a strategic location. It became an important trading post.
- The, during the Roman times, its name was Mirtylis lulia and it remained an important trading port.
- After the Roman Empire, it was under the ruling of the Visigoths
- And during the 8th century, it was invaded by the Muslims and renamed Martulah. Once again, it remained a significant trading port. During those time, the village peaked.
- The Moors lost Mertola in 1238 during the Christian invasion
- During the 16th and 17th centuries, it became once again a significant commercial port.
- At the end of the 19th century, minerals were found in S. Domingos. Mining peaked until the 1950s
Walking in the Portuguese village of Mertola
Do not try to drive inside with your car. The alleys are narrow and I have seen people get stuck!
And, like in many of the Portugal villages, it has been built on a hill and walking around is quite a climb. However, with those white walls and views, it is a real pleasure to stroll inside.
Views all around
Make sure to tour the village as much as possible. The views are splendid all around with the hills, the river, the orange rooftops...
Layers of history
And look for the historical details from its various historical periods...
Torre do Relogio (Clock Tower)
By the river, notice the Clock Tower: Torre de Relogio.
It is believed to have been built in the 16th century. (1593 is engraved in the bell).
However the stairway to the pier is from the 20th century.
Torre Couraça (Shield Tower)
By the river, you can also see the ruins of more fortifications.
It includes Torre Couraça which was used to access water and to protect the port.
See below the fortification wall:
Mertola Church - Igreja Matriz
One of the best things to do in Mertola Portugal is to admire the unique church. It has a long and complex history and a very unique style!
Originally it was a mosque. The Mertola mosque was erected in the 12th century.
However, when Mertola was integrated into the Portuguese Kingdom in 1238, it was slightly altered and became a church consecrated as St Mary's church (Igregja Matriz) by the Order of Santiago.
It is so unique to see this blend of architecture. Look at the doorway reminding us this used to be a Mosque!
Museum of Mertola
Inside the church you can see a sign about the Mertola Museum.
The person in charge gave us access. Located under the Mertola Church, this is a small but very well-done museum.
It displays architectural details and pieces as well as objects found in burial sites.
After the Mertola mosque was consecrated as a church, the wealthiest and most powerful people began to be buried around with objects such as pins, fragments of crucifix, beads from necklaces and rosaries, rings...
You can find more displays in various buildings throughout the village:
- Miner's rooms from the 20th century in a miner's house
- Roman ruins in the town hall
- Islamic art in a former granary
And at the top of the hill you can visit the Mertola Castle.
A fortification had already been built during the Islamic Period but only the base of a few towers and the curved entry system remain. At the end of the 13th century, a Christian Castle was erected to establish the headquarter of the Order of Santiago and the residence of the governors.
From the 18th century on, the castle lost its military function and was declared abandoned.
You can learn more from the video being played in the keep.
Today both the castle and the church are national monuments.
Here is the door to enter the castle
Visiting the Mertola Castle
From the walls of the castle, the views are still very scenic.
There is not much specific to see.
Views from the Castle
The best part of visiting the castle is to admire the views of the village of Mertola from above.
Below are a few pictures taken in various directions around the castle.
Want to see more of the best Portugal has to offer?
- 30 Most beautiful landscapes in Portugal - read article
- Best things to do in Portugal - read article
- The best beaches in Portugal - read article
- The best villages in Portugal - read article
- Lisbon vs Porto - where to go? - read article
- Driving in Portugal - read article
- The best of the Algarve region - read article
- The highlights of Sintra and the Sintra-Cascais Nature park - read article
Planning a trip to Portugal?
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