Estremoz, which lies on the ancient road that connected Lisbon with Mérida, Spain, has been a site of strategic importance since Roman times, and the castle, which overlooks the town, was a crucial one of the Alentejo's many fortresses.
Estremoz is most closely associated with Isabel of Aragon, although she spent only a short time here. Married to Dom Dinis—a Portuguese king—in 1282, she arrived in 1336 and after a brief stay became ill and died. The luxurious Pousada da Rainha Santa Isabel, which occupies the castle, was named for her. It was also in Estremoz in 1367 that the queen's grandson Pedro, the lover and secret husband of Inês de Castro, died. The Portuguese people loved Queen Isabel and over the ages have handed down many tales and legends of her humility and charity. She was beatified in the 16th century, then canonized in 1625 by Pope Urban VIII. A statue in the castle square commemorates her. From atop the castle tower you'll have a magnificent view over the Alentejo plains.
Today Estremoz is a bustling rural hub that’s the seat of eastern Alentejo’s growing arts scene, as well as a military garrison town complete with sword-wielding guards outside the cavalry regiment’s headquarters across from the main park. Chock-full of history but not resting on its laurels, Estremoz is unfortunately often overlooked in favor of its more touristy sister city Évora, but it shouldn’t be. Make Estremoz your base for exploring this half of the Alentejo and you won’t be disappointed.