I love exploring Portugal off the beaten track and I had often wondered what lay in the countryside beyond Campo Maior and close to the Spanish border. So, on a clear morning in May 2017 we set off from Vila Viçosa to walk the PR1 CMR. The walk is c.6kms, well waymarked, and is easy and flat apart from the steep climb at the end – steep descent, depending on which way you do the walk. I recommend the ascent!
We parked under the castle walls of Ouguela and set off down the hill past lots of sweet smelling broom, and other small flowers. The views over the countryside towards Spain are far-reaching and reminded me of the vast landscapes in South Africa – or perhaps it was just a nostalgic moment.
We passed an old border post, crossed the River Xévora (a tributary of the River Guadiana), and visited the shrine of Nossa Senhora of Enxara which was built on the site of a vision of the Virgin Mary. This is a major Pilgrimage site during Easter for the people of Campo Maior and surrounding areas.
The remains of a Roman bridge over the River Xévora are nearby and it seems as though the river was much wider in the past.
The path then follows the River Abrilongo with lots of flowers and vegetation which could be in England. We crossed the river on a rather nasty stepping stone kind of bridge, with the stones quite high above the water, small, and set a big step apart. Further north the river is the border between Portugal and Spain.
More flowers, red and black oil beetles, another river crossing, and then we faced the final climb back up the hill.
The route took us to the only remaining lookout post for the Mediaeval castle, St Peter’s Watchtower (Atalaia de S.Pedro). Amazing views!
The walk approaches the town and the Castle from the rear and presents a very different image of Portugal from that seen in tourist brochures.
The site of the castle has been occupied since pre-Roman times! The Castle was rebuilt by King Dinis in the 13C-14C when the area was recaptured from the Moors and further fortified in the following centuries. This was one of a line of forts protecting the border with Spain, the others being Campo Maior, Elvas, Olivença and Juramenha. Wellington used the Castle during his Peninsular Campaign in the early 1800s, although he noted it was ‘..indifferently garrisoned..’ despite its importance to him.
Inside the walls the Governor’s house seemed to be under restoration. A cistern was also signposted, but there was nothing else apart from some very old houses built against the walls.
That was fun but now it was time for refreshments in Campo Maior as there was nothing in Ouguela. This is a lovely walk – do try it, although not in the height of summer!