Never heard of Beja? You’ll find it in Portugal.
A city and a municipality in the Alentejo region and is largely untouristed, with a walled centre and some beguiling sights, all of which are in easy walking distance to one another.
We chose to spend some time in Beja because it was roughly half way between Lisbon and our next stop Algarve, Portugal. It is surrounded by a sea of wheat fields, which goes a long way to explain the tourist area in which it falls — Planicie Dourada (Golden Plain).
Beja is a monument to Portuguese history and is packed full of locations with so much antiquity and interest. A large number of the sites have been identified by UNESCO for restoration and some have already rescued themselves, either with the assistance of local council or the Catholic Church.
While escaping from a sudden shower of rain we happened to ‘fall’ into one, made all the more surprising because it wasn’t mentioned on the walking map we had as a ‘monument’. It was free and uncrowded. Originally a hospital the little chapel was breathtaking with gold leaf over carved wood.
As we were leaving an old lady asked us if we would like to see the museum featuring medicine and medical equipment, which was tucked away behind locked doors. There were so many little gems hidden away here.
We stayed at the Hotel Bejense and the rooms, though a bit on the small side, are decorated with care and include free Wi-Fi, air-conditioning and a private bathroom.
It’s a family-run operation and each room is slightly different in design — some have murals while others have elaborately painted bedheads. The stairwell is lined with family photographs, which is like stepping back in time.
Museu Visigótico which can be found just beyond the castle. It’s an unusual Visigothic museum and parts of it date back to the 6th century making it one of Portugal’s oldest standing buildings. You will find the original columns still inside and they are said to display intriguing and beautiful carvings.
Núcleo Museológico da Rua do Sembrano is a modern museum where the exhibition is underfoot and displayed through a glass floor. When you look through the glass floor you will cast your eye on 2,200-year-old remains, over which were laid subsequent Roman walls.
Praça da República is the renovated town square with a stone pillory. It’s the historic heart of the city. Dominating the town square is the 16th century Igreja de Misericórdia, which is an immense church, formerly a meat market.
Convento de Nossa Senhora da Conceição, a 14th century Franciscan convent that is said to be the location of romance between a nun and a soldier that inspired the Letters of a Portuguese Nun. The interior is quite lavish, with gilded woodwork dating back to the 17th and 18th centuries, as well as a chapel inlaid with intricate marble.