Nestling on the northern slopes of the Serra de Borba mountains, the pretty town of Borba rises neatly above the vast plains in the heart of Portugal’s enchanting Alentejo region.
Twice occupied by the Spaniards in the 17th century, the town is particularly notable for its fine marble and fruity wines, amongst the most popular in the whole of Portugal.
King Dinis granted Borba its town charter in 1302, ordering the construction of the castle around the same time. With the castle built, Borba assumed more military importance as the last defence before Estremoz and Vila Viçosa, and from the castle walls visitors can see the whole of the territory towards neighbouring Spain.
Standing dazzlingly bright amidst the surrounding olive groves, much of Borba was built with local marble, including the doorsteps, window frames, fireplaces and paving stones in the streets, from a stone of such a high quality that it rivals even Tuscany.
The late 16th-century church of São Bartolomeu is full of marble treasures, including the altars, tables, porticos, fonts, balustrades, basins and stairs. Rising above is a splendid vaulted Renaissance-style ceiling emblazoned with medallions and religious paintings.
Founded in 1604, the nearby Convento das Servas is also well worth seeing for its large double-renaissance cloister set around an old fountain.
Built by Queen Maria I in 1781, one of Borba’s star attractions is the huge white marble tank and fountain – the Fonte das Bicas – which is firmly situated in the town’s main square, the Praça da República.
In the town’s rural surroundings, a monument approximately 4 km south-west of Borba commemorates the Battle of Montes Claros (June 1665) in which Schomberg finally defeated the Spaniards under the Marquês de Carracena.
Borba (indicated on the Google map below) is also a regular stop on the Alentejo Wine Route (follow the road signs for A Rota dos Vinhos do Alentejo) with several wineries open for visits and tastings, most notably the Adega Cooperativa de Borba, one of the largest and busiest in southern Portugal.
Just 8 km south-east of Borba lies the royal town of Vila Viçosa, one of the most important places in Portugal’s long and chequered history. With its bastioned castle, sumptuous palace and early-16th century convent, the town is a lasting symbol of the Bragança dynasty’s power, which lasted for 270 years.
Travelling between Estremoz and Vila Viçosa, you can’t fail to notice the huge marble quarries just outside Borba and many of the other towns and villages in the local area. The marble produced here is among the best in the world and much of it is exported to Italy.
As well as being used for local buildings, the marble chips can be heated in an earth oven to produce whitewash after water has been added, hence the traditional white-coloured buildings all across the Alentejo region.
A fifteen minute drive north-west of Borba brings you to Estremoz, a charming garrison town famous for its imposing 13th-century castle visible from miles around. Its historic quarter is a labyrinth of fine Gothic and Manueline houses clustered inside the town’s old walls.