Castelo de Vide is a hilltop town whose steep winding cobbled streets are decorated with plant pots, cats and washing lines, and whose white-washed stone homes mingle with churches and fountains. The remnants of the 14th century castle (which dates originally from Roman times), totter at the highest end of the town, and are squeezed into the ancient fortress walls, alongside the ‘old town’. Although many of the houses in the old town are derelict, it’s still a wonderful place to take a wander, and will give you the best views over the town and across to Marvão. The steep climb to get up here will also ensure you’re ready for a coffee and bolheima (local cake of Jewish origin) on your return down to the ‘newer’ town.
The newer town is not so new! It burst from the confines of the old city wall many centuries ago and now flows like thick custard down from the castle wall. On the subject of custard, there are numerous places to enjoy a pastel de nata (custard tart) around the main square. For a great view over your cake, opt for the terrace at Doces & Companhia where you can sit in the sun and look out to Senhora da Penha (tiny church at the top of the opposite hill, well worth a trek to get to). If you prefer your cake with a dollop of people-watching, we’d recommend Pasteleria Sol Nascente near the main square, and for the particularly worthy/greedy traveller, be sure to order their extra-large pastel de nata!
Other spots worth a visit are the ‘Judiaria’ or Jewish quarter in town. The history of Castelo de Vide in the context of the Jewish community is fascinating (as are many other local areas, see Portagem for another) and I’d definitely recommend a visit to the Synagogue to learn more. The synagogue of Castelo de Vide is oldest one in the whole of Portugal. The close connection between Castelo de Vide and Judaism arose when King Ferdinand and Isabella of Spain expelled all Jews in 1492. More than 150,000 Spanish-speaking Jews crossed the border into Portugal, and it is estimated that 15,000 of these crossed at the Torre de Portagem near Marvão. At a price, they were granted permanent residence in Portugal and many set up home in Castelo de Vide. However, when the reigning king died (Joao) the ascension of Manuel I to the throne was challenged and he decided to solidify his position and power by marrying Princess Isabel of Spain. She consented to this union on one condition – all jews must be expelled. Manuel married Isabel (in nearby Valencia de Alcantara) but was not happy with the agreement and in a bid to try and keep Jews in Portugal, he attempted to convert as many to Christianity as possible. Those who did not ‘agree’ to convert were doomed to slavery or expulsion (normally after separation from their children).
While many of the ‘New Christians’ accepted their religion, many chose to continue practicing Judaism behind closed doors, while publicly practicing Catholic rituals. These were known as ‘marranos’ or ‘crypto-jews’. It is reputed that the relatively large number (32) of churches in Castelo de Vide came about as a result of the burgeoning numbers of ‘crypto-jews’ wanting to give the impression of orthodox Catholicism. In effect they disguised the town as overtly ‘catholic’ to avoid investigation.
Among the Jewish quarter you will find the Fonte da Vila, a small temple-like stone fountain, where the waters are reputed to cure all ailments. My friends and christened it it the Font of eternal youth and fertility, perhaps in a bid to add some further myth to its waters, but whatever unearthly powers the water may bestow, it’s worth a drink to find out!
For those wanting to burn off their cake calories, a walk up to the Senhora da Penha from Castelo de Vide will take about 45 minutes. For those wanting a longer walk, contact Fiona to take part in a Castle to Castle walk from Castelo de Vide to Marvão or vice versa (3 hours walking).