Not too far from the city of Tomar in central Portugal, you’ll find a medieval castle in the middle of an islet known as the Castelo de Almourol. While each castle in Portugal is unique, this one piques visitors’ curiosities precisely because of its picturesque location on the water.
The Castelo de Almourol (Almourol Castle) is kind of in the middle of nowhere, which means you actually have to go looking for it. Unlike the castles and palaces of Sintra, the impressive Guimarães Castle just outside the city center, or the nearby Convento de Cristo in Tomar, Almourol is only overlooked by small villages on the edge of the river Tagus (Tejo), on which the castle lies. You’re not likely to “stumble upon” this historical building unless you’re very lost or specifically looking for it.
Access to the castle is by boat, either just outside the castle (which takes about 90 seconds) without reservations, or by the nearby village of Tancos, which is a 10-minute boat ride. The latter needs to be booked in advanced. I happened to visit Almourol Castle when the river level was extremely low, so it was less picturesque than normal. Still, it was worth the trip just to see it for myself.
There’s archaeological evidence that the castle was originally built in the 1st century BC by the Romans. The castle you see today though was rebuilt in 1171 by Gualdim Pais, Knight Templar and founder of Tomar, under the service of Portugal’s first King, D. Afonso Henriques. It was of strategic importance in defending territories along the river. It is estimated that the castle was inhabited until circa 1600. The most historically-interesting aspect of the castle is the fact that the structure has changed surprisingly little in its 800-something year life. The obvious thing that’s missing is the roofs on the towers, which were believed to have been pointy.
Once you’ve arrived at the castle, seeing the inside will take circa 35 or 40 minutes. As expected, it’s empty inside (you can’t have furniture without a roof!) but you can walk around the interior walls and turrets. I found a beautiful online gallery with photos of the inside of the Castelo de Almourol, but exploring it for yourself is a completely different experience.
So what do you think? Would you go off the beaten path to visit Almourol Castle?