Arraiolos: Portugal’s Medieval Gem

Vivid colors, countless sizes, the smell of clean wool and the sound of clacking needles…at every turn is another gallery or store where local ladies sit stitching their carpets and tapestries. Nestled in the rolling hills of the Alentejo region of Portugal, Arraiolos is a medieval gem where you can observe an ancient art carried on since before the reconquest of the Iberian peninsula from the Moors.

As you arrive, you’ll see the 14th-century castle high on a hill over the town. Climbing the steps is not for the faint-hearted, but the reward is an unbelievable view of the little town at your feet, and of the green and ochre countryside around.

There are 26 galleries around town where you can observe the stitching, choose a design, order a carpet, or buy one already completed. All the carpets and tapestries are handmade, using traditional methods and original designs in cross-stitch embroidery. Arraiolos’s products have graced palaces, castles, and manor homes not only in Portugal but throughout Europe.

At least some English is spoken in most galleries. Take some time to choose a pattern or motif. Maybe even return the next day after thinking about it overnight. Choosing the carpet is the easy part—and shipping the carpet home is not so difficult, either. Several galleries will ship carpets. One of the oldest carpet galleries in Arraiolos is Casa Quintao Tapete de Arraiolos. And talk to Alfredo Birbeiro at Tapetes de Arriolos Califa, as they will ship, too.

There’s more on offer in Arraiolos than spectacular carpets, though. Visit the 16th-century Church of the Misericórdia, also in the town plaza. The interior walls are covered with striking blue-and-white Portuguese azulejos (tiles) that tell stories of the area.

Don’t neglect the other little stores here that carry local handicrafts, such as linens, hand-made toys, and the locally milled soaps.

A couple of days here is a great escape. I highly recommend the local Pousada de Arraiolos Nossa Senhora da Assunção. This historic hotel was a 16th-century convent and it’s on the hill opposite the village, giving you tremendous views.

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