MONCHIQUE Mountain is a haven for walkers/bird watchers.
The mountain village of Monchique, only 26km distance, is like traveling to another world, with green forested landscapes and vistas of the coastal towns below.
Still a small market town nestling high in the hills, Monchique offers visitors a different perspective on the Algarve from the busier coastal areas.
Monchique is famous for the natural spring water which flows from the hills and through the town where it is bottled at nearby Caldas de Monchique and sold throughout the Algarve. The springs also feed the water fountains that are a feature of the main square – Largo dos Choroes – in the town. Cafes, shops and art galleries surround the square, selling local crafts and produce including the local spirit Medronho made by distilling the fermented fruits of the strawberry tree.Free tastings are often available but beware as this can be very strong. The main square is also the perfect place to relax with a drink or a meal and watch the world go by.
A walk through the narrow cobbled streets will take you to the parish church decorated with ornate 16th century carvings and a remarkable Manueline doorway. One of the side chapels features a facade of Azulejos depicting St Michael. A steep walk out of the town are the 1632 ruins of a Franciscan convent, Nossa Senhora do Desterro. This roofless building has terrific views over Monchique and the surrounding woodland.
Monchique municipality, enters the annals of history with the arrival at Caldas de Monchique of Roman settles drawn by the curative powers of the local waters. The local population grew slowly over the years and by the 16th century Monchique was big enough to justify a visit from King Sebastian (1554-1578) whose intention was to grant it the status of a town. Monchique’s prosperity was founded on weaving wool and linen to make the sturdy fabrics worn in times gone by and on other activities that included felling and working the wood of the local chestnut trees.It earned its civic charter in 1773.
The economic changes wrought by industrialisation signalled the end of local textile production and other manufactures. Today Monchique is a pretty town with a diversified economy based on tourism and crafts.
The steep road to Fóia, 8kms from Monchique, is well known for it’s restaurants serving chicken Piri-Piri, with Foia itself being the highest peak in the Serra range at 900m. The panoramic views from the summit take in much of the Algarve including Lagos and Portimao. It is well worth taking a drive out of Monchique further into the woodland of the mountain range and stopping at one of the many viewing points where the views look out over the terraced hillsides of the Serra range. Cork oaks, Eucalyptus and pines cover the hills and many varieties of flora can be found here.
Caldas de Monchique
The Monchique Spring Water Spa is a lovely stop along the way to the village. Developed in Roman times as a Spa. Here a visitor can try the curing elements of the sulphur smelling hot spring water that emerges at a constant temperature of 32ºC. There are two further hot spring sites one of which is to the south of Picota hidden in a valley. Its name is Fonte Santa and it is rumoured to have special healing properties. Some people make annual visits and some centuries ago it was recorded as being visited by both the King of Portugal and the King of Italy. A pretty square shaded by trees and flanked by attractive buildings dating from the end of the 19th and beginning of the 20th centuries epitomises the towns calm and relaxing atmosphere.
This charming village is made up of houses built in the style typical of the Algarvean countryside. The medieval origins of the village church are evident in its ogival porch. Its triumphal arch and the ribbed vault in its main chapel. Nearby on Cerro do Castelo, stand the ruins of a fortification with concentric walls that was probably built by the Romans.
The low white houses of the Algarvean hills stand out from a palette of warm browns and ochres. The bucolic country chapel of Santo António (St. Anthony) stands on a small elevation and affords fine views of the surrounding countryside.
A walk in the Monchique hills
Take the road up to Monchique and at almost every turn you encounter a stunning panorama of sea and mountains. For the broadest vistas, continue as far as Fóia which at 903 meters is the highest point in the Algarve. From there the view stretches away on one side as far as Cape St. Vincent and north to the Serra da Arrábida near Lisbon, and on the other to Faro and a vast semi-circle of hills.
Picota is 774 meters high, but steeper, and has broad and perhaps to even more beautiful views that take in a long sweep of the Algarve and the sea. `
There are many routes to choose from. The road to Marmelete traverses a landscape of terraced slopes fertile valleys and orchards, passing by the gigantic scar of the “foiaite” quarries at Nave. The narrow tracks that wind into the Serra lead you to places like Romeiras, settled like a sunken ship beneath a sea of mountains, or surprise you with the sudden apparition of lakes like the one formed the dam at Bravura.
The road that leads to the Alentejo passes through some of the most beautiful countryside in the Algarve, a bucolic region blessed with leafy woods and groves of fruit trees watered by fast flowing streams.
It is worth taking the turn off to Barranco dos Pisões evocating the old water driven machinery that was once used to beat the woollen cloth and blankets produced locally. Abandoned water wheels are another sign of the region’s bygone economic importance. But the most spectacular route is perhaps the road down from Alferce to Fornalha and Monchicão through the mountains.
The craftsmen and women of Monchique still make wicker baskets, wooden spoons, knives and other kitchenware, cloths and other linen items as their predecessors did for generations before them. Scissor chairs, so-called because of the way they fold shut, are possibly an invention left behind by the Romans, and are to be found in all sizes. Modern craft trends are reflected in dried flower arrangements tapestry pictures and sculptures made of tree branches.
Dishes made with rice and beans or chestnuts are not to be missed. Equally tasty are the many recipes based on pork which also finds its way into a wide variety of delicious home made sausages and blood sausages, including “farinheiras” and “mólhos”. Another local delicacy is the ham cured using methods centuries old, its smoky, nutty flavour is unforgettable. Honey is an ingredient common to nearly all the cakes and desserts. The nectar gleamed from the many different types of wild flower makes a fragrant, complex honey that has long had a reputation for quality. Indeed bees have been kept commercially since the 16th century. At the end of a meal nothing goes down like a glass of “medronho”, the heady spirit made in copper stills from the fruits of the arbutus tree.