Monchique - the Roof of the Algarve
One of the most stunningly beautiful parts of the gorgeous Algarve, Monchique and its surrounding mountainous areas offer a contrast to the coastal areas that form the backbone of the region's tourist industry.
Vila de Monchique
It is located inland at the north west corner of the Algarve, in steeply wooded surroundings to which it lends its name (the Serra de Monchique).
You arrive at the end of a pretty drive north after turning off the EN125 just west of Portimão. On the way, you'll have passed other points of interest, but we'll return to
Monchique is renowned as the 'Garden of the Algarve', and a quick look around it reveals why. It is a lush area, where it must be easy to grow just about anything!
But, like many other places in Algarve, it has changed over the years, in order to survive.
It nestles between two peaks, Foia and Picota, the former being the highest point in the Algarve, at 902 metres above sea level. (I've also seen it given as 903 metres,
but who's counting?)
So what's it like, Monchique - and why is it worth a drive or coach trip to view it?
Well, it's quaintly beautiful, which isn't a bad start, you must admit. And on the way, the road passes through
dense swathes of cork, pine and eucalyptus trees, which account for the region's air of peaceful seclusion.
Monchique town retains a rustic sense of simpler times, and its cobbled surfaces are a delight to the eye (though not much fun to drive over).
There is a particularly noteworthy landmark in the form of the ornate Manueline doorway of the parish church (featuring me, in the pic left) which is said to represent knotted ropes.
The houses are traditional, in that they are whitewashed, with frames of doors and windows decorated in bright colours. (Apparently, the colours mean something to the locals, like good luck,
warding off evil spirits and so on).
The native residents have adapted some of the traditional handicrafts to suit Monchique's new status as a tourist attraction. The monthly country market (2nd Friday) provides examples of local
wares on display for the delectation of visitors with money to spend! You can choose from wickerwork goods, wooden kitchenware, or sculptures made from tree branches. And you'll come across some
locally-manufactured 'scissor' folding chairs which, it's claimed, are direct descendants of a design that's been around since the Romans first occupied the area.
There are speciality local foods on sale, too. Whether you fancy some cured ham or pork, or to sample some of the local 'tipple', medronho (distilled from the fruit of arbutus bushes
- and very potent), there'll be a stall keen to sell you some.
Some original staples have gone the way of all things; no longer is there a local industry producing charcoal, and the wool weaving and linen industries have likewise perished.
But the town looks like it does well enough, since it adapted to having tourism account for most of its income...
Calendar of Events
Depending on when you visit, there is a variety of attractions to charm you:
March 1st sees the Feira dos Enchidos, which celebrates the values of local produce such as sausages, ham and medronho.
June hosts processions and dances in honour of "people's saints", António, João, Isabel and Pedro.
Late October welcomes visitors to the Annual Fair.
November brings All Saints' Day (Dia do Todos os Santos), with roasted chestnuts and yet more medronho on offer!
Sights to See
In the main 'square' there are some modern but appealing water features, best viewed from above on the road leaving Monchique toward Foia.
And if you're up to the climb, you should try the walk up to the defunct Franciscan convent. It's a beautiful spot, presumably chosen for its tranquillity and meditation-inducing views.
Nossa Senhora do Desterro (Our Lady of Exile) is reached via some cobbled zig-zag alleys and then a dirt track, ascending all the way. (Just follow the brown turismo signs).
A calming rest behind Monchique's ruined convent
We last made the effort during our August 2004 vacation and were bemused to find, halfway up the track, a solitary musician. He was a 'guitarist', who seemed to strum an occasional chord, hum a
bit and look expectantly at passers-by (of whom there were few, so I don't think he'll do well).
We passed him by, wondering if there'd be more to his repertoire when we made our way back downhill. Muttered imprecations followed us up the track, and Nev wondered aloud whether they were
directed at us or at his obviously unmusical instrument.
On our descent, he strummed another few bits, then stopped again. Once we had walked, chuckling at his presumption, past his towel - laid out on the track to catch his audience's offerings - the
discontented murmurings began again, and were kept up until we turned a corner! (We don't think he should abandon his day-job, whatever that might be).
As for the ruined convent, it seems that half of it now houses a family, since the presumed owner drove past us up the track in a large 4-wheel drive vehicle, and there were signs in the
fenced-off part of the garden advising onlookers that it was private.
No matter; the view is still worth the walk up from Monchique town, and nothing could dent the sense of tranquillity that pervades the place...
(As you may have read on my page about 2003's Algarve fires, Monchique was one of the areas that were hardest hit. Fortunately, we saw little
remaining evidence of the damage. Only one area of hillside, encountered during a drive from Monchique to Aljezur, showed any obvious sign of fire damage, and we had no time to
establish whether that had been caused by a more recent event.)
If you do visit Monchique, you might also like to take in the view from atop one of the neighbouring peaks, Foia and Picota. The latter is rather prettier, with more
varied plants and less encroachment of modern technology. But Foia is the more famous, being the Algarve's highest point.
The downside is that, as well as offering a most welcome café/restaurant and breathtaking viewpoints, it sports a military radar base! (Of course, like me, you can choose to ignore the
It is possible to walk up to Foia from Monchique, but most of the durations that I've heard suggested for such an enterprise seemed a bit optimistic. The route is about 11
kilometres and you won't get much change out of 3.5 hours each way, I'd guess.
Much better (if braver!) to drive there.
Leaving Monchique past the aforementioned water features, you climb a winding road with spectacular, if occasional, views of the coast. Along the way, you will find many fine restaurants to
tempt you into turning off for a meal combined with a vista to write home about...
The drive up to Foia doesn't bother me too much, since you're on the inside of most bends and needn't look out over precipitous drops! Of course, if you take it at a sensible speed
for the driving conditions, pretty soon there's someone driving another vehicle about 1 metre from your rear. There aren't many pull-over points, so I'm afraid that my 'followers' simply have to
tolerate my cautious driving.
When we last visited, clouds were descending, and the air cooled more noticably than usual on our ascent.
At the top, I found that I was under-dressed for the conditions... The cloud was drifting past in wisps, cool and wet, but it still allowed those great views down to the sea, and the sun was
bathing the lowland areas.
It's the drive back down to Monchique that does for me! Now you're on the outside of the bends in the road, and it induces in me a sense of vertigo.
Nev took over the driving, and I kept my eyes averted from the edges of the road until we were back in good ol' Monchique again (with another queue of impatient speedsters in tow!)
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