Monchique is a inland market town up in the Serra de Monchique, which is a thickly wooded mountain range separating the Algarve from Alentejo. The jouney up (and down) to Monchique offers spectacular views and is totally different from coastal Algarve. The houses in Monchique are typically Algarvean with their white walls and bands of colour around the windows and doors, but their 'saia' (skirt) chimneys are quite unique and different from coastal homes.
If you are planning a holiday with a difference in the Algarve then Monchique could be for you . The holiday villa rental scene is not as vibrant as it is in or near the resorts, but rentals will be less expensive as most people will opt for the "sandy beach" option.
The centre of Monchique is characterised by lots of narrow cobbled streets criss-crossing up the hillside with a spattering of cafes and restaurants. The central square boasts an attractive paved area with benches, trees and a lovely water feature, including an example of a Moorish water wheel. Monchique is a very quiet and relaxed place, which is ideal for pottering around and appreciating the fantastic views.
One of the things Monchique is famous for is the production of Medronho- a liqueur made from the the fruits of the arbutus (strawberry) tree which grow in the surrounding hills. It is an acquired taste, and be warned..rather strong (particularly the 'local' brews), but supposedly very good if you have a cold! Also particularly good is the local honey which is used in most of the delicious cakes and desserts in the Monchique region. There are plenty of cafes and pastelarias to try them!
The prosperity of Monchique was originally founded on weaving wool and linen to make sturdy fabrics necessary for the time.Now it relies more heavily on tourism and craftwork. An invention possibly left behind by the Romans are 'scissor chairs' (so called because of the way they fold) and these are made in all sizes.
On the hillside above Monchique is the ruin of a 17th century convent (Nossa Senhora de Desterro- our Lady of Exile). You can wander through the ruins and get some idea of the structure, although you will probably be 'shown in' by a local gentleman who seems to have a room there! The price was a bag of his oranges - they were delicious, so not complaining! It is quite a long walk up from the town but the last part of the walk is through a leafy wooded area, so it was nice and cool on a hot afternoon. It was worth the walk just for the views - to see Monchique beneath you and the forests all around.
Going to (or coming from) Monchique, take a small detour into the spa of Caldas de Monchique. This is where the Romans built baths to utilise the natural spring waters which are still in use in the current 'thermal treatment centre' for treating rheumatism and respiratory illnesses. In 1495 King João II visited the spa seeking curative treatments.The unique character of Caldas de Monchique is difficult to explain!
The village is set deep in the valley with towering trees, some of them hundreds of years old, and buildings so very different from traditional Algarvean houses.They are late 19th, early 20th century and one of them, with it's steep roof and spire wouldn't look out of place in a fairy tale book!
There is a chapel ( Santa Teresa) at one end of the town, near which are steps leading through the trees into a very tranquil, wooded park winding it's way up the hillside. There are stone benches and tables beside the stream that runs down the hillside- ideal for taking a break with a picnic. It really is quite enchanting and well worth a visit.
If the day is clear it is well worth continuing to drive to the highest point in the Algarve - Foia - which is 902 metres high. The view from here is fantastic - you can see from Cape St. Vincent in the west, to Faro in the east and to the Serra da Arrabida, near Lisbon, to the north! A word of caution - go prepared with something warm to put on! On the day we went it was 19°C in Portimão and just 9°C when we reached Foia.
Unfortunately the landscape at Foia itself has been rather blighted by an array of military communications installations making some of the area 'out of bounds', but nothing can spoil the view.
A Monchique holiday offers total relaxtion, with spectacular scenery, plenty of places to walk and explore and lots of restaurants to choose from for dinner. Although it may sound quite remote it isn't! So if you want to spend a day at the beach, the road to Monchique has been substantially improved recently, and it's only about a twenty minute drive to the coast.
Monchique - Algarve - Portugal
Monchique - Description
The town of Monchique is with a few exceptions happily little changed by the 20th Century invasion of tourism. It lies in the saddle created by the two high hills, Foia and Picota, the former reaching to 902 metres above sea level. As with “mountain” people the world over the 10,000 inhabitants of this town have retained its rustic atmosphere with steep cobbled streets and small dark doorways housing various artisan trades. There is a very neglected 17th~Century Franciscan monastery which overlooks the town from which a visitor enjoys a panoramic view over the beautiful countryside. The 16th Century Parish Church has excellent examples of Manueline craftsmanship around its doorway. The surrounding area flourishes on the production of cattle, pigs, cork and wood. Another important local product is the popular "medronho", which is the name of a strong schnapps style of drink made from distilling the fruit from arbutus bushes. Foia and its sister mountain of Picota are excellent locations from which to see dramatic views of the coastal plain to the south and to the western Atlantic coast.
Monchique - Nearby Locations
Between Monchique and the town of Portimão is the village of Caldas de Monchique that was 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 in its history some centuries ago it has been recorded as being visited by both the King of Portugal and the King of Italy. The two nearby villages of Alferce and Casais are both typical un-spoilt locations reflecting the spirit of rural mountain life. The village of Marmelete is to the west and located on the road that connects to the many sandy beaches on the western Atlantic coast. The small rural town of Aljezur with its hilltop 12th Century castle and its 14th Century parish church is further west on this same road. Map of Moncique area!
For "The Real Portugal" Holiday experience
Information courtesy of general internet research and algarveuncovered.com, portugal-info.net, tripadvisor.com, algarve-guides.com and many more sources
Villa Rentals in Monchique and holiday rentals in the Algarve Portugal in general are big business so you should expect to be treated with professionalism and with courtesy