Monchique

Monchique is a market town up in the Serra de Monchique, which is a thickly wooded mountain range separating the Algarve from Alentejo. The jouney 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 color around the windows and doors, but their 'saia' (skirt) chimneys are quite unique and different from coastal homes.

The center of Monchique is characterized 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.

One of the things Monchique is famous for is the production of Medronho - a liqueur made from 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). 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.

Close to Monchique there is the spa of Caldas de Monchique. This is where the Romans built baths to utilize the natural spring waters which are still in use in the current 'thermal treatment center' for treating rheumatism and respiratory illnesses. 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 its 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.

If the day is clear it is well worth continuing to drive to the highest point in the Algarve - Foia - which is 902 meters 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!

Monchique offers total relaxation, 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!

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