True, it doesn’t have a beach. But Enjoy the Algarve didn’t miss sea and sand for one second when exploring the pretty nature, medronho, and relaxing spas in the area of Monchique. There’s more than enough here to keep you busy for a day.
See original article in Enjoy the Algarve – magazine July 2015
Pictures by Kyle Rodriguez
Getting to Monchique involves a trip up through the Serra the Monchique mountain range. Instead of the hustle and bustle of the coast, here you’ll find long, winding roads and unspoilt nature. Wind down your car windows and smell the pine trees (or the pig farms if you’re unlucky). Want to stop for coffee on the way? Café Choupal doesn’t do fancy, but from its terrace you can see Monchique laying in the distance against the backdrop of green hills.
(Cabeço de Ferro, 8550-435 Monchique)
Enjoy the views
In Monchique, park your car at the free underground car park underneath Largo de São Sebastião. Want a map of the town? The tourist office is right next door at the São Sebastião square. Make sure to walk up the steps to the top part of the square where you’ll find an arcade with Roman-like pillars and benches to sit on. Enjoy the panoramic views over the town and the Serra and breathe in that fresh mountain air.
Explore the town
The town of Monchique can easily be explored on foot. The centre is made up of small streets and cobbled alleyways which can get quite steep and slippery, so take care when walking. There are several bronze sculptures, a Moorish waterwheel and Banksy-style graffiti to discover. Narrow paths lead to even narrower corners which might end suddenly, but locals are happy to help when you’ve once again taken the wrong way. Don’t expect fancy high street shopping malls here, it’s all very low key, but with wonderful handicraft products such as scissor chairs.
Shop & stroll
“I want my store to look like a fairy-tale grotto,” was what Lisa Boland said when starting Loja do Chocolate e Chá Magicó together with her husband Tony, 12 years ago. She managed to do exactly that by combining fairy lights hanging from the ceiling with brightly painted butterflies and all sorts of hippy wind chimes. Next to Lisa’s homemade chocolates, fudge and mixed teas, the shop also sells essential oils and dreamcatchers. Too alternative for you? Tony is a sceptic too. But do ask him to tell you the strange story about how this shop found him (instead of the other way around) and you might change your mind.
(Praça Alexandra Herculano 4, 8550-433 Monchique)
Alternative 1: Art & ceramics
Tara and Sylvain Bongard have recently opened their art & ceramic store in Monchique (just look for the ceramic owl and cat staring at you from the windows of the blue three story house). All their stoneware products are handmade, without the use of malls or pottery wheels. When visiting, make sure to also visit the two upper floors of the old Portuguese house, which could easily be mistaken for a museum. The kitchen, with its tiny ceramic fish and red peppers laid out on plates, is adorable.
(Travessa da Central 16, 8550-468 Monchique)
Alternative 2: Exposiçao
The aptly named Exposiçao is an exposition of five different artists. Leonel Telo and João Furtado are from Monchique, the other three come from other towns in the Algarve. The products in the exhibition range from three dimensional lizards puzzles to jewellery made of fresh water pearls. All goods that are displayed are also for sale.
(Rua Engenheiro Duarte Pacheco, 8550-462 Monchique)
Sample the local brew
The Honey and Medronho shop at the main square sells 26 different types of medronho. No, we haven’t tried them all. This strawberry liquor is made by local farmers, who each use their secret family recipe. No fan of spirits? Other typical Monchique specialities include multi-floral honey, jam and sausages made of black pig. Sounds good? Then visit during the Medronho festival and traditional cured ham fair (July 24 to 26).
(Largo 5 de Outubro, 8550-469 Monchique)
Hike up to the convent
Follow the signs all the way up through the town and then continue on a dirt road through a cork oak forest. This way will lead you to the Convento de Nossa Senhora do Desterro, an old convent turned into a ruin. Neglected by humans, nature has taken over here; the high outside walls are covered in ivy and mosses are growing on the ceiling. A friendly man called Vidaul has made part of the building into his home and is happy to lead you around – especially when you buy a jar of his honey.
Alternative: Serra de Monchique
There are plenty of other walking opportunities in the Serra de Monchique, also known as ‘the Garden of the Algarve’. At the São Sebastião square you’ll find three different routes signposted, ranging from 6.3 to 27km, all visiting the various protected trees in the area. Alternatively, visit one of the waterfalls in the county, such as the Cascade Barbelote (there’s a small path leading to it from the road between Vale de Largo and Barbelote).
Soak in the spas
Collect your car and drive to nearby Caldas de Monchique for a refreshing dip in the thermal spas. The Villa Termal is a small resort village built around the spas, a bit touristy, but very nice. Apart from the spas (which are also accessible to people who don’t stay in the resort), there are all kinds of bath rituals, massages and holistic treatments on offer. Have a sip of the water which is said to have healing properties. (www.monchiquetermas.com)
Alternative: Communal pool
Stay in Monchique and go for a swim in the communal outdoor swimming pool in the centre of the town. It’s not as pretty as the Villa Termal, but it’s free. There’s a big and a small pool, both are open from mid June to mid September.
Go to the top
About halfway between Caldas and Monchique, turn off to Foia. (Depending on your sat nav and your ability to follow road signs, this might take you on an extremely narrow dirt road full of hairpin curves that should be a one way street, but probably isn’t). At the top, 902m high, there should be amazing views all the way to the coast, but at the time of visiting it was hazy. Apart from a cafeteria and some ugly looking send masts, there’s not a lot to see or do here, but you could help making the highest point of the Algarve even higher by piling rocks on top of each other.
Hang out in style
Drive back to Monchique and park your car. Walk to Barlefante (it’s hidden in a narrow alleyway, just follow the orange signs and psychedelic music) to chill with the locals until the small hours. The décor inside is a crazy combination of chandeliers, lion paintings, baroque decorated mirrors and pink and green sofas. They do a killer sangria and all kinds of other very reasonable priced cocktails, drinks and snacks. Liked the ceramics you saw while shopping earlier? Bongard’s factory is just opposite Barlefante.
(Travessa das Guerreiras 14, 8550-374 Monchique)
See original article in Enjoy the Algarve – magazine July 2015