São Marcos da Serra

Honey making, goat herding, bread baking, mushroom searching, pig keeping and liquor brewing. All these traditional activities are still practised in São Marcos da Serra and surroundings. Enjoy the Algarve visits the small village close to the Alentejo border and tells you what not to miss.

See the original article in Enjoy the Algarve – magazine June 2017

 

Walk around town

This won’t take long as, apart from the church (which dates from the 16th and 17th century and was built in Manueline style), there isn’t that much to explore in the sleepy village. Its entrance is marked by a statue of a donkey pulling a waterwheel; look upwards to see storks which are often nesting on the pole nearby (see intro picture). When walking through São Marcos da Serra, keep an eye out for the colourful paintings on the electricity boxes which range from religious scenes to Medronho berries.

 

Stare out over the serra

The benches on the church plaza, the highest point of the village, offer a good view over the serra region. Do like the chatty locals and catch some shade, contemplating life while looking out over the cemetery. (Is it just us or does that sound a bit macabre?) At the time of visiting, all trees were covered in crocheting, results of a local festa.

 

Sample local liquor

According to Regionalarte’s owner Jorge Lima (pictured below), it’s the secret to the longevity of the people in this area: a daily shot of Medronho before bedtime. See for yourself and sample some Portuguese fruit brandy or one of the other dozen locally brewed liquors (alfarroba, fig, ginja, etc) in this small family business. Tasting and selling takes places in the front room, whereas in the back you can see the alambiques in which the liquors are made.

 

Smell cork roses

What? Yes, the story goes that back in 1998, a man discovered a cork tree close to São Marcos da Serra that smelt of roses. It soon became a place of pilgrimage and even though the tree has been cut down, people still come here to pray, especially on the first Sunday of the month at noon. It did smell of roses when visiting, though that was probably due to the many fresh flower bouquets stacked in front of the shrine. To get there, drive along the IC1. A few kilometres north of São Marcos da Serra, it’s on the right side of the road – blink and you’ll miss it. Parking is 200m before, also on the right.

 

Visit nearby Monchique

You’ll find lots of Medronho, an old convent turned into a ruin in a forest (pictured below), and of course the thermal spas in the area of Monchique, about 20km west of São Marcos da Serra. It’s less traditional village life, but offers more shops, bars and galleries while still not being too touristy: definitely enough to keep you busy for a day. The drive along the N267 is nice as well. Going to Monchique? Read this first.

 

Taste porco preto

If you’re a meat-eater, you shouldn’t leave the area around Monchique and São Marcos da Serra without trying porco preto. Already since Medieval times, farmers have been raising Iberian black pigs for domestic consumption. Traditionally, the animals were kept on a piece of land next to the farmers’ homes and fed with leftover scraps. Every year, one or two pigs were slaughtered, a big social happening which involved neighbours, family and friends. Want to know more about porco preto? Read this article. Vegetarians, don’t click on the link.

 

Swim in the barragem de Santa Clara

Swimming, fishing, canoeing, kitesurfing, windsurfing and taking your boat for a ride, it’s all allowed in the barragem de Santa Clara, about 25km north of São Marcos da Serra. Covering 1986 hectares, this is one of Europe’s largest water reservoirs. The surrounding hills are great for walking and letting your dog swim in the giant lake is also no problem. Don’t have any water shoes and don’t want to hurt your feet on the sharp stones when stepping into the water? On the west side there’s a ‘praia fluvial’, which in this case isn’t a beach, but rather a plastic platform in the water with two small pools built into it.

 

See the original article in Enjoy the Algarve – magazine June 2017

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