Further inland, and in contrast to the renowned coastal areas of the Algarve, is historic Monchique; a mountainous range carpeted in a dense mass of wild foliage and greenery. For those who prefer culture and tradition, as well as sports and sightseeing, Monchique is not to be missed.
Monchique is a municipality in southern Portugal that divides the Algarve region from the Alentejo region. A climb up the Monchique hills on a clear day will offer excellent visuals of the surrounding areas, and will really give you a chance to take in the breath-taking scenery of the Southern coast.
For those brave enough to tackle the mountains by bike, it is a difficult yet very rewarding climb (can also be reached by car). At 902 meters above sea level, views from the Algarve’s highest point, Foia, span from Cape St. Vincent in the west to Faro in the east, and Serra da Arrabida (near Lisbon) in the north. Monchique is the kind of place where you would expect to find artisans who treasure the traditions and heritage of the region, and farmers who nurse small patches of vegetables and pick oranges and lemons from plentiful citrus groves while their livestock roams lazily over the hills.
Closer to the town, explore the ruins of Nossa Senhora de Desterro (Our Lady of Exile), a 17th century convent which peaks between a dark green canopy of large trees and thick shrubbery. After its abolition in 1834, the statues and alter pieces that adorned the convent were moved to other churches throughout the Monchique area. What’s now left is the greened skeleton of the convent building and an ancient magnolia tree, thought to have been brought back from India by the viceroy and to be the largest in Europe.
The area is also renowned for its Roman baths, which in their heyday utilised the natural spring waters for their healing and restorative properties. Naturally very warm, the spring water is still used by the current ‘Thermal Treatment Centre’ and spa.
While in the area we urge you to sample the local produce. Feast on oranges, lemons, black pork and olive oil; buy locally grown cork or wooden scissor chairs; and cure a cold with eucalyptus oil and home-brewed Medronho liqueur (sample with caution as this beverage made from the strawberry tree will make you very merry, very quickly). The area’s honey is generously poured into cakes and desserts which are available to try in cafes and restaurants dotted around the town.
We do recommend Restaurante o Luar da Foia, a little restaurant on the way to the top of Monchique offering a truly enjoyable lunch with traditional dishes, regional wines and spectacular views over the mountains to the ocean. We recommend booking.