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 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 is ‘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 is a bag of his oranges – but they were delicious..! It is quite a long walk up from the town but the last part of the walk is through a leafy wooded area, which is nice and cool on a hot afternoon and well 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 its 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!
Monchique is ideal for a totally relaxing holiday, 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.