Monchique Waterfall
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Monchique is a market town up in the Serra de Monchique, which is a thickly wooded mountain range separating the Algarve from Alentejo. The journey up (and down) 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 colour around the windows and doors, but their ‘saia’ (skirt) chimneys are quite unique and different from coastal homes. The centre of Monchique is characterised by lots of narrow cobbled streets crisscrossing 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, very 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 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. 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 is nice and cool on a hot afternoon. It is 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. 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. 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. It really is quite enchanting and well worth a visit. Foia (Monchique) is the highest point in the Algarve. 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! A word of caution – go prepared with something warm to put on as it can be about 10 degrees centigrade cooler than the coast. Unfortunately the landscape at Foia itself has been rather blighted by an array of military communications installations making some of the area ‘out of bounds’, but nothing can spoil the view. A Monchique holiday offers total relaxtion, 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. Monchique is the Algarve, Portugal’s highest town. With a few exceptions, Monchique has been happily untouched by the invasion of tourism in the last decades. It is located in a saddle formed by the two highest hills of the Algarve, Picota (774 m) and Foia (902 ml). The inhabitants of this town have maintained the rustic atmosphere, and the small dark doorways contain various artisan trades. The 17th Century Franciscan monastery overlooking the town offers a panoramic view over the peaceful countryside. The surrounding area produces cattle, pigs, cork and wood. It is also the place where the famous Medronho , an excellent strong schnapps is distilled from the fruit of arbutus bushes. The two hills dominating the landscape offer dramatic views to the southern and western coast of the Algarve. Hidden in the valley south of Picota there is a hot spring site named Fonte Santa that is rumoured to have special healing effects. The Romans estimated the sulphuric warm spring water emerging at a constant temperature of 32°C and developed the village of Caldas de Monchique as a Spa.