Last Updated on August 28, 2013 by Fiona Maclean
A Passion for Portugal:
Monsanto Portugal was one of the destinations on the original schedule for my recent trip that really piqued my interest. A little searching on Google revealed that we would be visiting an ancient, fortified village right at the top of a hill. With the only access by car or bus from Castelo Branco (itself a four to five hour journey from Porto) Monsanto remains unspoilt despite the rather unique ‘architecture’. Our fleeting visit didn’t disappoint and I hope sometime to return if only to see if I can capture the magical architecture a little better.
Monsanto is a village built into the rocks. Houses are squeezed in between boulders, rocks appear in the middle of perfectly red tiled roofs and rooms are built around the natural walls. There’s an admirable ingenuity in the way this village has been constructed into the natural landscape. Blink and you could be in any medieval village in Europe, look again and you might think the Flintstones have taken up residence.
We walked up the hill to the ruined fortress, with magnificent views out over the Castelo Branco district. There’s a story about the fortress that in the second century BC, Roman troops besieged the castle for six years. Villagers, who had hidden inside, were running out of food but rather than admit defeat, they tried one last ploy to fool the invaders and threw their last remaining livestock over the battlements.
Today, on the Festival of the Holy Cross in early May, the women of the village still carry rag dolls (marafonas) to the top of the castle and clay jars full of flowers, throwing them down to commemorate the siege.
Back down into the village, we made our way to Petiscos and Granitos, a local restaurant specialising in Portuguese food.
Outside on the sunny terrace we dined on a whole range of local specialities . Dishes of Chorizo and cheese were contrasted with a rich partridge stew,
a delicious seafood and egg salad
and this rather unappetising looking but extremely delicious tasting plate of Farinheira.
It WAS meant to be a light lunch because some of the party were going to take a bike trail to Idanha a Velha whilst the
more cowardly/less foolhardy of us walked the 7k footpath. to reach the same destination. I did look at the mountain bikes. But, having not been on a bike for twenty years or so, the idea of a steep descent on bike really didn’t quite work for me!
Setting off on foot down a cobbled pathway, things didn’t seem too bad. We passed farmhouses and cork oak fields
And then arrived in a small copse by a chapel. The shepherd sheltering against the boulder was just staying out of the sun while he watched a small herd of goats and sheep.
He told us the numbers had declined from around 80 to just 20 or so, simply because local people no longer wanted to buy whole animals, preferring instead to buy ready butchered meats.
Further on, things were a little less manicured, we seemed to be walking right through fields and meadows and what had been promised to us as a 7km walk was already close to 9km. But, how can you complain about spending an afternoon in the sunshine in flower filled meadows?
The only regret from me is that our extended and rather gentle ramble meant we missed seeing around Idanha a Velha, arriving just in time to meet up with the rest of the group and get into the minibus, though if I’m honest, we probably couldn’t have walked any further.
Why not take a look at my Portugal board now – you’ll find all my favourite pictures and links back to the other posts about the area from me and hopefully eventually from some of the other people I traveled with on this occasion. If you are not already on Pinterest, do join up! You should be able to do so from this
link which I hope will take you to my boards
- Casa das Penhas Douradas offers double rooms including breakfast from €88
- Herdade da Poupa offers double rooms including breakfast from €110
- Casa dos Poços offers double rooms including breakfast from €88
- TAP Portugal (0845 601 0932, www.flytap.com) flies from London Gatwick to Porto from £126 return including all taxes and charges
- For more information on Centro de Portugal visit: www.visitcentro.com/en/
- For more information on Portugal visit: www.visitportugal.com
I travelled as a guest of Centro de Portugal