Around 24km north of Portimão lies the Serra de Monchique, a wooded mountain range of cork, chestnut and eucalyptus that provides the western Algarve with a natural northern boundary. This area bears the brunt of summer fires that seem to rage annually, but the woodland is generally quick to recover and it remains ideal hiking country.
Some 15km from Portimão at Sitio do Vale de Boi is Parque da Mina (parque damina.pt), a small theme park on the site of a deactivated mine. There are woodland walks, a mini farm and an old distillery as well as the chance to visit the gallery of the former copper, quartz and iron mine, operational until the 1960s.Read More
Caldas de Monchique
Caldas de Monchique
Four kilometres north of Parque da Mina is the Serra’s principal attraction at Caldas de Monchique, a celebrated spa since Roman times. In 1495 Dom João II came here to take the waters (though he nevertheless died soon afterwards in Alvor), and in the nineteenth century the town became a favourite resort of the Spanish bourgeoisie. It was sympathetically restored in 2000, transforming a somewhat ramshackle spa resort into a tourist village – and the results have been fairly successful. The cobbled, tree-shaded main square, fronted by the pseudo-Moorish windows of the former casino – now an exhibition hall – is surrounded by lovely nineteenth-century buildings and the setting is as beautiful as any in the region. At the foot of the village, the modern thermal spa (wwww.monchiquetermas.com) offers various specialist water treatments – including water massage, jet-showers and steam room – on the ground floor of a modern hotel.
Also worth a brief exploration is the town of Monchique, 6km to the north of Caldas de Monchique and 300m higher up the range. The sizeable hill town’s market is held on the second Monday of each month (by the helipad) and is famous for smoked hams and locally made furniture – especially the distinctive x-shaped wooden chairs. There’s also a weekly Sunday market on the main square, Largo 5 de Outubro, though the town is liveliest during the March Traditional Sausage Fair, when restaurants lay on special menus. The old town is dotted with beautifully crafted metal sculptures of local characters made by a contemporary Lisbon artist, which you can spot on the waymarked route to the ruined seventeenth-century monastery of Nossa Senhora do Desterro, signed uphill from the bus station. Only a rickety shell of this Franciscan foundation survives, but it’s a lovely fifteen-minute walk up here through ancient woods.
From Monchique it is a short drive (there is no public transport) to Fóia, 8km away – at nearly 900m, this is the highest of the serra’s peaks. It’s a beautiful winding drive, though bristling with radio masts, and capped by an ungainly modern complex sheltering a café-restaurant and shop; the summit itself can be an anticlimax, especially if clouds obscure the views. Get here on a clear day, though, and the panoramic view takes in the south coast and west across to Cabo de São Vicente.