The Serra de Monchique is a rolling mountain range separating the Algarve from the neighbouring Alentejo district. Its slopes are made up of deciduous oaks and chestnut woods and it’s one of the few areas of Portugal that shows off dazzling autumn colours. Its highest peak – at nearly 900m – is Fóia, from where, on a clear day, the views stretch over the south coast of the Algarve and west across to Cabo de São Vicente. Sadly this area also bears the brunt of the summer fires that seem to rage annually, though the woodland is generally quick to recover.Read More
Caldas de Monchique
Caldas de Monchique
Set in a beautifully wooded ravine, CALDAS DE MONCHIQUE was a spa even in Roman times and was once popular with Portuguese royalty. 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 wooded setting is a delight. At the foot of the village, the modern thermal spa (whttp://www.monchiquetermas.com) offers specialist treatments – including water massage, jet-showers and a steam room – and you can stay here too, in various renovated buildings around the village (from €140; book though the spa website), which all have use of an outdoor pool and kids’ club.
MONCHIQUE, 6km from Caldas, is a sizeable hilltown best visited for its market, held on the second Monday of each month (by the helipad): check out the local smoked hams and distinctive wooden furniture – especially the distinctive x-shaped chairs. There’s also a weekly Sunday market on the main square, Largo 5 de Outubro, though the town is liveliest during the Traditional Sausage Fair in March, 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 church remains, but it’s a lovely fifteen-minute walk up.
There’s a beautiful, winding 8km drive from Monchique up to the Serra’s highest peak at Fóia, though the summit itself – bristling with radio masts, and capped by an ungainly modern complex sheltering a café-restaurant and shop – can be an anticlimax, especially if clouds obscure the views. On a clear day, however, the vistas are superb.