Explore Beira Alta and Beira Baixa
Ancient MONSANTO jealously guards its title of the “most Portuguese” village in the country, an award originally bestowed in 1948. Sited high on a hill above the plain, its houses huddle between giant granite outcrops, their walls moulded around enormous grey boulders – in the case of the Casa de Uma Só Telha (“the house with only one tile”), the entire roof is formed from a single rock. A few houses lie abandoned, but on the whole Monsanto seems to be doing well from Spanish day-trippers and from tourists still searching for the “real” Portugal.
A leaflet available from the turismo dutifully details every church, chapel, cross, decayed mansion and restored fountain. The main cobbled path heads up to the castle, 700m up and offering remarkable views across the parched plains to the distant mountains. A big celebration takes place every May 3 (or the following Sunday), when villagers throw baskets of flowers off the ramparts. The rite commemorates an ancient siege when, in desperation and close to starvation, the defenders threw their last calf over the walls: their attackers, so disheartened at this evidence of plenty within, gave up and went home.
There’s an enjoyable walk through Monsanto, which leads you around the castle and rock outcrops in a couple of hours, also dropping down to São Pedro de Vir-à-Corça chapel, in a grotto of cork trees below the crags. You’ll pick up the walk-posts all over town, and there’s an information board outside the turismo.