MONCHIQUE, 6km from Caldas, is a sizeable hilltown best visited for its market, held on the second Friday 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 Feira dos Enchidos Tradicionaes (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.