The most Portuguese village of Portugal, Monsanto is a small historic village in the east of Portugal. It is utterly unique, built on a mountain, with huge granite boulders. The scale of these boulders is hard to imagine until you visit and stand almost underneath them.
The whole village is built under and around the boulders, using these features of the natural landscape as part of their structures and dwellings. Doors carved into the rock, boulders used as roofs. Though the town you can still see pig pens and other structures that have been used for Centuries.
Monsanto is an ancient place with evidence of human presence in paleolithic times. There is also evidence of Roman civilisation, and Arabian occupation. The original castle was built by Templar monks.
Monsanto wasn’t in our highlights of Portugal book but we think it should be! In fact I heard about Monsanto when we were in England watching the Eurovision song contest. The 2018 contest was hosted by Portugal and they showed clips of the country which is how we found out about Monsanto! I’ve said before I get my trip planning ideas from all sorts of places!
Getting to Monsanto
Visiting the small village made a refreshing change from larger towns and cities we’d been seeing in Northern Portugal. We drove there from Figuera da Foz, the trip takes just under 3 hours. From Monsanto the following day it was another 3 hours to Lisbon. The distance, small country roads, and the limited to non-existent public transport connections, probably explains why the town was fairly quiet when we visited. We did see one tourist bus.
On the afternoon we visited, the towns inhabitants appeared to be mostly elderly. Many women sitting on their steps making small crafts to sell to passers by. There are several restaurants and bars, souvenir shops, as well as churches, a grotto and the remains of the castle to visit.
It is quite a climb to the top of the hill to see the castle but you will be rewarded with incredible views of the surrounding landscape and the boulders in the village below. We spent at least an hour up there exploring the walls, many of which you could climb to the top of or walk along. There were also towers, churches and gates to see. From up here you can see all the way into Spain.
Although Monsanto appears to be a tourist village, (judging from the number of souvenir shops), it wasn’t at all over-run. Unlike most places we went in Portugal there was very little English spoken, so we had some fun with a Portuguese restaurant menu. It took awhile to order, translating everything with google translate. But at least we ended up with a delicious meal and didn’t accidentally order the grilled octopus. It was a close call!
We stayed just one night, but an afternoon was enough time to see most of the village. Serious walkers could stay a little longer to do more walks around the village and surroundings.
Visiting Monsanto with kids
Children aged 6 and over would love Monsanto I think. Younger than that it is probably quite hard work climbing all the steep streets and up to the castle. The cobblestone streets and narrow paths up the mountain would be challenging with a stroller. Our kids loved exploring the castle area but gave me some heart palpitations when they climbed the stairs up the walls with very few barriers. I wouldn’t take toddlers up there! Most of the village is closed to traffic so you can walk freely and let the kids explore without worrying. The grotto was a highlight with our two.
Accommodation in Monsanto
We stayed about 10 minutes drive away in a Quinta, the Portuguese style of country accommodation. Quinta da Mina had a fantastic family apartment that was like a full sized house with 2 bedrooms, a huge open plan living and dining area, well equipped kitchen and bathroom. There are several Quintas in the area, check out the Agoda link above. There are also unique accommodations right in the village including cave like houses. From what we could see it is very difficult to visit this area without your own transport. It is very straightforward on a self-drive tour.
So yes it is a long way from anywhere else, a detour in the average tour of Portugal, but absolutely worth it! Next stop Lisbon.