I took a week off work last week, and as the final Sunday came around I fished out my Lonely planet guide to Portugal for some inspiration on what to do with my last day of freedom.
I’m a page corner folder (never borrow any books from me if this pisses you off!) which made it easy for me to dive back into the guidebook, and look up some of the places I had ear-marked to visit.
Monsanto is about 3 hours drive from home, and lies close to the Spanish border. It’s an impressive hilltop site, sitting on a huge granite outcrop with 360 degree views. A great defensive position.
I parked in the village below (where there was free parking, toilets and cafes) and hiked up to the village, and then further on up to the castle right at the top.
The top is around 758m above sea level, which compared to Chamonix (where I used to live) is pretty low, but in central Portugal it’s not bad for a day out and a stretch of the legs 🙂
The surrounding landscape on the drive there got rockier and more boulder-strewn the closer I got to Monsanto (similar to the landscape on the way north to the Vale de Côa where I visited earlier in the week). Huge granite boulders littered the fields and sat alongside the roadside like behemoths, dwarfing the stone walls, with some the size of a 4 bedroom house.
These two with a small boulder in the centre and bench made me chuckle, but then I have a dirty mind.. 😉
The road snaked up into the village of Monsanto, and signs marked the way to lots of different points of interest (which, being Portugal, included a good number of chapels). The houses and shops are built around, under, on top and into the rocks. One of the signs pointed out the “house with one roof tile” which literally nestled under one massive boulder.
There was a grotto (formerly a pig pen) and as you look down over the rooftops, you can see where the locals had to get ingenious with their building / tiling to incorporate the enormous granite boulders.
A cobbled track led up to the castle, with more stone-walled pig pens and a few lookout points along the way. These came in handy to take a breather on the slow slog up the hill.
The castle is also built into and around more masses of granite boulders, and from the top the views were pretty spectacular (excuse the heavy breathing in the video 😛 )
The walls are in really good condition, and you can climb up steps sticking out from them to wander around the edges. But be warned.. there are no guard rails, and at one point I got a bit of vertigo looking down to a perilous drop on the outer edge. Time to dismount to safer ground…
Towards the back of the site, the GR22 long distance hiking trail disappears over a boulder field and off down the hill. I had a quick look to see where the trail went, but then headed back to sit on a rock, enjoy an apple and take in the views. It was so peaceful and quiet.
On this side of the castle there’s another small chapel, with some graves cut into the granite. Yes graves! I thought I had spotted one or two when I walked round the far side of the chapel, but I wasn’t sure since they were quite rectangular in shape. But on the way back, I read the information sign at the other side of the chapel and it confirmed that they were indeed graves. They were really small, length-wise (how tall were these people?!) and some of them actually had very obvious head and shoulders cut into the rock. Creepy…
After a bit more clambering over rocks to make sure I’d ticked off all the points of interest on the signs, I headed back down the hill, snapping more photos of the rooftops, rocks and views before heading back to my car.
On my mind was setting up the barbecue when I got home, to finish my week off work with a treat. I’ll hopefully get some more exploring done next weekend 🙂