Where ever you are in the Algarve you are never far from a view of the Monchique mountains. Here is a different world to be discovered. Rustling forests, shady valleys and everywhere neat little houses with well tended gardens. Its no wonder that some people have never been down off the mountain except to Portimao market.
Rising from the Alentejo plain the steep sides of the mountains of Monchique still suggest the volcano that they once were.
The hard grey garnite was favoured for the cobblestones from which Portuguese roads were made.Men sat beneath open sun shelters and split the rock with a simple hammer. Today the rock has found a new use as worktops in smart designer kitchens.
A Different World
As the road climbs away from the arid coastal plain you find yourself entering a different world. The hillsides are cloaked in rustling forests of eucalyptus. The light is dappled and shady where it strikes through the trees.
Long after the summer suns have dried the coastal streams there is still water here in the springs and wells of the many farmhouses. Terraced fields cut into the steep hillsides are alive with crops and fruit growing in the warm sun. The farmers work like their fathers and grandfathers before them, tending the fields by hand where no tractor can go.
Wealth in Water
Almost hidden from view beside the steep winding road is Caldas de Monchique. Here hot mineral waters bubble from the still warm volcanic rocks. A health spa grew here and people came to bathe in the supposedly curative waters. The bath house is still there but the thrust of medicine seems to have shifted to anti biotics and ultrasound scans.
Its a fascinatingly calm place to pass an hour or eat lunch. Theres a bar where they sell pao com chourico cooked in a bread oven by the door. The smell of the hot bread lingers across the village square and invites you to come back another day.
Hidden beneath the village is the modern factory where mineral water is bottled for sale in supermarkets and cafes. The water has a clear clean taste and can be found throughout the Algarve.
A Kingdom in your Hand
After Caldas the town of Monchique seems dissapointing despite its recent face lift. Take time and you will find the many beautifull corners which are hidden from first sight.
At the peak of the mountain the view is astounding and it seems you could take the whole kingdom of the Algarve in your hand. Even the clutter of radio and TV transmitter masts seems insignificant against the whole of the Algarve spread at your feet.