When thinking of a theme for my post it seemed only logical to me that if I wanted to talk about what Portugal has to offer beyond Lisbon I should start with Monsanto.
Why? Maybe because of its unique and quirky architecture, maybe because it stands close to the border with Spain but was considered, in 1938, as the most Portuguese of Portuguese villages.
The fact is, Monsanto is a unique place. Despite being in the middle, literally, of rocks and boulders the people there managed, throughout the centuries to build houses around/under/on the side of the rocks. Talk about coping with adversity!
Some historical facts: Our first king, Afonso Henriques, conquered Monsanto from the Moors in the 12th century. The custody of Monsanto belonged, firstly, to the Order of Knights Templar (Grail, anyone?) and later to the Order of Santiago. There’s and old medieval castle, right at the top of the village.
What to do: You can visit the castle (great leg workout!), although part of it was destroyed in the 19th century because of an explosion. There’s also an urban circuit which includes lots of sightseeing, historical places and monuments, shops selling local goodies and cute old ladies selling their hand-made dolls, called marafonas. Actually, these dolls, associated with the old fertility rituals, are proof (one among many) that some Pagan ways survived to this day despite the influence of the Church.
My experience here: It was rainy, foggy and cold. We had been walking around the historical village of Monsanto, close to the border with Spain. Old ladies looking at us from behind the window curtains, houses built within the stone, a cat meowing in the distance. Near the castle we came across a cut out figure of a Lusitanian warrior marking the entrance. With our clothes dripping and the bones chilled we decided to get in.
The tables are not many but it only makes the whole place cosier. We immediately confiscated the seats by the fire and looked around. The music reminded me of a Medieval fair, the furniture was mostly made of wood, everything was warm and cosy and the person behind the counter had a smile on his face.
I noticed, to my surprise, that they had mead! Of course I had to try it, for the sake of investigating the quality… Unfortunately we had just had lunch, but I noticed they have crepes, as well as cheese and cured meats.
I also tried the acorn liqueur and it was delicious – they have a shelf filled with several kinds of liqueurs, mostly the typical types with fruit: figs, chestnut, acorns, bitter almond, etc.
They also sell some locals products, like jams, handicraft and cute t-shirts. The prices for the things we had were perfectly reasonable.
We absolutely loved the Taverna and hated having to leave and go back to the cold, the rain and the fog.
You can check out my review on TripAdvisor.
My tip: make sure to visit the castle and the Taverna Lusitana!
You can learn more about Monsanto here.
Where is it? Google maps knows.