Monchique - A Perfect Staycation
By Suzanne Radford
Published in Tomorrow magazine in the August 2020 edition.
Sitting in the forest with spectacular views to the coast, the town of Monchique and the surrounding area has long been an attraction for artists, walkers, cyclists and foodies drawn to its rustic charm and traditions. It is known for the healthy mountain spring water that you can decant fresh from fonts around the hillside. It's a place to relax and replenish and to enjoy local hospitality at a slower pace of life.
Enter the town and head to the central square and gardens, walk the cobbled streets and donkey steps and explore the shops, cafes. architecture and churches. There you will find Galleria MonChic which is run by Liz Nicol a South African artist who took residence in 2018. She welcomes people into the gallery and shop, with handmade gifts created by Liz and her paintings, inspired by nature, including flowers and landscapes and her large canvass street scenes that capture the quaintness of the town. Liz shares her love of textiles and hand-painting on fabrics and furniture restoration and creates decorative pieces for gardens and patios that bring the beauty of the outdoors into the home.
Liz’s Tip: The light and indigo skies are magnificent and you really should take in a Monchique sunset whilst here, they are spectacular.
Try local tapas at Tradicoesmonchique just off the square where you can sit outside at the counter or on the rooftop. Manager and owner, Heitor Sousa, took over from his grandfather in 2016, carrying on the family business serving meats, medronho, honey and compotes all produced locally. A Monchique speciality is tiborna de chouriço which includes freshly baked bread warm from the oven layered with smashed garlic, olive oil and salt and layered with chouriço making a tasty bite with a bit of a kick.
Heitor returned to Monchique after living and working in Norway and is proud to be continuing the local food traditions. He says, “Monchique is very very special, it is like paradise to me and my friends who grew up here. it’s quiet and the scenery is beautiful”.
When it comes to food, there is plenty to choose from by way of mountain offerings from chicken Piri Piri and pork dishes to vegetarian lunches served at family-run Oschala in the town. Alecrim food truck is situated at Foia, where you can sip a cocktail and take in the view at 902 m, the highest point of the Algarve or taste organic ice cream at Cece’s Coffee and Gelato on your way back into town. For those who want to learn about natural ingredients, you can sign up for a ‘food is medicine’ workshop run by Sonia Carr Steyns of Mothers Finest Monchique.
Heitor’s Tip: The waterfall, Cascada de Babolote, is a special place you can walk to from below Foia. Babolote means butterfly and rare butterflies can be found here, a sign the air is clean and pure.
There are villa’s and country houses to rent or you might prefer a boutique hotel like Vila Foia. This wonderfully intimate B&B guesthouse is located just outside the town and is set among cork oaks. The property is owned by the Kreuzberger Kinderstiftung (Kreuzberg Children’s Foundation) which is committed to educational justice and youth engagement. All profits go to the foundation. It is the perfect place to relax and enjoy the pool and garden terrace. They also offer forest bathing retreats for wellbeing incorporating walks in nature. General Manager, Margarita Dommett recently celebrated 20 years living in Monchique and says, “the mountain fills me with awe every day with magical little corners which continue to surprise me”. Health and safety requirements are in place so the doors are open and ready to welcome guests including families who want to enjoy mountain life, the green space and discover rural Algarve.
Maggie’s Tip: Take a walk through Monchique and follow the signs for the convent. It takes you through the pretty backstreets, through cork oaks to the crumbling building that looms over the town that you can enter and explore. You really feel like you are stepping back in time.