An entire village is built around boulders.
Wendy visited Portugal in 2011, then again in 2018.
Situated between Porto and Lisbon is the epitome of a hidden gem, yet to be explored by tourists. Monsanto is a village with less than 1,000 residents, and has been called: “the most Portuguese village of Portugal.” Besides the iconic red roofs, I’m unsure why Monsanto has been hailed as the most Portuguese village when it’s signature look features an abundance of giant rocks.
Before you go, know that…
DRIVING TIME: Monsanto is a 3-hour car ride either from Porto or from Lisbon. So it makes the perfect day trip if you don’t mind the long drive.
BRING WALKABLE SHOES: Once you reach the village, the hiking immediately begins. Monsanto is essentially filled with narrow alleys with ancient roads that are incredibly steep. So bring comfortable shoes to walk in. Once you reach to the castle, the ground becomes rockier. It makes a great workout!
Its history goes back to the Early Stone Age.
The earliest traces of man is during the time of the Ice Ages. Later, Romans settled at the base of the mountain. Before the Middle Ages, even Arab presence has been discovered in Monsanto.
During the 12th century and the Christian Reconquista, King Alfonso I of Portugal conquered Monsanto from the Moors. From 1165, the city went from the hands of a knight, to the church, then to the military. Later, King Sancho I of Portugal and the Leonese reconstructed the fortress. Today, we see ruins of the medieval Monsanto Castle since it was destroyed due to an explosion in the castle’s ammunition depot during the 19th century.
The entire village is built around boulders.
As you start hiking up from the base of the mountain, you’ll be greeted by two massive granite rocks leaning against each other. Then, you’ll begin to see that Monsanto is built around different sizes of boulders that act as walls and roofs.
Hence, the entire village is a sight for sore eyes, because it’s a fusion of landforms and nature. You’ll also visit caves along the way to the top, or rocks that also function as floors.
Main attraction: Monsanto Castle.
After a quick hike, you’ll most likely reach the castle where you’ll discover a church, a chapel, and a fortress. Most of it is in ruins now, but it sits on a hilltop at 2.503 feet above sea level. Be careful as you walk through the massive area, especially on a windy day. In addition to the fortress, you’ll encounter tombs, rock faces, and abrupt cliffs. So watch where you’re going, pay attention so you don’t fall!
The local tradition of spilling flowers.
When Monsanto was under siege, it was living off of a bag of grain and a calf. The village leader wanted to feed the grains to the calf, knowing that the village would soon surrender. When he decided to throw the sack over the castle walls, the grains exploded in front of the soldiers who were stunned at the amount of food the village still had and left.
Today, during the first Sunday in May, a village woman will carry a pot of flowers up to the castle where she’ll break the pot with flowers spilling over the castle wall. This is to celebrate the victory from the past.
Instagrammable sites include:
The emblem of Portugal – the Silver Rooster, which was designed by ABel Pereira da Silva. It’s located atop the Lucano, the Clock Tower.
The two iconic giant rocks leaning against each other.
The Monsanto Castle.
The village view behind Petiscos e Granitos Restaurant – more details below.
Lunch at Petiscos e Granitos Restaurant.
It’s not hard to miss this authentic eatery since Monsanto doesn’t have too many restaurants welcoming tourists. But it’s also conveniently situated on the path to the castle. What you’ll want to do after is to exit the restaurant, walk behind it to capture the epic view that overlooks the entire Monsanto. It is worth every minute of the road trip!
Photos: Wendy Hung