After a long drive from Evora, we reached the Village of Monsanto, a place that has stood still since medieval times and is unique to both Portugal and Europe. Monsanto is set in a landscape among giant stones creating unearthly scenery. These stones or boulders created by mother nature, have been used in the construction of homes to create a ready-made wall or roof. It has created a picturesque, solid and inexpensive village.
Monsanto is set high in the hills among steep roads with very little parking. In fact we couldn’t get a park anywhere near the town and in the end I went with the kids to explore the town, while Andrew waited in the car well below the town. Towards the end of our time in Monsanto, enough cars had come down that Andrew was able to get a car-park and explore on his own. The town itself is a rabbit warren of streets and although there is a tourist office where you can get a map, it was closed during our visit. So in the end, Max, Ava and I wandered the streets looking at the homes that have incorporated the boulders into them.
After King Alfonso I liberated the lands from the Moors, he wanted to preserve and defend them and so he enlisted the help of the Templars by donating the land to them. The brothers of the Knights Templar built a fortress on the hill overlooking Monsanto, however, after seven years it was given to the Order of Santiago.
Monsanto Castle did in fact have a glorious war history and was destroyed not through a siege, but rather a gunpowder storage explosion in 1814. The castle was so severely damaged that it was abandoned, although the military stayed in the area until 1853.
The landscape of scattered boulders sets a beautiful backdrop, which I’m sure photographers would admire and definitely inspires the imagination of trolls from fairy tales living in such houses. The village looks like a backdrop from a film and is definitely worth a visit, especially if you can get a car-park.
I have to say our drive from Monsanto over Portugal’s highest mountain range, Serra da Estrela, to reach the house we were to stay at in Bocado, near Arganil was a white knuckle experience. The roads, without guard rails were windy, with enough room for one car. To top that off we had rain in parts, as well as fog, all around the time of sunset. As Andrew said, “It is the most dangerous driving conditions he has experienced in nearly 30 years”. I have to say the car was deadly quite throughout the drive, as we all hoped we would reach our destination in one piece. Definitely not for the faint hearted.