Nestled in amongst the mountain range and thick forests of Serra de Monchique is a small town that’s stuck to its more traditional past. The wonderful little town of Monchique is surrounded by nature and unlike the nearby coast is a lot less developed. The small town has a population of around 6000, and is popular with people seeking a more rural experience to their Algarve holidays. You’ll find hiking, nature, and some incredible and traditional Portuguese food and drink. Read on to find out more about Monchique, Portugal!
When to visit Monchique?
Monchique is unique in that it doesn’t really suffer from seasonality. During the summer it offers a cool and sometimes windy place to hideaway from the sun-baked coast. In the winter, although chilly, you’ll find warm fires, hearty food and cosy restaurants to warm up after hiking. In the spring there’s an abundance of wildflowers that make any of the hikes a wonderful experience. Really, it’s a place you can visit at any time.
How to get to Monchique?
To get to Monchique by public transport you’ll need to connect in Portimão first. As Portimão is one of the main cities in the Algarve, there are multiple options of getting to Portimão by both train and bus. Once you’re in Portimão the only way of getting to Monchique by public transport is by a bus service operated by Frota Azul. The earliest weekday bus to departs Portimão at 0750, at weekends the earliest departure is at 0900. From Monchique the latest bus to depart for Portimão is at 1815 daily. With the journey taking around 45 minutes and costing €4.65 each way, it’s perfect for a day trip from the coast. If you have your own transport, or you’ve hired a car, then that is a good option too. This will allow you to stop on the way and take in some truly magnificent scenery on the drive through Serra de Monchique.
What to See and Do in Monchique, Portugal?
The town is a relatively quiet and it’s easy to spend an hour or two exploring the winding and cobbled streets. At nearly every turn is something unique and many of the houses are painted in bright colours. It’s small enough that you’ll soon come across Monchique’s central plaza, with multiple restaurants, cafés and bars. It has a great atmosphere, with some open green spaces, fountains, and views to the surrounding hills. It’s a great place to grab a café or an imperial, and watch the world go by.
Igreja Matriz de Monchique (The Church of Monchique)
While wondering you’ll most likely come across Igreja Matriz de Monchique. The construction of the church is dated to the 16th century. Assumed to have been built on the site of a former mosque or church. The church is in fine Manueline style with some extras that make it one of the most unique interpretations of Manueline style in the Algarve. The most interesting thing being the supposed nautical theme of twisted ropes. These can be seen decorating the surrounds of the main entrance and the side entrance. Inside, you’ll also see carved twisted ropes on the support columns throughout the main nave. You will not find these details on any other church in the Algarve! Inside, there are three naves separated by pillars and a Manueline side chapel. It has a tiny museum where visitors can view a small collection or religious objects, some from the nearby convent.
Convento do Monchique
For something very different consider wondering up to Convento do Monchique. As you were walking around Monchique you might have spotted the ruins of the abandoned convent up on the hill above the town. Throughout the town you’ll also see multiple signs pointing the way. It’s about a 15-minute walk from the town centre. If you follow the signs, you’ll find your way to the abandoned and ruined convent. It’s inhabited by some eccentric but very friendly locals who will welcome you to take a look inside. Once inside it’s as ruined as it looks from outside, but fans of abandoned buildings will enjoy looking around it and witnessing nature reclaim the structure. It has a somewhat troubled past, being first destroyed and abandoned during the 1755 earthquake. You can find out more about visiting Monchique’s Convent in our full guide here!
Foia – The Highest Point in the Algarve
One of the big draws to Serra de Monchique is the nearby mountain peak of Foia. At 902m high, it’s the highest point of the Algarve. From the top you can see incredible views of the Algarve coastline. On clear days you should be able to see Portimao and Lagos, to the south. To the west all the way to Cabo de São Vicente. There are multiple routes to hike from Monchique to Foia and this is perhaps the best way to experience it. The usual hike takes in a section of the popular Via Algarvana hiking route and makes a slight detour to reach the top of Foia. The hike is around 12km (6km each way) in total, and takes around 6 hours. So not advised for visitors short on time! Road access to the peak is good and with a large car park driving there is another option.
At the top you’ll find a café, a restaurant, and even a gallery displaying local artwork. Despite being the only café in sight, and with many tourists visiting, the café is reasonably priced. A typical café is €0.90 and a meia de leite was €1.60. Hungry hikers will be pleased to know that sandwiches and tostas are around €2-3, and salads and omelettes are available for around €5-7 a plate. The one thing to consider is how busy the café and restaurant is if your visit coincides with a coach tour arriving! If you want to avoid the tourists, then a short walk will lead you to a delightful food truck hidden away that serves, coffee, cakes and fresh juices.
Serra da Picota – The Second highest Point in the Algarve
Nearby and in the opposite direction is the second highest peak, Serra da Picota. At 774m it isn’t quite as tall but still offers fantastic views. It’s still part of the same mountain range but offers a more peaceful and rural experience. There’s no café, tourist shops, or galleries here. Mostly just visitors looking for a quiet escape and some great views. It’s around a two-hour hike from Monchique. It’s also possible to drive to Picota too. But it’s really not recommended. It’s a single-track road that’s very steep, with very few passing or turning spots.
Aguardente de Medronho
No trip to Monchique would be complete without sampling the local speciality of Aguardente de Medronho. Usually referred to as just Aguadente or Medronho, Aguadente literally means firewater and it has a fearsome reputation. In reality it is an exceptionally strong alcohol made from a locally grown fruit confusingly known as the tree strawberry. The usual varieties are around 40-50% but some locals claim to have special varieties as high as 70%! If the firewater isn’t appealing (give it a try!) then maybe a variety called melosa does. It’s Medronho blended with local honey that is a much sweeter and more pleasant experience (less firewater and burning for sure)! If you don’t fancy buying a whole bottle, then a small glass of either costs around €1 in any of the bars and cafés!
Caldas de Monchique – Monchique Spa
Slightly south of Monchique is a small village referred to as Caldas de Monchique or Termas de Monchique. It’s a small village with a pleasant square and fountains surrounded by trees. The water arrives here at a nearby spring with an unusually high PH of 9.5 and a temperature of between 29 and 31 degrees. The therapeutic properties of the Monchique water have been known since at least Roman times, and there has been lots of evidence of this found. Nowadays, the site is more of a hotel complex, within the complex are four hotels, and an array of bars and restaurants. Visitors can seek out multiple spa offerings from simply soaking in the 31°C water to massage and steam treatments. It’s said that the combination of warm and alkaline water is not only great for relaxation but also good for the treatment of some respiratory illnesses and rheumatism.
Parque da Minha
Just to the south of Monchique is a small historical attraction called Parque da Minha. It was created on the site of a disused iron-ore mine. It’s a recreation and perhaps celebration of local history, you can explore the old mine, a restored manor house, traditional distillery, and a small farm holding. Within the grounds are a series of nature trails through the woodlands surrounding it. It’s a great experience for those wanting to dive into the local history and experience what rural Algarve life once was. Adult tickets cost €12.00 and a child’s ticket is €6.00. During summer its open from 10:00 to 19:00, during the winter 10:00 to 17:00. More information can be found on the official website.
Best Restaurants in Monchique
Casa Vintage Tapas & Wine – Widely regarded as Monchique’s hidden gem. This little restaurant serves a range of substantial tapas plates made from delicious and local ingredients.
O Tasco – Located in Caldas de Monchique, it’s famed for its home-made chorizo bread. It’s a Portuguese restaurant specialising in serving local dishes.
Tradicoes – Is a small but very friendly tapas bar with an excellent selection of locally cured meat & cheese in tapas style. It’s all very tasty, local and a great way to end a days hiking with a glass of beer or wine.
Events in Monchique
Events in Monchique are less typical and more traditional than those found in other Algarve towns.
Feira dos Enchidos– Taking place on the first weekend of March, this festival celebrates local sausages and meats, especially from the porco preto, a local species of pig. You’ll also find other artisan products like Medronho and honey, and get to see performances by local folklore troupes.
Feira do Presunto – Usually taking place on the last weekend of July, this festival is a celebration of another locally produced meat. This time smoked ham, locally known as Presunto. As well as other products from the area like Medronho, honey and types of bread.
Is Monchique Worth a Visit?
Monchique is absolutely worth a visit. It offers something very different to your typical Algarve experience. The combination of nature, mountains, and hikes, cosy restaurants and of course medronho mean you can visit and have an enjoyable time at any time of year. If there’s something you think we should add to the guide let us know in the comments!