Most of our assumptions of the Algarve are that it is a place of sunshine, blue skies, beaches, coves and quaint villages – much like the front of a picturesque postcard. This was certainly my idea of the Algarve and indeed my first impression, but take a drive out for a day and explore Monchique – a pretty town in the mountainous area of the Algarve.
It was only when I returned to England that I discovered the exact place I saw that day was Caldas de Monchique, a spa town in the mountains supposedly famous for its healing waters. Now I’m not sure whether or not I believe in certain things such as healing water, but my experience in the spa town was definitely very natural in a calm, quiet atmosphere. It was an escape from the busy beaches and towns I’d been mixed up in the days before. I have such a vivid image of it in my mind and it will always remain a positive memory for me.
Walking down into the wooded area of Caldas de Monchique, local families and friends are setting up their barbecue’s and groups of elderly men sit at make-do tree trunk tables playing games of chess, one man even pinned his own dart board to a tree. It’s a beautiful day and the locals are making the most of the sunshine, some good food and the simple things in life. It’s a huge contrast to most of the things I am habituated with seeing in my local parks in London.
I continue walking up and down the uneven steps throughout the woods, listening to the birds chirping and the trickling water in the stream that follows beside me on my route. The subtle smells of bonfire and barbecues are in the air and I’m getting hotter the higher I walk, but it’s such a serene atmosphere. There’s a reason I’m getting warmer too; the woods are coming to an end and I’ve suddenly reached a road at the top of the hill. Now in the open hot air, on the other side of the road I can see the mountains that I drove by before on my journey into Monchique. The roadside is crowded with cacti and very few buildings exist apart from a poor looking café, with a steamy complexion through the windows with only a few people hiding from the heat sipping on their coca cola’s. We could’ve explored further along this road but all that was in view were trees, it was deserted so we walked back into the wilderness and returned to our starting point.
Here there are a couple of cafe’s and gift shops with wood-crafted items to buy. The shop itself smelled like bark, I couldn’t quite figure it out – either damp bark, or burned bark, or a mixture of the two. It was surreal. There are a few houses tucked away behind the wilderness too, and if you walk a little further you’ll find the chapel. We were unfortunate as we approached it; it had literally just been locked up. The foliage surrounding these tucked away buildings is beautiful, so big (overgrown) and bright and crawling with crickets. Ok, that’s an exaggeration, but you could hear their presence everywhere – one of the sure signs that you’re not in England anymore!
We decided to move on from Monchique for the day so returned to the car and began driving out across the long, endless roads in between the mountains. Suddenly we think we’re a little lost. There are very few road signs around and a strong lack of other vehicles. We pulled the car over when we noticed an old pub on the roadside. My dad, the designated driver took a few minutes to check out the map so I took a few minutes to step out of the car. I wanted to feel the warmth; I wanted to see if it was as hot as it appeared. The heat proved me right, I had felt humidity like this once or twice before and the place that first came to my mind was Nevada. This was just like it. For a minute, it was like a scene from an old Western film. I stood there and kicked the gravel while I equally saw and felt the sun beaming down on the road, then a stray dog wandered out of the pub, sniffed around in the road and quickly grew unamused so returned to its home. At first I was kind of surprised at the severity of the heat; it felt like I should’ve been standing in a desert. But then again, why wouldn’t it be scorching? I was standing on an open road in the mountains of South Portugal and it was beautiful.
For a change of atmosphere in sunny Portugal and the chance to have a calm and peaceful walk, take some pretty photos and perhaps have a spot of lunch, I would definitely suggest the town of Monchique. If you are the type who would be interested in staying in a spa town, there are some hotels with beautiful surroundings in Monchique. You will also drive near by to another quaint and sleepy town called Silves (the former capital of the Algarve, and home to the Castelo de Silves which holds much historical meaning and provides wonderful views). The two towns together will make a perfect day of sightseeing in the Algarve.