What an unfortunate name- Monsanto! Stone houses which merge into the massive boulders, strewn and lodged high up on the hillside. Picnic at Hanging Rock ( the movie) meets Fred Flintstone. It is believed that neolithic culture was able to take root and shelter here, in the safety of its many caves and crannies. Then came the Romans, the Visigoths and the Moors. So many ancient battles were fought on this hillside and in the medieval Knights Templar castle which sits atop this eerie village.
The rocks absorb the heat, and it was 40 degrees in the Idan- A- Nova in the interior of Portugal. We climbed the hill to the castle at 7.00 pm when we thought it was cooling down..6 random crazy tourists out in the heat. We were not prepared for radiated heat from the rocks and we were delighted we were not storming the castle, as we had to have little rests on the way up! The showoff millenials raced past us..as we huffed and puffed in senior style.
Monsanto is very isolated and is very hard to get to without a car. We were fortunate enough to get a driver to take us there and back, for a reasonable price. It was STRESS FREE and we didn’t kill each other attempting to read the GPS on a manual car on the other side of the road..and then there was nowhere to park in the village. Our driver owned the B and B we stayed in, or his maiden aunts owned it and relied on him to speak English. He was also a middle-aged bachelor who was firmly under the thumb of the ‘Aunties’. They also had long conversations with us in Portuguese oblivious to the fact we understood very little. In fact I think they spoke in a dialect.
The village is inhabited by elderly folk as all the young ones have left to find work in the cities. The years of isolation have made the town a little weirdly introverted and insular. However tourism is now starting to make an impact on the place and many of the old historic ‘schist’ houses are being restored. A few old ladies sat in the shade of the boulders making small dolls to flog to tourists.
Restaurants were hard to find, and on the night we were there only one was open, and charging far too much for basic Portuguese fare. AND no sangria..this has been the start of a pattern, and so close to Spain….but Vinho Verde was flowing. There were 20-30 tourists there who would have been miffed if this one restaurant had not been open..another captive audience under the castle.
Finally the temperature cooled and we were able to stroll through the unusual and picturesque stone walled village,down the dark narrow alleyways and past the ancient stone crosses( in case you forgot that this was a Christian town) without passing out. Many of the cave house had been used as pigpens but were now on display for the tourists. There is even an Airbnb called the cavehouse, but it requires a 2 night stay, which would be an overkill in place like this. The church has a cockerel on its spire, the symbol for Portugal.
We had breakfast next morning under the watchful eye of the ‘Aunties’ and many religious artefacts, icons and paintings. We were then driven from this unique village, voted the most Portuguese Village, to Guarda. We were then met by a second driver who took us on to Stroganov Hotel in Fiais da Beira. The Stroganov Hotel resembled a Russian bordello and is a must visit, just for the experience.