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The Rustic Charm of Portugal's Monsanto

submitted on 16 March 2024 by


As I meandered through the narrow, cobbled streets, I felt as though I had stumbled into a fairy tale. It seemed every corner revealed another quaint and charming little secret, and the only thing missing was an evil witch to complete the story. The village of Monsanto, tucked away in the mountains of central Portugal near the Spanish border, is the epitome of rustic charm. With its granite houses, some with doors and windows carved directly into the gigantic boulders, and its ancient castle perched high atop the hill, Monsanto is a place where time appears to have stood still. So, grab your walking stick, don your hiking boots, and join me on a journey through the enchanting village of Monsanto, the perfect antidote to the mundane and ordinary life one can so easily become trapped in.

A Village Built Amongst the Boulders

It is said that Monsanto was built by a race of giants, which, upon seeing the village, doesn't seem all that implausible. Houses made from, between, and under huge boulders are a curious and somewhat awe-inspiring sight. One can't help but wonder how the inhabitants manage to avoid constantly stubbing their toes or cracking their heads open on the low stone ceilings. But these peculiar dwellings are not just for show. They offer practical benefits too. The granite walls provide excellent insulation, keeping the houses cool in summer and warm in winter. And, as a bonus, there's no need to worry about pesky termites or rotting wood. It's not just the houses that make Monsanto unique, though. The entire village is a maze of narrow streets, stairs, and little squares, all barely wide enough to fit a donkey cart. Yet, despite the claustrophobic layout, there's a palpable sense of serenity that pervades the village, perhaps due to the absence of the usual cacophony of car horns and traffic noise.

Castle in the Sky

At the top of the hill, overlooking the village, sits the ancient Castle of Monsanto. While it is now in ruins, the castle remains an impressive sight, with its thick stone walls and commanding location. It was built in the 12th century by the Knights Templar, who evidently had a flair for dramatic locations. The castle was an important stronghold during the Reconquista, and its strategic position made it difficult for invading forces to conquer. Today, the castle is open to visitors, who can wander through the crumbling remains and marvel at the breathtaking views of the surrounding landscape. And if you're feeling especially adventurous, you can even climb up the stone staircase to the top of the keep, where you can survey your domain like a medieval lord (or perhaps a slightly deranged, windswept tourist).

Time-honored Traditions

Monsanto isn't just a pretty place to look at; it's also steeped in history and tradition. The village has managed to maintain its unique identity and way of life, despite the encroaching modern world.
  • One such tradition is the annual Festa das Cruzes, or Festival of the Crosses, which takes place every May. The villagers create colorful crosses from paper flowers, which they then use to decorate the streets and houses. The festival celebrates the end of winter and the beginning of spring, and is accompanied by music, dancing, and plenty of delicious local food.
  • Another intriguing custom is the making of marafonas, or rag dolls, which represent the ancient fertility goddess. These dolls are believed to bring good luck, and are often placed above doorways or hung from the rafters in houses. They are also used in the traditional Maypole dance, and it is said that if a girl dances with a marafona, she will be married within a year.

Culinary Delights

After all that walking and exploring, you'll no doubt be famished and ready to sample some of Monsanto's local cuisine. Fortunately, the village boasts several excellent restaurants, serving up hearty and delicious dishes made from local ingredients. One of the most famous Monsanto dishes is the chanfana, a rich and flavorsome stew made from goat meat, red wine, and a variety of herbs and spices. Served with a side of roasted potatoes and a glass of the local red wine, it's a meal that will make you feel like a true Monsanto resident. Another regional specialty is the bola de carne, a type of bread stuffed with various meats, such as chorizo, ham, and bacon. It's the perfect snack for when you're on the go, exploring the village or hiking through the surrounding countryside.

A Timeless Gem

There's something truly magical about Monsanto. It's a place that is unapologetically old-fashioned, and yet entirely captivating. From the boulder-built houses and the ancient castle, to the time-honored traditions and mouthwatering cuisine, the village offers a glimpse into a bygone era, where life was simpler and perhaps a little more enchanting. So, if you're searching for an escape from the hustle and bustle of modern life, make your way to Monsanto, and discover the rustic charm of this timeless gem. Just be careful not to stub your toe on a boulder, or you may find yourself in an entirely different kind of fairy tale.
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