Perched high over the surrounding countryside, tiny Monsaraz is a charming village with a looming castle at its edge, great views over the Alqueva Dam and olive groves sprinkling the landscape. Its narrow streets are lined with uneven-walled, whitewashed cottages. Today, the village prospers on tourism, with a handful of restaurants, guesthouses and artisan shops. It’s worth coming to taste a slice of traditional Portugal, wander the slumbering streets and sample Alentejan cuisine. It’s at its best as it wakes up in the morning, in the quiet of the evening or during a wintry dusk. Settled long before the Moors arrived in the 8th century, Monsaraz was recaptured by the Christians under Giraldo Sem Pavor (Gerald the Fearless) in 1167, and then given to the Knights Templar as thanks for their help. The castle was added in 1310.
Monsaraz maintains a delightful medieval atmosphere. It was originally fortified by the Knights Templar, and today its 150 or so permanent residents live in ancient white houses with outdoor staircases and wrought-iron balconies. The main street, Rua Direita, lined with 16th and 17th century whitewashed houses, leads to the main square, where the parish church stands along with an unusual 18th century pillory topped by a sphere of the universe. The church interior contains gilded altars and painted pillars. It is worth climbing the granite castle's battlements for eagle's-eye views of the houses clustered within the village walls and for the magical landscape of the surrounding countryside. Within the castle is an unusual arena where bullfights are held several times a year.
Located in the Açor mountains, Piódão village is surrounded by astonishing landscapes, grasslands and springs. This village is often described as a nativity set because of the way houses are arranged. Among these houses it’s easy to discover the main church devoted to Nossa Senhora da Conceição. Beautifully built upon the ledges which climb Serra do Açor, the village of Piódão is harmoniously craved into the nature that surrounds it and of which it seems to be a part. Its schist houses with slate roofs, which blend with the irregular pavement of the streets and with the colours of the mountain, are connected by stairs which overcome the unevenness of the ground.
In the early middle ages, the urban centre was at Casal de Piodam, in a valley located near the current village, but this settlement had to be moved because a Cistercian abbey, of which nothing remains, was built on that spot. Taken away from their land, the inhabitants settled in the southern slope of the mountain, probably around the 15th century. It was there that, over time, ledge by ledge, they built this incredibly beautiful mountain village. The isolation to which difficult access routes have condemned Piódão throughout many centuries, has resulted in the medieval feeling of its streets, so you should take a walk through its steep streets, climb stairs and slopes while visiting the schist houses which are sometimes interrupted by a white church. When you go back, you should take a typical souvenir of this village: chestnut liqueur, honey spirits or a schist miniature of one of Piódão’s typical houses.
Located on a medieval hill, Monsanto is a small and charming village with about 1.160 inhabitants. This village has retained its authenticity and in 1938 was elected as the most Portuguese village in Portugal. One of its characteristics is that the granite houses are just between the rocks; these rocks are sometimes the walls or even the ceilings of the houses which is very unusual. D. Afonso Henriques, the first Portuguese king, conquered Monsanto from the Moors and, right after that, he gave the village to the Knights Templar. They rebuild the castle that once belonged to the Romans. After many years, Monsanto lost part of its population and importance – this strengthened its typical side that we know today. Before you leave the village, go to the top of the hill to see the castle and its walls and gaze at the amazing landscape of plains and mountains.
Monsanto was voted in 1938 the "most Portuguese village in Portugal" nestles on the slope of a steep hill (the Monsanto head, known in Latin as Mons Sanctus), which rises abruptly above the prairy and reaches a height of 758 meters (2486 feet). The most typical aspect of Monsanto is the fact that the village developed around impressively big and miraculously balanced granitic boulders.
One of the most symbolic traditions of Monsanto is the Festival of the Holy Cross, held on the 3rd of May, to commemorate the resistance to a long history of sieges: the women carry to the top of the castle typical rag-dolls (known as "marafonas") and clay jars full of flowers are thrown from the walls.
Monsanto stands in the Northeast side of Idanha Lands, nestled on a steep hill slope - Monsanto hillock (Mons Sanctus), which abruptly rises out of the prairie and reaches 758 meters on its highest point. There are several hamlets scattered along the several slopes and at the bottom of the hill, which shows the population movements towards the plain. It's a very ancient place with evidence of human presence since the Paleolithic Era. They found archaeological evidence of a Lusitanian fortress and of Roman occupation in St. Laurence's field, at the foot of the hill, as well as of Visigoth and Arabian occupation. King Afonso Henriques conquered Monsanto from the Moors and, in 1165, granted it to the Templar monks who had the Castle built under the orders of Gualdim Pais. King Afonso Henriques first chartered the village in 1174 and then King Sancho I (1190) and King Afonso III (1217) confirmed the Charter. King Sancho I rebuilt and repopulated the fortress, which had been destroyed during the fights against the king of Leão. In 1308, King Dinis granted it a Charter, which allowed a fair to take place near the Chapel of São Pedro de Vir-a-Corça. King Manuel I granted it a New Charter in 1510, giving it the right to be a Town.
In the middle of the 17th century, Luis de Haro, Minister for Filipe IV, tried to siege Monsanto, but he had no success. Later on, in the beginnings of the 18th century, the Duke of Berwick also laid siege to Monsanto but the Portuguese Army, commanded by the Marquis of Minas, defeated the invader on the slopes of the hill. In 1758, Monsanto was a municipality, having kept this privilege untill 1853. In the 19th Century, the imposing Castle of Monsanto was partly destroyed by the accidental explosion of the munitions storeroom.