Did you know, in the middle-ish of Portugal, almost on the border between Portugal and Spain, there is a curious little village where humans have made their homes…
…upon, in-between, around and even underneath…
…massive ancient granite boulders?
Monsanto was a handy mid-point stop-off on our road trip from Salamanca, Spain, to Cascais, Portugal.
We took two and a bit hours to explore, have an awe-inspiring stretch-our-legs experience and take some photographs (some of which were taken using the experimental Light L16 Computational Camera, nerds!).
Let us take you on a quick tour!
(If you just want the useful info without seeing too many photos before you get there, click here to skip to the end).
You’ll find giant boulders up and down narrow, cobbled streets of houses, as integral parts of the buildings, no biggy!
Giant granite boulders as walls!
You can actually go inside this unique human/landscape architectural collaboration!
All new! Ancient boulder homes! Beautiful granite worktops and walls!
And if you don’t want to live here, we have heard from the previous owners it is very useful as a pig pen.
Giant granite boulders as a roof!
This overgrown gruta is a cavern allegedly once used as a drinking den. Interesting organic architecture, huh?
Giant granite boulders as a clothes dryer!
What’s the time?
Half past nine,
Hang your knickers on the
line massive boulder you’ve built your house around
When they’re dry,
Bring them in,
Put them in the
biscuit tin house made out of boulders
Eat a biscuit,
Eat a cake,
Eat your knickers by mistake
[A traditional Monsanto rhyme]
Where is Wally?
I really don’t know.
Giant granite boulders as restaurants!
This fantastical creation is a real-life open restaurant, Petiscos E Granitos. (More info.)
(We say open, it was closed when we visited, probably having a loft conversion done.)
At the top of the village you can enjoy these incredible boulder piles. Some as big as your head! Sitting there, elegant and tremendous and formidable, just as nature intended.
At this point you may think you’ve reached the peak of your Monsanto adventure, but what’s this…?
Follow the path up to the left and you will find that Monsanto is not only a village of boulders…
It has a castle of boulders, too!
A blinking castle blooming out of bouldery surroundings.
It’s sort of square but also totally wonky.
Just the way we like it.
Encountering exceptionally large steps can remind a human of their teeny size and fragility and excitement to be alive…
…and the joy of perspective-changing adventure, everywhere we go.
Climb up to the top…
Using the giant granite boulders as castle walls made this castle impenetrable back in the Middle Ages. (Now, they’ve left the doors open so it’s totally penetrable. You can just walk right in, in your flip flops).
When the Romans came for Monsanto, Monsanto played it smart. To trick the Romans into believing the castle was flush with food and could survive a siege no probs, the villagers chucked a plump ripe calf over the walls. As you would expect. (Unless you are a Roman).
In present day Monsanto, every year, during the Festa das Cruzes (Fiesta of the Crosses), a cow made of flowers is tossed over the castle walls to commemorate this historic/courageous/defiant/gruesome event. As you would expect.
Walking through this doorway reveals just how thick
you the castle walls really are. About 2 metres thick!
Allegedly, this actual doorway was the called the ‘DOOR OF TREASON’ (Porta da Traição). It’s narrow and discreet to allow the Castle’s inhabitants to sneak messages in and out, without being spotted by their foes. Doors of Treason seem to be a common feature in Portuguese castle culture (and not specifically unique to Monsanto).
The main enclosure/citadel of the Castelo de Monsanto, featuring the Chapel of Santa Maria do Castelo with it’s lovely orange hat on (not made of boulders), and a well, in the foreground (by the boulder). This was the castle’s water supply in middle ages. Which is handier than having to carry lucozade up a great big hill every day.
Kinda looks like a Wild West town.
Between a rock and a hard place, there is a staircase.
The towns of Monsanto and Relva looking like tiny train-set scale models of themselves, from the Castle’s POV.
Just walking down some chunky stone steps built on top of a colossal boulder. #monsantolife
When you leave the castle you can head into the giant boulder fields.
…That maybe it is fine to have a boulder over your head. Maybe it is completely safe.
No! That is not the lesson, don’t be silly! The true lesson is…
Once your lesson has been learned, you can roll boldly (bouldly) back down through the village (or out through the fields if you’re following the trail) for some lovely views and a reminder of your journey to win this priceless wisdom.
A little song to accompany your onward journey (to the tune of the Barry Manilow classic, ’Copacabana’).
🎶 Wear a helmet in gen’ral
Cos you’re always in peril
At the Casa…
Casa Da Gruta… 🎶
An elaborate bit of shadow puppetry here, where it looks like two loving twonks holding hands as they stroll back to the car park in the late afternoon sunshine.
Important reminder – Always double-check your itinerary (especially opening times and availability) before heading out on a special trip.
Where is Monsanto?
|Civil Parish:||Monsanto e Idanha-a-Velha|
|District:||Castelo Branco, Portugal|
|Latitude:||40° 2’ 27.57” N|
|Longitude:||7° 6’ 44.12” W|
Monsanto is part of the designated UNESCO Naturtejo Geopark of Portugal. You can find out more about the Naturtejo Geopark, including walking trails and places to stay, on their official website.
Can I park my car near Monsanto?
There’s a handy car park at the bottom of the village.
Are there walking trails around Monsanto?
There’s an official Geopark map with a few trail options for you to enjoy. Here’s a link to the PDF version.
We didn’t use a map, because the Tourist Information was closed when we arrived. However, we had a very nice time without one. We headed up the hill, which leads you up to the castle, around the castle and wiggled our way back down through the village to the car park. Lovely.
Is there somewhere to eat in amongst the boulders of Monsanto?
If you want a real feel for boulder living, or eating, then head to this restaurant in Monsanto:
Petiscos E Granitos, Rúa Do Castelo 16, Monsanto 6060-091 Portugal. +351 964 200 974
The restaurant closes for part of the day so we recommend booking ahead or checking opening times before you rely on this option to keep your hunger and thirst at bay.
The restaurant was closed when we were there (sad) so we haven’t experienced for ourselves. However, from the outside, it definitely has a boulder for a roof, which, we think, is one of the top requirements for a restaurant in Monsanto. So here’s your gentle reminder to ALWAYS DOUBLE-CHECK AND BOOK AHEAD BEFORE MAKING A SPECIAL TRIP!!!
Or take a picnic and dine al fresco!
When should we go to Monsanto?
We would recommend visiting Monsanto in April or May while the weather is delightfully not too hot. Go in May for Festes de Cruzes.
Is Monsanto a good stop-off point on my European road trip itinerary?
Monsanto makes an excellent stop off in central Portugal (Beira Baixa), close to the Spanish border.
Monsanto is a 2.5 hour drive from Salamanca and just over 3 hours from Cascais, Ericeira, Lisbon, Sintra.
3 hours from Toledo
3.5 hours from Madrid
1hr 46 from Ciceres
‘Game of Thrones’ prequel ‘House of the Dragon’ was filmed here, in Monsanto – haven’t seen it, so can’t comment… 😬