A little mishap from Rome2Rio sent us further east than expected to Monsanto from Óbidos. R2R claimed a 45 minute drive but, alas, Google maps wins with the over at 2.5 hours via autoestrada or nearly 4 hours on the back roads (our preference) and let’s be honest, it’s a kiss from the Spanish border so shame on who? Not to fret, Monsanto is worth the drive be it 4 hours, 45 minutes or somewhere in between. (And we still love Rome2Rio for trip planning but learned a valuable lesson in the category of measure twice, cut once).
Atop the hillside, built into the boulders, this red roofed town near the Spanish border is charming and it’s not just for tourists. Real people live here. In fact, as you wander about town you’ll be in the company of many of them as they carefully watch the tourists, bidding them bom dia, boa tarde or boa noite, while socializing from their front steps. Many also operate small store fronts and/or rent rooms out from those same steps. Ice cream, sandwiches, local crafts and marafona fertility dolls (source and more interesting info on the marafona dolls here) aplenty are available from about a half dozen small storefronts.
We arrived in 38 degree Celsius (100 degrees Fahrenheit, people) heat to traipse up 30 plus degree vertical incline to search for our hotel after parking in the public lot below. Traipse, drip sweat, wrong turn, drip sweat, wipe brow, traipse again and lo and behold, hark, the Casa do Castello lies in our midst.
Monsanto won the “most Portuguese village” contest in 1938 and was gifted the silver rooster which sits atop the Torre de Lucano clock tower in town in return. The buildings in the town are built into the hilltop utilizing naturally available boulders as walls, roofs and floors to supplement man-made materials.
Atop the hill, lie the remains of the castle. Which during earlier times was under perpetual siege. In the 1600s, the citadel was under such a siege that on one occasion solely one bag of grain and one calf remained. Not to be defeated so easily, the village leader fed said bag to the last calf and, afterward, heaved ill fated calf over the wall to its premature demise. Exploding with grain, the sackers determined the siege would be long and hard given the perceived plenty of castle grains in the stockpiles above. And thus, victory was secured. Aforementioned siege is commemorated annually with a tossing of flowers from castle hilltop to spectators below in early May.
Today, the castle amongst the boulders atop the hillside lays in various stages of ruin as do the chapels which ring its mountaintop standing. The ascent is worth the climb for both the views and the cardio.
As we sweated our way up the hill with bags to our hired accommodation a two voice choir singing concert from the local church welcomed us in and made us feel, if for a moment, that we belonged here.