Monchique is best visited on foot. A walk through the steep streets of the town centre is rewarded with views of magnificent hills, glimpsed between houses, and moments of sunlit calm in unsuspected corners. It leaves a memory of a hill town with a history and character all of its own, and instils a strong desire to return.
Main Church of Nossa Senhora das Dores
Built in the 15th/16th centuries, the church is notable for its fine Manueline doorway with twisted columns ending in pinnacles. The side doorways, which are plainer, date from the same period.
The interior is made up of three naves. The capitals of the columns are fashioned in the shape of twisted ropes, repeating the decorative theme of the main entrance. In the chancel is a carved and gilded altarpiece (18th century) that is quite distinctive in design: on the arch are two angels holding up the sun and the moon, while an interesting pair of atlantes support the ensemble as a whole. There is an interesting tabernacle in the form of a small temple. The statue of Nossa Senhora da Conceição (Our Lady of the Conception) (18th century) is attributed to the sculptor Machado de Castro.
The Capela do Santíssimo (Chapel of the Most Holy) contains a small collection of 17th century tiles. Those on the Manueline vault include four panels depicting suffering souls in purgatory and the ones on the walls show St. Francis saving souls and St. Michael killing the devil.
The waxed, chestnut-wood altarpiece (18th century) in the chapel of Nossa Senhora do Carmo (Our Lady of Carmel) possibly came from the now-defunct Franciscan monastery. It is convex in shape, which is unusual in the Algarve.
In addition to an interesting collection of statues, the church also houses a number of ceremonial objects which once belonged to the monastery of Nossa Senhora do Desterro (Our Lady of Exile) (17th century), and some fine vestments.
Church of São Sebastião (St Sebastian)
Modest-looking from the outside, this church contains a statue of Nossa Senhora do Desterro (Our Lady of Exile) imbued with sorrow. An accomplished work of 17th century sculpture, it came from the former Franciscan monastery. The baldaquin and the whimsical columns incorporated in the altarpiece possibly share the same origin.
The carvings on the altar, pulpit and baldaquin in this church are its chief artistic attractions, together with two large 18th century canvases and the panels carried in religious processions. There is an interesting raised tribune, decorated with polychrome marble, and a statue of St. Francis (17th century).
Chapel of Senhor dos Passos (Lord of the Stations of the Cross)
This small church or chapel, in an unassuming architectural style, houses a statue of Lord Jesus of the Stations of the Cross, the most venerated after that of Nossa Senhora da Conceição.
Nossa Senhora DO Desterro (Our Lad y of Exile ) Monastery
Founded in 1631 by Pêro da Silva, who was to become the viceroy of India, this Franciscan monastery was severely damaged by the 1755 earthquake. At present, the ruins of the monastery of Nossa Senhora do Desterro retain their charm, standing in a very pleasant spot from where there is a magnificent view over Monchique and the surrounding hills.
In the old monastery garden there is an imposing magnolia tree, a very old specimen which is classified as being of public interest and is thought to have been brought from India by the founder of the monastery.
This is a special part of the town of Monchique and covers the area surrounding the sports complex of the municipal swimming pools, providing an excellent leisure area; a green space right in the middle of the town which runs alongside a small river in a valley, which is full of typically riverine vegetation. It provides visitors with the opportunity to go for a magnificent walk or to have a nice picnic and an excellent summer’s afternoon. In this park there is another very old tree that is classified as being of public interest: a spectacular araucaria, which reaches a height of 34 metres.
Gallery of Santo António
Located in the centre of the town of Monchique, this is a building that dates back to the 18th century and is thought to have been a chapel until the middle of the 19th century, when it lost its religious function. At present, the building is owned by the Municipal Council, and has been completely restored and turned into a cultural space intended for holding temporary exhibition and small concerts.
The houses of Monchique display many of the traditional features of Algarvean architecture - white walls, carved stonework, bands of colour around the doors and windows – but their “saia” (literally “skirt”) chimneys are quite distinct from those found on the coast. The narrow streets that wind up the steep hillside, revealing fresh views of verdant hills at every turn, lend the town a certain exotic quality to which camellias, hydrangeas and fruit trees add a fragrant suggestion of gardens and orchards: good reason to linger here and discover a facet of the Algarve unlike any other.
To appreciate fully how pretty Monchique is, head for the Largo de São Sebastião, and from the viewing point there, gaze out over the white houses that look as if they are perched on steps carved into the hillside, amid a fairy tale setting of bright flowers and cool, green trees.