Monchique: Escape to the Cool Mountains

The Monchique range of hills is the Algarve at its coolest and highest. The rocky peak of the range, some 900m (2,952 ft.) high, looks down on forested slopes and green valleys, burgeoning with orange groves, Indian corn, heather, mimosa, rosemary, oleander bushes, and cork-oak, chestnut, pine, and eucalyptus trees. Icy water springs from the volcanic rock that makes up the range, flowing down to the foothills.

The largest town in the borough, also named Monchique, lies on the east side of Mount Fóia, 26km (16 miles) north of Portimão. The town was once engaged in the manufacture of wooden casks and barrels and the making of oakum and rough cloth. The Manueline-style parish church, with its interesting radiated door facing, dates from the 16th century. Colorful decorated tiles and carved woodwork grace the interior, along with a statue of Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception, an 18th-century work attributed to Machado de Castro. The convent of Nossa Senhora do Desterro is in ruins, but you can look at the curious tiled fountain and the impressive old magnolia tree on its grounds.

Caldas de Monchique was discovered in Roman days and turned into a spa. The waters, from springs in volcanic rock, are still considered good treatment for respiratory disorders, accompanied as they are by the clear air of the highlands.

Nearly 13km (8 miles) from the town of Monchique, Alferce, nestled among trees and mountains, has traces of an ancient fortification. There's also an important handicraft center here. In the opposite direction, about 13km (8 miles) west of Monchique, is Fóia, the highest point in the Algarve. From here you have splendid views of the hills and the sea.

A small inn in the town of Monchique, the Estalagem Abrigo da Montanha, 8550-257 Monchique (tel. 28/291-21-31; fax 28/291-36-60;, is in a botanical garden. With all the blooming camellias, rhododendrons, mimosa, banana palms, and arbutus, plus the tinkling waterfalls, you'd never believe the hot Algarve coast was in the same province. The inn has 11 doubles and three suites. Rates are 75€ to 85€ for a double or 80€ to 105€ for a suite, including breakfast. On chilly evenings, guests gather before a fireplace in the lounge.

Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.