Perched on a hilltop, the village of Monsanto, Portugal has a unique charm as it has been built around huge boulders.
It is a fun place to explore to find the strangest structures under or around those rocks.
Below is my guide to help you plan your visit to the boulder village of Monsanto with map, tips and photos.
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Why visit the village of Monsanto in Portugal?
Is Monsanto worth a visit?
Yes, the boulder village of Monsanto should not be missed. It is one of the most amazing and fun villages to visit in Portugal.
The hilltop is covered with boulders and houses have been built around, using them as walls or roofs. This creates architectural wonders.
It deserves a long visit to take the time to explore all the streets and discover the many structures.
This one is the most famous:
Video - Virtual visit
Below is a short video of my visit around Monsanto: the drive, the views, the houses... So much fun!
Do you understand why it is one of the top attractions in Portugal?
The name Monsanto means "Holy mountain".
Many more photos and details after the tips.
Planning tips & Map - Monsanto, Portugal village
Where is Monsanto located? Map
- East of Portugal,
- Near the Border with Spain, roughly at the same latitude as Coimbra
- North East of Castelo Branco
- Lisbon to Monsanto = 3h drive via motorways
- Coimbra to Monsanto = 2h15
- Below is a map to help you locate Monsanto in Portugal:
This location with its GPS coordinates and planning info is included in the eBook to help you easily plan your Portugal road trip:
Plan your ideal road trip around Portugal
How to get to Monsanto?
- It is quite a detour from most touristic roads
- Therefore the most practical option is to reach it by car
- The drive to the base of the Monsanto hill is easy
- The other option is to take the train from Lisbon to Castelo Branco, followed by a bus
Need to rent a car in Portugal?
- Compare car rental prices on my favorite platform: Discovercars.com - one of the best rated sites!
- Choose the car and company you prefer (remember the villages narrow streets)
- Consider their full coverage option - I always take it for peace of mind!
- Book early to have a large choice of vehicles!
- Parking issue: There is very little place to park at the entrance of the village (I think something like 30 places) and then you can park a bit along the road going up.
- In summer it fills up very quickly. In that case you have to park at the bottom of the hill and walk or take the bus to the village.
- Plan at least half a day to visit - there is a lot to explore!
- There are signs indicating the main features and buildings all around the village
- You can find a Monsanto Map on Portugal Virtual
- Wear good shoes, the streets are rough and sometimes steep
- The climb to the castle is quite steep
Monsanto cafés and restaurants
There are many cafés and restaurants in the village.
If you are not staying at one of the guesthouses, it is a great option to see the inside of those unique houses.
They serve a lot of Toastas. The ones at Fornum Du Viriato were delicious.
Accommodations in Monsanto Portugal
It is possible to stay in the village overnight and enjoy amazing views both at sunset and sunrise!!!
I wish I had planned a night here. I really enjoyed the village.
For example, you can stay at the Sun Set House in the heart of the village - see photos and availability
Where to stay in Portugal?
- In Lisbon, to explore the vibrant city - see best rated accommodations
- In Sintra, to visit as many palaces as possible - see best rated accommodations
- In Porto, to feel the history - see best rated accommodations
- In Obidos, to walk on the medieval walls at sunset - see best rated accommodations
- In the Douro valley, if you love wine - see best rated accommodations
- In the Algarve, my favorite town is Lagos - see best rated accommodations
- In the Algarve, Portimao is practical to visit all the best beaches - see best rated accommodations
Find more inspiration in my article about where to stay in Portugal
Monsanto village from the distance & history
The Monsanto Portugal Village is part of the Idaha-a-nova Municipality.
You can see it from far away with the hill and its giant boulders.
(Don't worry the track in the photo is not the road to the village...)
Most Portuguese village in Portugal
Because of its uniqueness, the village has been named the 'Most Portuguese village in Portugal" in 1938 (which is funny because it does not look like anywhere else in Portugal, so not very 'typical').
It has also be named one of the 12 "Historical Villages" in 1995.
History of Monsanto Portugal
- Located on top of a hill near the border with Spain, Monsanto has played a strategic defensive role.
- Evidence of occupation date back to Paleolithic times
- There are also ruins from the Roman, Visigoth and Moorish occupations
- In 1165, King Afonso Henriques (Alfonso I) reconquered Marvao and gave it to the Templar Order
- Today only a few people still live in the village. Most locals have moved to the foot of the hills for more convenience.
Legend of Monsanto - the siege
The most famous story about Monsanto is that the citadel was under siege for over a year.
As they were running out of food, the leader decided to bluff the other side. He fed the last bag of grains to the last calf and threw it over the walls. When the other soldiers saw that they had enough food they could throw away some, the abandoned the siege.
The event is celebrated each May, during the Festa da Divina Santa Cruz de Monsanto: locals wear traditional dress and climb to the top of the citadel carrying pots of lowers. At the top they break them and the flowers spill down.
View from the Bastion Mirador
As you arrive in the village, there is a large viewpoint called Bastion Square or Baluarto. It is a polygonal structure designed to defend the angles of the fortifications with artillery.
On your left you see the bottom part of the Monsanto:
And around you discover the stunning valley:
Tower of Lucano
If you keep climbing one of the main roads, you will reach the Tower of Lucano, the most prominent feature.
Many thought that is was a reused military structure but there is nothing in the architecture to confirm that. It is now thought that it is a bell tower possibly constructed in the 18th century.
At the top is a replica of the Silver Rooster trophy awarded in 1938 by Estado Novo to the "Most Portuguese village in Portugal"
The views from the bottom of the tower are also beautiful:
Miradouro do Forno and the most famous boulder house
Then you can climb a bit higher to find the most famous houses in the village of Monsanto. This is the one you see the most photographed and the one representing the village.
Look at that! Easy to understand why:
The viewpoint is a nice place to have a break
Other structures in the Boulder village
The Monsanto village in Portugal is a great place to have fun exploring. You want to take every alley and look at every turn. And you find some crazy things. Below is a selection:
Farming area and Pigpens
Originally the pigpens were spread out in the village. Later they were regrouped in one location for public health reasons. Pigs were an important source of food over the long term.
Today you can still see some pigs inside
Monsaton hiking - Pé Calvo Boulder, Monsanto castle...
If you are not too tired, I also recommend exploring the trails above the village.
Make sure to wear suitable shoes!
Pé Calvo Boulder
Above the right side of the village (when going up) is one of the paths to the castle. It first lead to Pé Calvo, a gigantic fissured boulder. It is one of the few boulders which have been named a long time ago by people living in this settlement.
With Monsanto's many boulders, you get to see a lot of shapes and formations created by erosion in the long process of granite weathering.
You can continue hiking between the boulders all the way to the oldest part of the settlement: the fortified wall and dungeon, called the castle.
From the top you can enjoy:
- the remaining castle walls
- the arched doorway
- the views of the region all around
- the chapel: Capela de Sao Miguel surrounded by stone coffins
Monsanto hike above the Village
To hike above and up to the castle you can also go right from the center (when looking up). The path winds out of the village and past the Joined boulders. 2 boulders which seem to be leaning on each other.
And once again you get fantastic views from there:
Want to see more of the best Portugal has to offer?
- 30 Most beautiful landscapes in Portugal - read article
- Best things to do in Portugal - read article
- The best beaches in Portugal - read article
- The best villages in Portugal - read article
- Lisbon vs Porto - where to go? - read article
- Driving in Portugal - read article
- The best of the Algarve region - read article
- The highlights of Sintra and the Sintra-Cascais Nature park - read article
Planning a trip to Portugal?
Check out my travel guide to help you plan:
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