Although we love the beaches and villages of the Algarve, it’s always fun to explore new places too – and we have been meaning to explore the Alentejo area above the Algarve for some time – drawn by the open spaces, big skies and space that it offers.
Our original plan was to go to Beja – but as you will see, we were totally seduced by the views and vistas along the way and didn’t get anywhere near Beja!
We started our day out in the rural district north of Monchique – we know and love Monchique and its surrounding countryside, but this time we turned right as we approached Monchique and took the N267 road to São Marcos de Serra. It was a stunningly pretty road to drive, lined with cork and eucalyptus trees, with amazing views.
We had decided to spend the day meandering and exploring, and shouting ‘stop’ if we saw anything worth investigating or photographing … it wasn’t long before we stopped!
The Barragem de Odelouca – or Odelouca dam – is on our list of things to visit soon – it is enormous as it stores water from a catchment area of 393 km2, and has a reservoir of about 7.8 km2 We drove north of Monchique and realised we were still driving above and around the dam area, and stopped off at a little roadside turning, expecting to just have a quick look … but we were stunned by how beautiful it was and quickly scampered down the hill to see more!
It was so peaceful and beautiful – the perfect spot for a picnic although we had decided to wait a while before we scoffed ours!
I was quite envious of the little house beside the water – just a little boat and some chickens and ducks to keep you company!
After climbing back up to the road we were off again, and our next stop was São Marcos de Serra – mainly so that we could stop and have a coffee! It is a little place nestled between the mountain areas of the Serra de Monchique and the Serra do Caldeirão – and as it was Sunday it was shut! Literally! Everyone appeared to be in the pretty church in the centre but we managed to find a little café opposite which was open. I think it was run by a mother and daughter combo – daughter was in her forties/fifties and they never stopped talking to each other the entire time they served us .. it was very funny! They also served the strongest ‘bicas’ (espressos) we have ever attempted to drink, it was like treacle! It certainly kept us awake all day!!
The village also has a life-size plastic donkey sat on the side of the road beside a water wheel – São Marcos da Serra is locally known as “terra de peixe-burro” (land of the fish-donkey) and tradition goes that a long time ago there was a man fishing in the Odelouca river and he caught a leg of a donkey instead of a fish.
To find out more about this little village we can recommend this great website São Marcos da Serra
From here we joined the IC1 heading up to Ourique – our plan was simply to find the first interesting turning on the road that we could explore and stop for a picnic lunch.
We soon found a sign to a river and headed off – north of Monte Ruivo – and discovered the quietest and prettiest little river bank imaginable, which we think is the very edge of the Rio Mira:
Nestled in the trees, the trickling water enticed us and the flower strewn field captivated us:
As we are not exactly sure the name of this delight – we are just going to have to go back again to check!
From there we did actually continue north and reach Ourique – but we had driven past far too many pretty turnings on the way, complete with trees and flower fields, so we soon turned around vowing to return another day, and instead meandered back down the IC1 stopping off at interesting points along the way.
The trees and fields were lovely, it was almost like being back in Devon, with herds of sheep and cows, wide open spaces and big blue skies
We also found the signs on the side of the road hilarious – as ‘caça’ translates as ‘hunt’ – we read the sign as being a ‘Zone to hunt tourists’ … needless to say we didn’t stay there long!
Another sign that intrigued us was the sign leading to the church of Nossa Senhora da Cola – well we had to go and have a look didn’t we? A church dedicated to coca-cola had to be worth a shot!
We were however quite blown away when we arrived and found a whole Bronze and Iron age settlement – complete with tourist signs – and open to the public – for free!
It was great to be able to wander through this archaeological site and imagine what life must have been like in the past:
The views from the edge of the site were amazing:
The church of Nossa Senhora da Cola was of course shut – but it was still worth a walk around
And of course a shot of the name too
Our last stop of the day was to set up somewhere to watch the sun set …we headed back past São Marcos da Serra, and saw a turning marked Miradouro – which usually leads to a nice viewing platform … oh boy did we wish we had a four-by-four vehicle! It was one of those bumpy twisty narrow tracks that once you have started driving – you have to keep going! It had quite a hair-raising drop to one side too! But it was so worth it!
The view was spectacular as we watched the sun set, and then the low cloud and mist rolled in behind the Monchique:
We drove home happy – sadly our final stop of the day let us down – the wonderful ‘A Rampa’ restaurant near Foia does the best piri-piri chicken for miles around – but they were closed! We ended up at another of the restaurants on the way down from Foia to Monchique – but take note – scrawny pigeon-sized chicken and greasy chips are not what we enjoy :(
But we loved our day trip out to this area nestled between the top of the Algarve and the start of the Alentejo – and we will definitely be returning there again soon.
If you enjoyed this you might also enjoy these posts too:
Spotlight on Monchique
The Hidden Algarve