“We shall not cease from exploration and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started… and know the place for the first time” T.S. Eliot
We had the pleasure of being invited to experience something different last week – a chance to explore a part of the Algarve which is missing on most tourist maps.
Our house actually has a view of the Monchique mountain range, and the highest point on the Algarve; Foia – and I have previously blogged about the charming unspoilt Monchique (Spotlight on Monchique) But we had never had the chance to explore the mountain walks around the area – so when Fiona from My Destination Algarve invited us to join her on a walk and lunch we jumped at the chance!
We were also introduced to an absolute gem of a restaurant tucked between Monchique and Foia – as the owner of Jardim das Oliveiras (Garden of the Olive Trees) António Baiona was our host for the day, and he had lots of surprises for us on our day out exploring and eating our way around the mountain!
We started by meeting at his restaurant for breakfast – and we were absolutely spoilt with a traditional ‘farmer’s breakfast’ – complete with large flat churros served with cinnamon and sugar; a toasted eggy bread – ‘Fatias Douradas’ (Golden Bread); and a local black pudding which was delicious. All washed down with a large coffee and we were ready for a walk!
The restaurant is situated in a beautiful spot, with views over the valley below, and António is rightly proud of all that he has achieved at his restaurant in the 15 years that he has owned it. He also has great links with the local people, and we were introduced to our guide for the morning, Philippe, a local man with an amazing knowledge of the local area.
The restaurant advertises its hiking walks on its website Jardim das Oliveiras – Hiking and we were not disappointed! We were dropped off at the top of Foia, with its spectacular views across the countryside – on a clear day you can literally see for miles around. We were quite pleased with the arrangements – “we’ll drop you off at the top and then you can walk back down the mountainside and meet back at the restaurant for lunch!” 🙂
It soon became apparent that Philippe knows this land like his own back garden – and we were soon diverting off the tourist road onto smaller tracks and trails – all the time heading downwards! It is fair to say that this would not be a route for the faint hearted or a terribly unfit person – but it was worth all the effort and rock hopping to enjoy the most amazing views and scenery.
We stopped several times just to enjoy the view and take more photos, and Philippe told us stories about almost every ruin we passed. The area was obviously once a thriving farming community, with stories of families helping each other with threshing, hay stored in barns, and cattle and sheep roaming the landscape. We passed eerily deserted and ramshackle old buildings, where you could still see where the animals would have been housed, and the fresh springs of water and dried stream beds criss-crossed the hillside.
The landscape is full of tiered and walled sections making the best use of the land, and we saw a fantastic selection of majestic trees; eucalyptus woods; and the tiniest prettiest little orange and white flowers littered the grass. Philippe pointed out one flower – the Adelfa plant; which he told us was highly poisonous if eaten, and which he believes is only found in three places in the world. It was fascinating to go home and look this one up – The Adelfa Plant
The sights – and smells – were wonderful, with the cleanest fresh air, and the heady scent of eucalyptus and blossom to accompany us.
At one point we stopped at a little house nestled into the hillside, and Philippe assured us he knew the owner, so we explored and re-filled our water bottles from the fresh water spring beside the house. It was – of course – ‘vende-se’ – as so many little houses are across the region. It was a tempting thought!
We loved the owner’s home-made bird scarer too – it made a very pleasant sound as the wind caught the bottles – and made a great shot too:
Having a local person to guide us was a real treat – we felt that we saw the ‘real’ Monchique, and met some fascinating people, including a quick trip to a local Medronho distillers – a little place we would never had realised was there if it wasn’t for Philippe!
They also made their own local honey too – so now we know where to go to buy some really fresh, local and clear honey – from local bees.
Next stop on the way down was a real hidden gem – I have no idea how we would get to it again though (must get a better map!) but António and his driver met us with his mini-bus at this point and dropped us off at a local tourist spot – a beautifully restored old water mill – O Moinho de Água do Poucochinho. Sadly the ‘key’ had gone to lunch (!) so we couldn’t explore inside – but there’s always next time!
There was also a lovely romantic picnic area next to a pretty flowing stream – perfect for lunch!
And then it was a quick drive back to the restaurant – and time for our lunch!
Well I can assure you – I’m not biased at all – and haven’t been paid a penny for this review – so I can be honest with you all – and I have to say – it was one of the nicest lunches we have ever eaten anywhere on the Algarve!
António prides himself on providing traditional ‘local’ Portuguese food – he describes how the families of previous generations would have all cooked in an oak smoked wood oven – and that many people do not have these anymore – and so he delights in reminding people of the flavours and food of their childhood and history. The result is superb – rich flavours, beautiful presentation, and food which is simply a delight to enjoy.
We started with a selection of starters – the chirozo; mushrooms and prawn cocktail with mango were real treats, with the freshest bread and the simple tasty fare the Portuguese are renowned for.
The main course was a first for us – Wild Boar in a delicious stew – it was so well cooked it just fell apart and melted in the mouth! It would have been perfect with a local red wine – but as it was lunch time we were well behaved!
The restaurant itself has a lovely unpretentious but professional feel to it, there are separate smaller rooms for private functions too, and a lovely outdoor eating area, complete with a play area for children.
There are even hammocks in the garden if you eat too much and need a rest afterwards!
I cannot fault the restaurant at all – excellent food, at a reasonable price, served with pride. The only problem is knowing this place is even on the map – it’s a bit tucked away but easy to find if you know where it is – just take the Foia road out of Monchique, go past the Estalagem and it is signed on your right. But once you are there – you can relax, unwind, enjoy the view and savour the food!
I really could have stayed all afternoon – and they are open every day for lunch and dinner – and we will definitely be returning again soon!
The real treat though was the guided walk – and this is something that the restaurant would be happy to arrange for small groups – you can find out all the information via their website so why not treat yourself to something different? Having a local person take us ‘off the trail’ and lead us with stories and a smile across the beautiful landscape was such a brilliant way of finding a different Algarve – and to top it off with such a wonderful lunch really made this the perfect day out.
And now when I look up at the Monchique from our balcony, I can smile to myself, and remember a lovely day out walking and exploring, eating and meeting new people.
The unspoilt ‘hidden’ Algarve – away from the beaches – is somewhere I can heartily recommend.
2015 Update sadly we believe that António is no longer running his restaurant and that the tours have ceased. What a shame – we wish him well for the future
Jardim das Oliveiras website
Jardim das Oliveiras Facebook page
My Destination Algarve Information page