I had always thought of Monchique as rather a drab little town, despite the approach to it through beautiful countryside. An astounding number of storks spectated from their nests along the roadside, and frolicked in the fields and orange groves. Leaving them behind, the road climbs into the hills known as the Serra de Monchique, with their highest point 902 metres, at Foia. Further down the slopes, I had been lured to the market town of Monchique with the promise of a Camelia Fair.
But where? Arriving in the town around midday, all was quiet. The Tourist Information Office was closed, and a large billboard advertised the advent of the Sausage Festival, next weekend. Expectations lowered, but still with a glimmer of hope, for it was a day to enjoy.
Who would have anticipated the large open air pool? What a place that must be to splash about in the Summer! Steps led upwards, an open invitation, with the tip of a bell tower just visible, spurring me on. Built in 16th century, the Igreja Matriz, or Mother Church, is dedicated to Nossa Senhora da Conceição, Our Lady of Conception.
The doorways are in the Manueline style, depicting images from the sea and from nature. I step into the hushed interior, where strong pillars support the wooden ceiling. Soft blue and gold adorns walls and alcoves. I linger to admire the Capela do Santissimo (Chapel of the Most Holy Sacrament), the azulejos reaching high into the dome. (a lovely ‘square’ for Becky)
No sign yet of camelias but there are other distractions. A shop offers homemade chocolates, cork products and Happy Donkey walks. All three appeal. The direction is definitely upwards, a discreet sign pointing to O Convento. Escadhinas da Boa Vista promise fine views.
Around about here I get my first hint of camelias, growing nonchalantly in a tub. And then a second pair, nodding in a ruffle of breeze.
By now I have the bit between my teeth and am in hot pursuit, but there’s that convent to explore. Upwards I go, dangling washing lines and delectably old houses doing their best to delay me. Already I’m high above the Igreja Matriz. A forlorn icon looks down on me, sadly.
Little prepares me for what I will find at the top of the hill. A small homestead adjoins the most ramshackle ruined convent you ever set foot in. I’m beckoned forward with an eager nod from the homesteader and, very gingerly, I step up and into the ruin. My eyes adjust to the gloom and I stare into the central courtyard. A chicken run occupies one corner, and the small creatures scurry about, pecking busily.
The old lad waves me onward and I gaze in wonder. Never have I stood inside a more tortured shell of a building, and yet, its spirit shines forth.
Convento de Nossa Senhora do Desterro (Our Lady of Exile), a former Franciscan convent, was founded in 1631 by Pêro da Silva, later to become a Vice-Roy of India. According to legend he brought a small image of Our Lady, in ivory, back with him from India. After his death it was venerated as a relic, and now resides in the hermitage of S. Sebastião down in the town. Da Silva is thought to have been buried at the convent, and the enormous camelia that almost fills the centre of the courtyard is believed to have journeyed from India with him.
The camelias are lush and profuse, even crumpled at my feet. As I turn to leave, the chap waves his arms to indicate that I’m not yet finished. An adjoining room, once a refectory, has on its crumbling walls the remnants of a panel of tiles reproducing Leonardo da Vinci’s painting, The Last Supper. Beside this, what must once have been an exquisite half tiled wall. A solitary, poignant cross represents the Via Sacra, or Sacred Way.
The earthquake of 1755 was largely responsible for the destruction of the convent. Astounding to me that such treasures should languish unprotected, but access is undoubtedly an issue. There is no charge to visit the convent, but a small contribution produced an orange and a smile from the old lad, and then it was back down the hill, more easily than the ascent.
I still hadn’t completely given up hope that there might be a camelia show somewhere, but when I finally came upon the deserted showground I had to face reality. Maybe a piece of delicious almond tart would compensate? But you know how strange life can be sometimes. Strolling back to the central square, what should I find? A whole row of planted camelia!
Many of the blooms were brown and withered at the edges, and it seems likely that the show was cancelled for this reason. A cold spell early in the year may have caused the damage. A pleasant sit in the sunlit square would round off my day nicely. It’s a good vantage point for some of the expressive statuary celebrating local surgeon Dr. Humberto Messi, by sculptor Jorge Melicio.
Refreshed, it was time to drive back down the valley, stopping for a short stroll around the lovely thermal spa at Caldas de Monchique. I think I’ll save that for another day. I expect your feet are tired. Pop that kettle on now and we’ll share some virtual walks.
There and back with Lisa makes this a terrific stroll :
Susan’s not been around for a while, but she always makes walking a pleasure :
Warm this week, with Irene :
But Suzan reminds us of what some of us missed :
I do try not to be envious, but Carol’s trip to the Blue Mountains is turning me green. Twice!
Amanda, meanwhile, takes us to a far less well known part of Australia :
Jesh likes to look at the world in an arty way (and I spotted a few squares and circles in there too!)
Jackie’s having fun again, down Mexico way. Her posts always make me so hungry :
And you really can’t beat living the good life, with Lady Lee :
Or with my good friend Cathy, and her boundless energy. Watch out for her new blog soon!
Drake needs lots of energy too. He’s always busy!
And Eunice finally discovers a lovely piece of local history on her doorstep :
Hope you weren’t disappointed in this week’s walk. If you’d like to join me, details are on my Jo’s Monday walk page. Many thanks to all my lovely contributors. Here’s wishing you a great week!