Picota Mountain Walk - By Alan Garner
The Western Algarve – Picota Mountain – 774 metres high
This lovely walk starts at Monchique, some 20 kilometres from Lagos and 10 kilometres from Silves
Rising between the Algarve and neighbouring Alentejo region is the Serra de Monchique, a range of rolling mountains clad in heavy forest. Here you will find the highest point on the Algarve; standing at 902m (2,959ft) is the peak of Fóia with its all-encompassing views which span the Algarve's south and west coasts all the way to Cabo de São Vicente.
A few kilometres to the east of Fóia is the pleasant little market town of Monchique itself. Set amongst the pine, oak and eucalyptus forest of the hills the town here is a world apart from the beach resorts the Algarve is better known for. Here the pace of life is far more sedate, and the town has very much escaped the ravages of the developers.
Convento Nossa Senhora do Desterrro
With its narrow-cobbled streets that wind ever upwards from the central Largo 5 de Outubro, Monchique is a lovely place to lose an afternoon. For those with a goal it is worth heading onwards and upwards to the ruined 17th century monastery of Nossa Senhora do Desterro. Around fifteen minutes’ walk from the town centre this Franciscan monastery was reduced to a shell by the 1755 Earthquake. Today there is the feeling that it is slowly returning to nature, further reinforced by the enormous magnolia tree in the grounds, reputedly the largest in Europe.
Monchique's main church, the 16th century Igreja Matriz, is somewhat better preserved. Despite being about as far inland as you can get on the Algarve the church has something of a nautical theme with both the highly unusual Manueline doorway and columns within the church featuring twisted ropes.
To get a real flavour of life in Monchique it is best to visit on market day - the second Monday of the month in the town square. Here you will find plenty of traditional fare, particularly worthy of mention are the local smoked hams. There is also furniture, with the town being known for its "scissor" chairs - small wooden X-shaped chairs which fold down flat. One theory is that these were a Roman invention.
The biggest of all events though is the traditional sausage fair ("Feira dos Enchidos Tradicionais") held in March. Here you can try many local dishes including the famed "carne de porco preto" - black pig sausage. If you can't make that then there is always the local hooch, a firewater known as Aguardente de Medronho. This is distilled from the berries of the strawberry tree (arbutus) and can be as strong as 48% proof.
Our walk ascends the second highest peak Picota.
Park close to the Intermarche supermarket just before the town streets on the road from Lagos.
Cross the main road and proceed slightly uphill- signed Picota- and follow the signs- the path winds upwards through trees sometimes, close to houses and on the lane that winds along – look backwards for a look at Monchique itself.
The signs to Picota are very clear and often, just follow these upwards. Once we leave any population evidence the path becomes steeper and you see the summit on your left.
Through trees and eventually the summit with its marker stone and forest fire lookout tower-comes into view.
The last part of the climb is on rocks- there are clear markings – red and white etched on the rock, make sure you locate each one as you climb upwards. on the bare rock. Reaching he summit – time for lunch maybe- climb the look out tower, and gaze for 360 degrees around from the Algarve coast to the undulating Alentejo countryside to the north. Several reservoirs to see.
You can take the same way back, to Monchique- but also take an alternative. From the summit, take a marked in red dots path across the rocks at 90 degrees to the path you climbed up. Over the rocks and eventually find a broad downward path, some signboards telling you about plants and birds- and carry on downwards. Keep always to your left and you will see Monchique – follow the broad forest path -a roadway most of the way. You teach the point where you have turned right to follow the signs for Picota- - so just follow the way downwards to where you started.
Take a right turn into the village of Monchique, have a good look around, a beer, coffee or ice cream.
Take time to appreciate the stunning views on this walk. They are well worth the effort.
This route is clearly marked almost the entire way by yellow and red stripes. Follow these prominent markers and the route finding will be easy.
A number of the outlying settlements and farms have dogs that wander free and generally are on alert for strangers. If you are uncomfortable about this possibility, a walking pole would be useful to ward off any unwanted attention.
16 kilometres with the walk round Monchique. 430 metres of ascent and descent – allow 5 /6 hours for a good explore of Monchique.
Transport – buses from Portimaao/ Lagos/Silves