The Village of Monsanto – Alcains, Portugal - Atlas Obscura
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Alcains, Portugal

The Village of Monsanto

Houses are tucked between, on, and underneath giant boulders. 

In 1938, the village of Monsanto was dubbed the most “Portuguese town in Portugal.” Yet at first glance, Monsanto certainly does not seem representative of the entire country. For one thing, most Portuguese houses are not sandwiched between gigantic boulders.

Defined by its landscape, Monsanto hangs off a mountaintop overlooking the Portuguese countryside, with views for miles.The mountaintop has actually been extremely important strategic position since prehistoric times. It’s crowned by the remains of a Templar castle, which was partially destroyed by an explosion, in the 19th century.

The village has hardly changed in hundreds of years, and enjoys distinction in Portugal as a living museum. Due to this standing, Monsanto cannot be changed and has retained its classic village charm.

Its tiny streets wind at a steep grade past red-roofed cottages tucked against mossy boulders. Some of the boulders are actually fitted with doors, leading to structures carved right into the rocky landscape.

While the mountainous town seems a bit unorthodox, it is actually a unique twist on classic Portuguese architecture.

Walking along the cobbled streets it soon becomes evident that Monsanto is a microcosm of Portugal. The architecture even incorporates the Portuguese Manueline style on a number of buildings and a church. While it certainly represents the classic Portuguese village style, visitors will no doubt be more impressed with the cottages built in boulder chic than medieval Romanesque or Manueline.

Know Before You Go

Accessible by bus from Lisbon and Porto.