You want to escape mass-tourism of Lisbon? You love nature, but you are tired of beaches? You have at least a day to spare? Then, if you answered yes to at least one of the questions above, Serra de Montejunto is a place for you. Locals are calling it simply The Mountain (it's one of those cases when you can hear capital letters) as it defined region's history and many lives. It's a house of unique fauna and flora, and Portuguese past. Now, let's take the journey step by step.
How to get to Serra de Montejunto
The Mountain is located between Cadaval and Alenquer, in the heart of the Western part of Portugal. It's 666 meters (sic!) above the sea level makes it the highest point of the region. It's hard to miss. I'd even say that it's impossible not to notice it, and once you hit the road to finally leave Lisbon use Montejunto as your guide (National Road EN115 is highly recommended)! Sadly, public transport is out of the picture if you do not want to have a really, REALLY long hike waiting in the end. Travelling by car will be helpful also because the road can take you to the very top and further on to see various charming spots all over The Mountain.
What waits there
The history I mentioned is built into the stone walls of the only ice factory in the country, arms of picturesque windmills, churches and quintas.
The ice factory was working in the Middle Ages and was ran by monks. Its leftovers are being prepared for tourism and slowly renovated but the very idea of that place was enough of an incentive for the Wandering Sloths (ice from a 666 meters mountain in Portugal!), and checking it is a must, especially that it lies next to a lovely park, you can have there a picnic with a whole family and enjoy an open-air barbecue.
Windmills, usually located on the very top of a hill, are a typical sight of this region of Portugal. Their architecture – super-characteristic. Their preservation – a matter of a contemporary struggle; there exists a movement to put them on a UNESCO list and, following the Dutch example, to make out of them a monument worth saving. I couldn't agree more. Just check the pictures!
The Mountain is a very spiritual place, at least that's how I felt it, and I can understand how its elevation above the rest of surrounding lands was bringing attention of the Church. Ice monastery is not the only example. Near the top you can find Chapel of Nossa Senhoras das Neves which history disappears in the mists of the past, it managed to escape even the Dominican Order which built its convent next doors (only ruins remain). Now, the chapel, used rarely but in a good shape (unlike the convent), can serve as a gorgeous spot for a wedding (that view!).
Some places turn to ruins, some are alive but transformed. The latter thanks to the biggest business of the region – wine. Vineyards and quintas found their safe haven on the Serra de Montejunto. One, Quinta do Convento de Nossa Senhora da Visitação, offers not only great wines but also a SPA retreat, all in the boundaries of a former monastery, so history buffs will find something interesting for themselves too. Chapel there has a very special tile decoration: artist depicted the Devil, image of which was set near the altar, thus providing the priest with a possibility to hit the evil's face. Thus, decades of making a point smashed the Devil's face into a dust (and that's the only damaged fragment of the place!).
There's also something for anyone seeking more active and contemporary thrills. The Mountain once was hosting Portuguese Rally but that's no more, nonetheless the roads are still there to be used by anyone into mountain cycling or biking. There's also a lot of rocks which are perfect for climbing, and used for that already for years.
The nature itself doesn't disappoint either. It gives a lot of possibilities for hikers and fans of beautiful views. Sunsets and sunrises on the Montejunto are spectacular! 360 degrees view on the whole region, ocean meeting the sky on the horizon and the weather which is very much influenced by The Mountain: that's an awesome mixture.
I have no idea why international tourists avoid Montejunto except of the public transport problem. Personally, I had there much better time than in the overcrowded Sintra. What do you think? Would you visit The Mountain?