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The real-life Portuguese village that's been living under a rock

Easyvoyage logo Easyvoyage 29-01-2017 Mollie Reynolds

Nestled on the slope of a steep mountain that rises 758m out of the countryside in eastern Portuguese is the intriguing village of Monsanto - a mountaintop settlement where homes are sandwiched between, on and even under giant 200-tonne boulders.

Rather than attempting to move or hack through them, the residents of this real life Bedrock have built their lives around the rocky landscape; stairways circle around clusters of boulders, red-roofed residences contort to the shape of the rocks, and some of the giant stones are even fitted with doors and structures carved directly into them.

Monsanto: The mountaintop settlement of Monsanto shelters homes built between, on and even under 200-tonne boulders. The real-life Portuguese village that's been living under a rock

A living museum of medieval Portuguese architecture, the rock-carved village has hardly changed in hundreds of years and still features cobbled streets and the medieval Portuguese Manueline construction style from the 16th century that many homes still bear today.

The first settlers of Monsanto arrived in 6th century BC when the Lusitanians populated the region. The Castelo - a formidable stone fortress that was built during this era - still stands above the village today. Boasting immense vistas of the valley below and populated by lizards and wild flowers, it is a beautiful site to visit if the higgledy-piggledy cluster of houses and metaphorical weight of the boulders get too much.

Just below, in the shadows of the ruins, is what's left of the Romanesque Capela de São Miguel, or Sao Miguel Chapel. Erected in the 12th century, it is a well-preserved relic of the past whose most intriguing aspect is its eerie cluster of tombs carved into solid rocks.

For a true look at the genius of Monsanto's medieval architects, visit the Casa de uma só telha (house with just one tile). The roof of this house is a gigantic boulder perched ominously on top of the granite residence.

When to visit

The liveliest day of the year to visit Monsanto is 3 May, when the village comes alive with celebrations for the Festival of the Holy Cross. Commemorating the resistance to a long history of sieges, the women of the village will throw rag-dolls (known as "marafonas") and flowers from the top of the castle walls in a scene that honours the legend that attackers abandoned their siege after starving villagers threw their last lonely calf over the walls, as if they had plenty to spare.

A great way to delve into the soul of this region is through its cuisine, with typical dishes featuring asparagus, roasted kid, lamb and sheep's cheese. Start off with breakfast in Taberna Viriato to introduce yourself to the flavours of Lusitania. Steeped in history, the space that this rustic restaurant now occupies was actually the community wood fire oven when it was first built in the early 20th century.

By night, head to Petiscos e Granitos restaurant which, wedged between gigantic boulders, not only boasts one of the most impressive examples of such construction in the village, but also a beautiful back terrace with incomparable views of the sun going down over the plains. The panorama is best accompanied by a copo de vinho (glass of wine) and offerings such as grilled lamb chops with roasted potatoes or asparagus with scrambled egg and ham.

Where to stay

A trip to Monsanto would not be complete without staying in a beautiful rock-carved house with a friendly local. Casa da Gruta (Cave House) is a stunning rustic stone house decorated with original 17th century furniture. To up the luxury factor, stay at the more exclusive Casa de Leão (Lion House), which boasts splendid views from the windows down onto the valley below.

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