portugal is only two hours from here
but it’s very obvious that you are no longer in Spain when you arrive in a pretty mountain village like Penha Garcia
this charming and decrepit stone house turned out to be almost completely collapsed at the back; Manfred’s dream renovation project.
flowers like roses and pelargoniums add to the colour and the doors are all brightly painted. it was olive harvest here, and pensionistas were all out picking olives with calm deliberation.
the geology is awe-inspiring – this is a syncline, layers of deep-sea floor from four hundred and eighty million years ago tipped up into dramatic formations. this is the side of the gorge, and you can see the old water-mill buildings at the bottom.
we climbed up first, to the tiny castle perched at the very top of the crag
then all the way down into the gorge
the watermills are restored and the caretaker will show you round, one of the millstones is working
when the water has finished turning the water wheel it is carried around the side of the gorge in a rock-cut channel, on the right of this photo
the most spectacular fossils are uncovered in every layer of sea floor. they are thought to be trilobite tunnels in the sea mud. they look absolutely extraordinary.
then all the lower rocks are covered in beautiful lichens
these green and lime ones are the most common
the mill leat ends up in a spectacular waterfall
the next stop was even more awe-inspiring, the inselberg (an isolated stump of granite sticking up several hundred metres from the plain) of Monsanto
the village is partly constructed of built granite blocks and partly of the enormous granite boulders which balance all over this crag
we climbed up the steep streets towards the castle
amongst the chimneys at the very top are stone-built pig pens
no longer used but very neat
and one old lady came up to feed her chickens kept in a pen up here – what a view!
almost at the top are a romanesque church and bell tower, of the most beautiful rugged simplicity. Alfonso 111 had chased out the moors by 1200 so this must just post-date that
the church is roofless but the strong carving and the plain interior survive in perfect condition
there are many stone coffins around, the topsoil must have washed away
the castle was given to the templars in the 1200’s, then later to another order, that of santiago. like the village, the immense boulders are included in its construction – it looks completely impregnable. attackers must have thought so as there seems to be no record of any battle or seige here.
a romanesque arch at the entry into the first courtyard
the most stupendous views from the battlements
and sneaky arrow/gun slots
in this main courtyard there is a big well, which is still full of water. in fact the castle’s eventual ruin came from a self-administered accident with the gunpowder store after the peninsular war. it was severely damaged and then one of the wall boulders collapsed.
on the way down we discovered a secret garden amongst the boulders
a fine place to live, but we thought that most of the houses are probably weekend places. this part of portugal is wonderfully peaceful, you feel you are in another age.