portugal is only two hours from here

1greensgrowing

but it’s very obvious that you are no longer in Spain when you arrive in a pretty mountain village like Penha Garcia

2manfredsdreamhouse

this charming and decrepit stone house turned out to be almost completely collapsed at the back; Manfred’s dream renovation project.

3colourfulportugal

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.

4prenhagarciasynclinewithwatermills

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.

5thesteepclimbtothecastle

we climbed up first, to the tiny castle perched at the very top of the crag

6allthewayupthere

then all the way down into the gorge

7riverponsuldam

the watermills are restored and the caretaker will show you round, one of the millstones is working

8leatsandchaannelsthrough the gorge

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

9fossils

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.

10lichenpinkandgreen

then all the lower rocks are covered in beautiful lichens

11lichenlimmegreen

these green and lime ones are the most common

12theleatreturningto the millpond

the mill leat ends up in a spectacular waterfall

13monsantobattlementscarpark

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

14bouldervillagemonsanto

the village is partly constructed of built granite blocks and partly of the enormous granite boulders which balance all over this crag

15boulderwithstep

we climbed up the steep streets towards the castle

16incongruousstreetlampwithboulders

amongst the chimneys at the very top are stone-built pig pens

17chimneypotsandpigpens

no longer used but very neat

18stupendousviewsfrominselberg

and one old lady came up to feed her chickens kept in a pen up here – what a view!

19belltowergraniteblocks

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

20romanesquechapel

the church is roofless but the strong carving and the plain interior survive in perfect condition

21stonecoffin

there are many stone coffins around, the topsoil must have washed away

22monsantocastle

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.

23monsantocastleentrance

a romanesque arch at the entry into the first courtyard

24onthebattlements

the most stupendous views from the battlements

25slot

and sneaky arrow/gun slots

26maincastleinterior

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.

27gardenbetweentheboulders

on the way down we discovered a secret garden amongst the boulders

28pathsuphigh

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.

29massivestyle