Despite the fact that the CIA thinks that the border between Portugal and Spain at the height of the town of Olivenza is as dangerous as the Gaza strip –it is considered by the agency to be a conflict zone– relations between the two countries are as good that the first jointly managed international park in Europe has been created: the Parque Natural Tajo Internacional . There are 20 municipalities that make it up, eleven in Spain and nine in Portugal , and they cover the border area around the Tagus River .

Seen this way, our visit had to cross the border and on more than one occasion. The truth is that it was the signal from our mobile phones that constantly crossed from one country to another: be careful with that “data roaming” when you pass through the area that the visit can be more expensive than expected at the end of the billing cycle .

Idanha-a-Nova

Idanha-a-Nova is one of those nine Portuguese municipalities that form the Portuguese side of the Tagus International Natural Park . I had never considered what the administrative division of the neighboring country would be like , but it is quite complex. Idanha-a-Nova has less than 15,000 inhabitants – although the data is old – divided into 13 parishes , which would come to be districts. They are all part of the park, but the one we visited was Monsanto .

Monsanto

To begin with, it must be said that Monsanto has been known as the most Portuguese town in Portugal , whatever that means, since 1938. At the top of the Lucano tower , or the clock, there is a silver rooster that commemorates it.

If in Alcántara we had found a city fortified by continuous border fighting, on the other side of the border, Monsanto was its counterpart . While the Knights of the Order of Alcántara were owners and lords of the city of Extremadura, Monsanto was ruled by the Knights of the Order of the Temple, the Templars , first and those of the Order of Santiago later, when the Templars fell into disgrace.

Granite in Monsanto

Monsanto does not look like a built city, it seems to have  grown from granite . In fact, many houses are inside gigantic granite boulders . You walk along a stone path, surrounded by stone houses covered in that special grayish green moss. If you complement it with an overcast and rainy day like the one that happened to us, anyone would say that it is in the highlands of Scotland instead of a short distance from Extremadura –how much damage has that image of dry and golden Extremadura done…–.As it happens in Spain, you will not find many young people walking those streets. Human borders do not differentiate us so much and the comforts of big cities are too attractive on both sides. But surely you will find some nice Portuguese old man who will guide you . Think that we had a guide and, even so, a monsantino was the one who was marking the way for us .

The name of Monsanto already makes it clear that it is not a flat city and, being a border city, we find the castle at the highest point .

Monsanto Castle

Never conquered, the castle of Monsanto controls the surroundings from its 758 meters above sea level . On a favorable day – ours was not, first because of a mist that hid the view and then because of a storm – they told us that Spain could be seen . It was the Templars who built the fortress in the middle of the reconquest to defend the area on the one hand from the kingdom of León and on the other from the Muslims , and boy did they do it well.Now there is not much that remains of the castle apart from its wall  , which can almost be walked through along the coastal path. A cistern, a chapel … the stone constructions have been preserved. Outside the wall, but very close, is the Templar chapel of San Pedro de Vira-Corça , the second oldest chapel in Portugal.

Gastronomy, eating at Monsanto

Gastronomy is a fundamental part of the Tagus International initiative and you should not miss the opportunity to try the Portuguese. A good option to do it is the Adega Típica O Cruzeiro , the food is typical but the place is a modern construction with an impressive view from its windows. There we enjoyed the quintessential dish of Portuguese cuisine: cod . First in pasteis format and then charcoal and oven . Without forgetting a delicious Gallo rice, rooster rice , with its crest and everything.And pay attention to the desserts: the tigelada the papas de carolo , based on corn, and the pudim de leite , my mouth is watering just remembering them.

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