Accustomed to the silence and tranquility typical of the Portuguese countryside, a small village in the Beira Baixa region, where the granite hills and a centuries-old castle tell stories, suddenly found itself at the focus of international news.
I’m talking about Monsanto in the municipality of Idanha-a-Nova.
The village was one of the places chosen to receive the film crew of the famous Game of Thrones prequel, the new series House of the Dragon, that finally found a home for its dragon.
The show producers reported having been enchanted not only by Monsanto but also by Portugal itself. Ryan Condal, the director and screenwriter, has expressed this amazement:
“The trip to Portugal was unprecedented for ‘Game of Thrones’ and even for the film industry in general. Therefore, there is a lot of Portugal to see on television”, he said, adding that Portugal is “a beautiful country and great for filming. When we saw Monsanto on a mountain, we found Dragonstone,”
According to Sofia de Noronha, the production manager, even the entire production relied heavily on the help of the locals, who even hosted the crew during the recordings.
The Village of Monsanto
Located on a hillside northeast of Guarda, Monsanto keeps a unique architectural feature, with its peculiar granite houses scattered on a cliff whose framing seems taken from a fantastic movie. No wonder HBO’s wise choice to shoot some scenes of House of the Dragon here.
For Portugal, but especially for a place as small as Monsanto, it was an incredible accomplishment to be spotlighted under the name of an HBO production and have Monsanto’s population quadruple almost overnight.
A bustle that was enjoyed by the majority but also criticized by some who felt that the recordings were having a negative impact on the lives of local merchants. These saw a decrease in the number of tourists, provoked by the various access restrictions both to the castle and parts of the village.
The Most Portuguese Village of Portugal
But Monsanto was already famous before House of the Dragon came along. This picturesque village still holds the title of being “the most typical Portuguese village of all,” won in 1938 in a contest during the regime of Estado Novo.
Nowadays, with the increasing awareness that has been made about the need to develop the interior of Portugal, Monsanto is one of the many villages that are on the route of the Portuguese historical villages.
Travelers can even see this itinerary on the screens of those who travel on the Portuguese airline TAP. The route of the historical villages aims to promote medieval villages, preserved by time, typically whose houses are made of schist or granite and are quite rich and filled with unknown stories.
Monsanto’s history, like many of these villages, dates back to the country’s foundation. It was populated at the time of King Afonso Henriques in the 13th century. The castle, which during the shooting turned out to be a refuge for a fictitious dragon, dates back to 1239 and belonged to the famous Order of the Knights Templar at the time.
When we climb the hill and see the castle, we discover why the House of the Dragon chose this location.
Not only is the view from up there breathtaking, with the landscape of the highest Portuguese mountain, the Serra da Estrela in the horizon, but the granite castle, set among huge rocks with an old house in the middle, makes us feel like we are traveling to a medieval setting, or of course, to a series where dragons rule.
Once in Monsanto and traveling between fiction and reality, you should also stop at the Mother Church or Church of St. Salvador, dated from the 15th – 16th century, as well as the houses themselves that are part of the landscape and are undoubtedly the most unique.
These houses are now made between or under huge granite rocks, stones scattered throughout that holy hill (Montes Sanctus) that originated the name of this village.
And after all this climbing and descending, if you get hungry, there is no lack of restaurant suggestions. I recommend Casa da Velha Fonte restaurant, which combines the best of traditional Portuguese flavors with the elegance of modern cuisine.
What to visit around Monsanto
And when the day is over, if you want to continue the trip, there are other lands to explore. From Monsanto to the Serra da Estrela and the town of Covilhã, it’s just a one-hour drive.
Or, if you are opting to go south, why not stop in the town of Idanha a Nova? This town will certainly surprise you, not because there are soundtracks directed to dragons, but because of music from a local musical instrument.
The adufe (a square percussion instrument) can be heard all over, having contributed to Idanha a Nova being integrated into UNESCO’s world network of creative cities.
These are more than enough reasons to go to the Interior of Portugal. Make plans, and hit the road as soon as possible!