© Manuela Sousa
RURAL WAYS OF LIFE
The municipality of Serpa has a markedly rural nature and its visitors quickly realise it, in view of the landscape before their eyes: vineyards, olive groves, grain fields and montado (cork oak forest) dominate the landscape and reflect the agricultural life of this territory.
THE MONTADO IS THE MOST EMBLEMATIC LANDSCAPE OF THE ALENTEJO
and continues to be well represented in the municipality of Serpa, especially in the area surrounding the Vale dos Mortos and in the vicinity of Vila Nova de São Bento and Vila Verde de Ficalho.
Its origins can be traced back to the old Mediterranean forest, which was gradually claimed and transformed into agricultural soil for sowing grain, pastures, wood and charcoal, acorn and cork.
This enhancement was carried out in order to improve and make the most of the scarce resources available in a region characterized by a Mediterranean climate and poor soils. Traditionally, the holm oak montado was predominant, and it was mainly used for arable crops, pastures and fallow, raising cattle, sheep, swine and goats, hunting, gathering mushrooms and aromatic herbs and vast apiaries for the production of honey.
© Manuela Sousa
It is an ancient landscape that, in addition to being propitious to the extensive development of these low environmental impact activities in a territory where sustainability is fundamental, is one of the richest ecosystems in the world. It provides shelter and food for a huge diversity of fauna species, many of them protected; in fact, the montado is also the object of protective measures under the Habitats Directive.
Additionally, the Montado has very important environmental functions, such as regulation of the water cycle, carbon sequestration and prevention of erosion, and allows recreational and leisure activities.
It is a unique landscape; the Dehesa in the south of Spain is the only other similar to it. The Montado allows a wide range of experiences, which include not only the contemplation of the vast horizon but also the interpretation of its productive or natural vocation. It has been gaining ground in the offer of hiking routes, outdoor sports and bird watching.
Its multifunctionality is equally well reflected in the immaterial heritage of the region: in the gastronomy and in the ethnographic traditions that are related to this rural world, such as the Cante, the collective imagination and the legends, aspects that are inspired by the Montado and deeply rooted in it.
To experience this extraordinary wealth we advise a walk to the Nossa Senhora Das Pazes Chapel - located on a small crest about 2km from Vila Verde de Ficalho - a small chapel that is surrounded by an extensive montado.
Along the way, you will surely come across different bird species that seek food and shelter there, one reason more to add to its interest.
The way to Pulo do Lobo also crosses a considerable montado patch (mixed with grain fields and pastures) where, with luck, you can find one of the many flocks of sheep that produce the milk for the famous Serpa cheese.
Alentejo’s Montado is currently facing imminent threats, especially those that involve the replacement of this type of culture and millenarian landscape with other more profitable - in the short term - forms of agricultural exploitation, setting aside the concerns related to environmental sustainability and sustainable regional development. For this reason, the Regional Tourism Authority of Alentejo has started an application to have the montado declared a protected landscape by UNESCO.
© Eco Sapiens