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Unique Algarve property: A tale of two convents

by Almonds and Oranges

Looking down over the town of Monchique, from the Algarve’s thickly wooded mountain range which borders the Alentejo, stands a fascinating ruin which is slowly being reclaimed by nature. Whilst to the east of the region, in historic Tavira, a similar property is valued at €2.25m.

 

Nossa Senhora de Desterro

The county of Monchique is an area frequented by tourists who are charmed by the running waters of the spa and the typical Algarvean houses lining the cobbled streets of the town. But it’s the brave few who go onwards and upwards through the town to the ruin of a 17th century Franciscan convent - Nossa Senhora de Desterro (Our Lady of Exile).

   

This once spectacular example of Manueline architecture was built by order of a Viceroy of India, Pêro da Silva, who is believed to have planted the massive magnolia tree in the grounds.

It’s said that da Silva was later buried here, although there’s no evidence of his grave.

The great earthquake in 1755 left the convent badly damaged and, following the abolition of religious orders in 1834, its altar pieces and statues were moved to other churches.

 

Sadly, abandoned by the authorities, the remains of this wonderful landmark are falling deeper and deeper into a state of disrepair.

The convent’s Manueline style carved stonework is worn, but still distinguishable. A vaulted ceiling and many of the structure’s arches are largely intact.

There are enough tiles remaining to make out a scene of Da Vinci's The Last Supper on one of the inner walls.

 

The upper part of a blue tiled cross is very likely the remnants of what had once been the convent’s 14 Stations of the Cross – a path of devotion introduced by the Franciscans, which became common practice in the Roman Catholic religion.

There’s an overwhelming feeling of peace within the walls of the convent and, in the tranquillity of the hills, surrounded by age-old cork trees, it’s easy to imagine what life was like for its resident religious order four centuries ago.

 

Today, part of this grand old building is ‘occupied’ by a local man; whether his residence is official or unofficial is questionable. He’s friendly enough and appears to be self-sufficient, growing his own produce and sharing his home with a number of chickens and probably the odd ghost or two.  

The convent is accessible by road, but you’ll feel a great sense of achievement if you make the climb on foot - the views alone are worth the effort.

 

You can see more pictures and read more about the convent in a blog by the Sheldrakes, a locally famous couple who visited the convent in 2012, or you can see some of the convent in this short video taken by some visitors in 2013.

 

 

 

 

 

Convent de Santo António

East of Faro in the ‘Venice of the Algarve’, there’s a rare opportunity to buy a fabulous property.

Built in 1612 by Capuchin monks, the Convento de Santo António (Convent of Saint Anthony) was transformed into a private residence in the 1800s and has remained privately owned.

In 1994, the convent was carefully restored and opened as an eight bedroom boutique hotel.

 

 

Situated only 500 meters from the historic centre of Tavira, with views over the Ria Formosa Natural Park, it’s in the perfect location to attract tourists.

The convent’s authenticity has been preserved over the years and the building has been well maintained. As a hotel, its accommodation is quaint and enchanting.

The ground floor and first floor are accessed independently.

 

There are three suites situated on the ground floor, two with one bedroom and the third with two bedrooms. Each suite has its own bathroom.

On the first floor there are four bedrooms with private bathrooms, a common bathroom, a kitchen, pantry and a chapel.

The convent’s 17th century ‘cloisters’ is a truly individual feature in the centre of the building; the cloister gallery provides a charming terrace for the first floor bedrooms.

 

Outside, an old well originally used for irrigation, has been converted into a swimming pool, surrounded by a lovely courtyard terrace.

 

Convento de Santo António offers its new owners the potential to continue to run it as a business or to convert it back into a distinctive private home.

With Tavira fast becoming one of the most popular tourist destinations in the Algarve, if you’re fortunate enough to have €2.25m rattling around in your piggy bank, it could be well-invested in this ultimately unique property. 

 

But what’s to become of Nossa Senhora de Desterro?

IGESPAR - Portuguese Institute of Architectural heritage – is the government arm of Portugal’s heritage protection and has laws and information which explain what a heritage site is, and how to protect such buildings and locations.

According to Wikipedia, the Convento Nossa Senhora de Desterro was afforded heritage site protection in 1981 under registration number 70937. However the link is invalid and the registration page no longer seems to exist on the IGESPAR website.

An article published in the local English paper – The Algarve Resident – in January 2012, stated that, in 1985, the convent was purchased from its private owners by Monchique Câmara.

The Câmara put the reconstruction of the building to tender in 2003 and, in 2004, a project to convert the monument into a luxury 24-room hotel with a swimming pool, was approved by the IGESPAR. The planned project would aim to maintain the facade of the convent and retain and restore the building’s original features.

But, the plans were put on hold. An online petition to preserve the convent, was started by the convent’s defenders and promoted by The Algarve Resident, but it has collected only 207 signatures to date. Is it too late to save this historic landmark? What happened to its heritage registration?

At the time of writing, Meravista.com has been unable to obtain any update or statement from the Monchique Câmara. Why was the heritage listing cancelled around the same time the Câmara took possession and obtained development permission?

 

 

Monchique Câmara has seemingly abandoned the project. And, as we watch this fine example of local heritage crumble away with the passing years, it begs the question – why? 

 

 

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