With the launch of five new trails on the mountain trails, the project «Revitalize Monchique – Tourism as a Catalyst» comes to an end this month, after four years on the ground to give new impetus to tourism and the municipality’s economy, after the great 2018 fire.
«This project was born when the mountain was still on fire», recalled João Fernandes, president of the Algarve Tourism Region and the Algarve Tourism Association, at the closing session of the project, which took place this Thursday, the 16th, in Monchique . «The aftermath was still going on, when Anabela Santos and João Ministro called me saying: we have to rehabilitate the routes now, we can't wait».
In question were the trails of the Via Algarviana, the great pedestrian route that crosses the Algarve from Alcoutim to Cabo de São Vicente, passing through heart of the Monchique mountain range, devastated in 2018 by the great fire.
For this reason, one of the first actions to go to the ground was the removal of the signs on the Via Algarviana destroyed by fire, installing a new one. This so that, as explained by Anabela Santos, «people would not stop doing the Monchique trails when businessmen needed these people the most». In all, 266 beacons, a post with two arrows and three information panels were replaced.
The «Revitalize Monchique» project turned out to have the full support of the then Secretary of State for Tourism, the current Minister Ana Mendes Godinho. And it guaranteed 100% funding from Turismo de Portugal, which was a «unique opportunity», as stressed by Anabela Santos, from Almargem, responsible for managing Via Algarviana.
João Fernandes, president of RTA and ATA, has no doubts: «Revitalize Monchique is a clear example of success: five months after the fire, there was already a strategic plan of action, the partners were already identified and the first steps towards the revitalization of Monchique and the enhancement of its natural assets».
In this project led by the Algarve Tourism Region, launched in 2019, almost 20 actions were developed, implemented by RTA partners, the Algarve Tourism Association, the Almargem association and the Municipality of Monchique.
After four years - with added difficulties caused by the pandemic -, the almost 480 thousand euros financed by Turismo de Portugal leave in the ground five more signposted pedestrian routes and already officially approved, a new promotional website (visitmonchique.pt), a catalog of tourist experiences (which sold out in the recent BTL), a hiking festival, a guide to walking routes and an information leaflet with the network of small routes around the county.
The walking trail guide and the information leaflet, with all the short routes gathered on a single piece of paper that you put in your pocket, were among the most requested materials by Vera Inácio, a technician at the Monchique Tourist Office, who is bombarded with requests every day of tourists. «All this information is on the website or in the application, but people like it, some feel safer, because they can have a paper leaflet to take with them», explained Anabela Santos.
The five new routes – three small routes and two connections to the GR13/Via Algarviana – were a way of reinforcing the offer. In order to do so, «the great support of the Parish Council presidents was fundamental, who went with us to the field», he added.
About the new website VisitMonchique.pt, Rosa Marques, a technician from the local Chamber, explained that the idea was to «combine local agents, companies, their offers at the most varied levels, in a single site, translated into six languages».
The municipality took the opportunity to promote and install the Municipal Geocaching Network on the ground, creating «a new product, which did not exist here, but for which there is a large interested community, national and international», as Rosa Marques said.
The places where the geocaches, which take walkers to discover the territory, in a kind of treasure hunt, have already received, since the Monchique Walking Festival, in December, 769 visitors.
This platform, he added, is not stopped: «we are always receiving updated photos of the accommodation, of the restoration that begins».
But one of the most innovative aspects of «Revitalizar Monchique» was the training of industry professionals, through five sessions to disseminate good practices in tourism, involving 20 accommodation units and 10 entertainment companies.
«Only a business fabric aware of the values present in the territory and the needs of these special tourists can provide a better service», assured Anabela Santos.
In the room were some of the local businessmen who participated in these training actions, having shared what they learned and what they did to improve the reception for tourists on the walks. Laura, from Quinta do Tempo, guaranteed that she had cemented her idea that these tourists, «especially the Germans and Dutch, are looking for our culture, to know how things are done, what is traditional».
Helena Martiniano, current councilor of the Monchique Chamber, was another of the businesswomen who took part in the training. Today there is no entrepreneurial activity, but he hopes to return to it one day, using «the much I learned, even through the exchange of experiences among the participants».
Michel Izaú, from VilaFoia, explained that this accommodation developed «trails that connect to Via Algarviana», added «transport for customers, to pick them up and take them to the end or beginning of the walks», as well as a «snacks» service for hikers take. And he installed an outdoor jacuzzi, which even «helps to recover the muscles after a walk».
But it was necessary to make all this structured offer known to potential customers. For this reason, the «Try Monchique – let Monchique guide your adventure» campaign was launched, active from October 2022 to January this year, in Portugal, Spain, France, United Kingdom, Germany and the Netherlands.
supported on a website and in promotional videos, the campaign focused on the main social networks and also included publications on specialized websites, newspapers and magazines in those markets, with the aim of increasing the number of visitors to the municipality, especially in the low season, which is more suitable for walking.
In this effort to make Monchique known and its vast offer based on a privileged nature, the «Revitalize Monchique» project also invited journalists and tour operators from several countries, including Portugal, to visit the territory, in order to live tourist experiences in the mountains. Throughout 2022, 13 journalists and bloggers travel agencies and 12 tour operators from Portugal, United Kingdom, Spain, Germany and the Netherlands.
Probably already as an effect of this combined work to promote Monchique, there are those who speak of record numbers of accommodation in these winter months in the municipality. This despite the fact that promotion, as highlighted by Ana Gomes, from Almargem, is «a medium and long-term job. You don't wake up the next day with full hotels».
Among the novelties that appeared in the final stretch of the project is a leaflet that, on one side, has a map normal of the county, with all the routes and offers for visitors, and, on the other, a beautiful illustrated map. Designer Bruno Boto also created a new visual identity and the brand «Monchique, Pedestrian Routes».
But, after all, does all this effort in favor of nature tourism (associated with culture, heritage, gastronomy) pay off? How many people actually take the pedestrian (and cycle) trails in the Monchique mountains?
«How many people pass here? We didn't know!», admitted Anabela Santos. Therefore, still within the project, «we installed four meters along the routes this month. It will be a good tool to get an idea of how many people walk in Monchique».
In summary, João Fernandes, president of RTA and ATA, says that «I can only praise the high capacity of “making it happen on the ground” on the part of Almargem and the Municipality of Monchique. They were tireless in this project that turned a tragedy into an opportunity for growth».
Luís Palma, president of the Almargem association, underlines, for his part, that this project «came to show how the protection and preservation of the environment and natural resources are important for local sustainability. It is a source of pride for Almargem, as an environmental association and managing entity of Via Algarviana, to have been able to demonstrate, once again, over these years, that there is an alternative to mass tourism. It is necessary to value the richness of the interior landscape and reconcile it with human activity. Monchique is an example of this potential and also of the fruits we reap by working in partnership».
Paulo Alves, mayor of Monchique, assures that today «we have a much more established and strengthened tourist destination. The local supply came out more qualified, with sector professionals more awake and focused. Our network of routes is more complete, thus providing a greater and better offer and tourist attractiveness. Our territory thus came out more valued, as a result of the promotional campaign, with excellent results achieved».
The mayor also underlined that the Municipality continues to invest in cultural and environmental heritage. An example of this is the archaeological enhancement of Cerro do Castelo de Alferce, where a viewpoint will be created, which can only be reached on foot, as well as the construction of the nearby Barranco do Demo wooden walkway, with a pedestrian connection to the castle. .
And now? Once the project is finished, what to do?
The president of the RTA and ATA was peremptory: «we need a second Revitalize Monchique»... which could even have another name. «The dynamic created cannot remain for just one cycle».
And where will the funding for this come from? Anabela Santos hopes that the new community support framework, within the scope of Portugal 2030, will have funds to support the concrete actions that still need to be done and the recurring expenses, such as maintenance of the routes and their signage.
Even with regard to training agents and local businessmen, «we have made the start, but there is still much to be done», he said.
This year, around December, there will be a new edition of Monchique Hiking Festival which, in 2022, first postponed in June because of the risk of fire and promoted too late later, still had around 400 participants.
The Monchique mountain range is not only the highest point in the Algarve, but also a repository of important natural, landscape and heritage values, severely affected by the fires, but with great resilience. Local agents contribute a lot to this, not only at the level of municipalities, but also at small local accommodation, catering and entertainment companies.
Despite the buses that dump tourists "touch and run" at the top of Fóia, to see the views, take a Selfie and return to air conditioning, the great vocation of the mountains is nature tourism. Therefore, the presentation of the results of the «Revitalize Monchique» project could not have ended better than with a poem by Eduardo Jorge Duarte from Monchique, which culminates in this verse: «Walking is reading with your legs». Have you ever thought about going to Monchique to "read all that territory with your legs"?
Photos: Ana Gomes | Almargem and Elisabete Rodrigues | Sul Informação