Our journeys across the Oeste region needed to lead to Alcobaça which we visited twice till now. It is a town well-known especially for its monastery which is definitely a reason why to go there. Not the only one, though. The whole town charmed us with its romantic atmosphere. We enjoyed a walk though the centre and explored some beautiful, hidden corners of it. What is more, we visited Alcobaça during the Festival of Convent Sweets and it gave our experience an even sweeter flavor.
Portugal is very Catholic and in the whole country you can visit many beautiful old churches. Alcobaça monastery (Mosteiro de Santa Maria de Alcobaça) belongs to the most famous and the most visited ones. The monastery and its church were build in the 12th century and became the first truly Gothic buildings in Portugal. It was built above the meeting point of two rivers – Alco and Baça – which gave the name to the town itself. It was one of the most important monasteries during the Medieval times, closely connected to many Portuguese kings.
After 800 years, the monastery church remains to be the biggest in the country. Thanks to its architecture and historical importance it was recognized as a UNESCO heritage. I can understand why as, in my opinion, the monastery is amazing and totally worth a visit. The exterior is beautiful. The church itself didn’t seem so big from the outside but I was impressed after entering it. As I have already wrote, it is the biggest church in Portugal. The main nave is very long and high. It is very simple without any decorations on the walls or the ceiling. During the long way to the altar the expectations grow. As I have mentioned, the monastery was connected to many monarchs who are also buried there. In the front part of the church I was surprised to see two beautifully decorated tombs on the sides of the altar. They are situated opposite to each other. Two lovers facing each other: Inês and Pedro. Their story is compared to the ones of Romeo and Juliet or Tristan and Isolde.
Inês de Castro, a Galician mistress of the King Pedro, was killed on the order of Pedro’s father. According to the legend, the lover made her crowned as a Queen of Portugal and ordered building the tombs for the two of them.
The church itself is pretty, yes, but what I can highly recommend is to see also the rest of the monastery. We visited Alcobaça during the above-mentioned Festival which took place in the convent. Thanks to that we paid just 1 Euro to get inside. Usually, the entrance costs 6 Euro but if you will visit it the first Sunday of a month it is for free.
The monastery has many rooms – one of the most important one is the kitchen with big fireplace decorated with tiles. There are two yards surrounded by vault passages. It is probably a peaceful place but during the Festival it was packed with people.
The Festival of Convent Sweets
The Festival takes place every year, this time: from the 23th to the 26th of November. I don’t know how much you know about the Portuguese sweets… I was shocked to discover that people in Portugal are obsessed with eggs. In the Czech Republic, we are turning stuff into alcohol – we like apples, we make ciders. Polish are even biggest experts producing delicious liquors out of every possible fruit. When talking about eggs, of course, we (Czechs and Poles) have also an egg-nog. What is my point? Wine-loving Portuguese are not that creative when it comes to alcohol but, instead, their fantasy is focused on sweets.
I am not a fun of the yellow part of eggs and, sadly, it is in almost every Portuguese cake. The Festival in Alcobaça was a kingdom for them. Everywhere I looked, I saw yellow, thousands of different kinds of yellow cakes. Except of eggs Portuguese also love to use almonds and sugar. Sometimes, there is so much of it that I can't taste the egg. Good for me.
On the Festival we tried some of the sweets and I need to say I quite like them. Luckily for travellers, all those sweets are available in bakeries during the whole year. One which I can really recommend is Pastelaria Alcôa which you can find just in front of the church.
Once you are in Alcobaça, have a walk in the town because it would be a mistake to see just the monastery. The place is small and cosy. Opposite the church, you can find many cafés perfect for relaxation with the favourite Portuguese drink. The charming streets will take you to different spots in the town. I enjoyed the chilled atmosphere and the seemingly slow pace of life there. We walked along on of its rivers, explored some hidden places and enjoyed a melancholic music which was coming out from some yard.
Above the town, there are ruins of the Alcobaça castle. We didn’t go there ourselves, yet, but if you would like to see the town from a different perspective, you should definitely try it (and let us know what you think).
A small advice in the end
I really enjoyed our trips to Alcobaça. We visited it by car which was a very convenient choice. It is possible to reach it also by a bus or a train. Alcobaça lies near other interesting places, though, which makes the car a perfect solution. You can visit a sea-side town of Nazaré, a historical marvel Ódidos or Caldas da Rainha famous for its spa and tiles. Close by is also another beautiful monastery in Batalha which I totally fell in love with and we are going to write about it in one of our next posts. Stay tuned and visit them all.