Alcobaça is a beautiful small town in the center of Portugal, well located to quick access to most of Portuguese beauties. In Alcobaça you must see the imposing monastery, a world masterpiece of the early Gothic. Don’t miss the cloisters, the dining room, and the kitchen. Of course, you can’t miss in the main corps, the tombs of Pedro and Ines, a real Portuguese history of Romeo and Juliet.
The surroundings of the monastery mix well antiquity and modernity, and, being so small, the town is excellent to wander a while. Make a pleasant pause in the gardens around town hall and the local court.
The castle is an abandoned ruin, only serving as good photo spot of the monastery. Nothing very special in the local museum, but if you go 2 km north towards Leiria, stop at the interesting “Museu do Vinho” (wine museum), and, with time, accept my suggestions and explore the region. You will not be wasting your time.
The Monastery of Alcobaça
Being in Alcobaça you must see the imposing monastery, a world masterpiece of the early Gothic.
If you are in a hurry don’t miss the cloisters, the dining room, and the kitchen. Of course, you can’t miss in the main corps, the tombs of Pedro and Ines, our “Romeo and Juliet”. (Facing the tombs, ask a nearby Portuguese his opinion about Napoleon and his soldiers).
If you have time let’s have a closer look, and remember the fundamental of its history.
Pedro and Ines
Ines de Castro was a Galician noblewoman that came to Portugal with the princess Constança of Castilla, the new wife of prince Pedro, the heir to the throne.
Peter fell in love with her for the concern of his father, King Afonso IV, worried with the approach of Castillians to the throne.
He couldn’t stop the romance, and, after Constança death, with Pedro refusing to marry someone else but Ines, the king decided to have her killed.
Pedro reacts starting a civil war until his father death.
Becoming king, Pedro announced a secret marriage with Ines, declaring her queen of Portugal.
He sat her body on the throne, and forced all the court to honor her as queen.
Then he ordered that they would be buried in an opposite position. After the final judgment, the first thing they would see was each other’s face.
The two wonderful tombs may be seen in the Monastery of Alcobaça, in the position ordered by King Pedro.
Until recently, the monastery was behind a controverted garden.
Recent and expensive work replaced the garden by an even more controverted desert, but the monument is there in its untouched beauty.
The story of the monastery and its construction is largely published everywhere.
Commemorating Peter and Inês
Pedro and Inês compose Portuguese Romeo and Juliet story. The legend is specially remembered in Coimbra, where they lived their love, and in Alcobaça, their burial place, whose details I explain in another tip.
Commemorating 500 years since her death, great festivities took place in both places. A perfect replica of her tomb was used in a funerary parade to the monastery, but the most relevant detail is the position of both tombs – go have a look and you will understand why.
The tombs of Pedro and Ines dominate the church of the monastery, but the tomb of Saint Bernardo, telling the story of his death, is also very interesting.
Amidst several royal tombs, two are identified: those of our third and fifth kings – Afonso the 2nd and the 4th.
Entering through the kings room, we access the main cloister, from where we may visit the monks accommodations. It’s a very harmonious ensemble, from where we may have the idea of the size of the whole building. Some recuperation works open the sight to new areas, promising a larger visit-able area soon.
Not so outstanding as the one in Batalha, the cloister passes a sensation of peace and meditation, in its discreet simplicity. A fountain in a corner is a nice element, and the interior garden is the only living element added to the elegant stone walls and pillars.
The richest room in the monastery shows the statues of almost all the Portuguese kings, but more than that, a great set of tiled panels from the 18th century tell the story of the monument’s construction.
Very easy to follow and rather interesting!
The room where the monks had their meetings is now one of the most useful rooms in the monastery. It’s shape is a square of 17.5×17.5 meters, big enough to gather 200 monks.
With good acoustic conditions it is frequently used to musical events.
In between, it is open to visitors, displaying a few statues of the former abbots.
The monks life
More than a church (a wonderful church), Alcobaça was a school inhabited by dozens of monks.
It´s still very interesting to see their conditions of life, from the kitchen where they could cook three bulls at once, with always running water from the diverted river, to the cellar, dormitory and refectory.
Some recent works have enlarged and enriched the visited area.
Though being started in the 12th century, some works have happened later, here and there with some different styles signing the dates.
The facade (baroque) and the access to the sacristy (Manueline) are good examples.
A large and more recent area, in the back, for many years used as guest house is under recovering and may be seen from the 1st stage.
Exhibitions in the Monastery
The south section of the Monastery has an independent access and it is used for different thematic displays.
For instance, just before leaving to Croatia I saw there a free exhibition of the wonders of that country. Funny.
Two years after Croatia many exhibitions passed in the monastery’s south wing.
It’s impossible to get a current information, but the visit to the monastery is also a good opportunity to check what is going on. To see the scheduled program you may try the Monastery page.
Pedro & Ines in Ceramics
The pleasant path along the river, while waiting for the repair of the buildings that flank it to the south, has been enriched with a collection of ceramic art, by several artists and industrial units, which, cleverly averts the eyes from the ruins.
An appreciable initiative!
There is, really, nothing to see there.
So, if you want to make a good picture of the Monastery’s façade, that’s a good point, otherwise there is no reason to justify the effort of climbing the steep way.
I know that there are some beautiful houses in the way, but you need not to go up to the top to see them.
Once a gardened square, full of life (and cars), the square facing the monastery was transformed in a desert, with the intention to enhance the monastery.
Locals complaint, commerce fades and discussion grows.
Even the regular events in the square are different, more professional and less participated (and… funny: frequently with a big tent hiding the monastery…).
Fortunately, the image and proportions of the buildings in the square were preserved.
Baça river draining in Alcoa river gave name to Alcobaça.
The merging point of both rivers were for long time abandoned and neglected.
A few years ago workings were started to recover and embellish it.
Ninety per cent of the visitors go straight to enter the Monastery, browse one of the shops in front of it, and leave Alcobaça.
Hidden in the narrow streets around the monument, Alcobaça has more interesting points that justify a longer staying.
No, its not Disneyland. It’s City Hall.
The palace has been built in 1890 by a local that made fortune in Brazil, and started being used as City Hall in the middle of last century.
The style reflects Brazilian architecture.
Around it, there’s a garden, with tennis lawns, and, at both ends, the camping ground and the Palace of Justice
After decades of indifference, the recent works to evidence the monastery created the opportunity to a different use of its facing square and façade.
Several events, from spring to autumn, animate the interior and surroundings of the monastery.
A discrete nightlife is growing in some of the adjacent bars.
City Hall’s homepage has a good agenda, unfortunately only in Portuguese.
It will become a beaten path!
After several years blaming the local authorities for neglecting this monument, my nephew’s marriage took me to a finally restored church, that is now available to visit.
Distant 5 to 10 minutes from Alcobaça, you should try to visit Cos monastery, or, at least, my pictures in its page.
The tiles are splendid.
Once a swamp area drained by the monks of Cister, Alcobaça still keeps small natural ponds, providing relaxing sights and some good picnic areas.
This lagoon, in the industrial town of Pataias, only a few minutes from the beaches, though invaded by the water jacinth, still has its beauty.
The region of Alcobaça is pleasant, and though the main touristy attraction is the monastery, there are many small details and spots to explore around the town, while finding the best of the area – the diversity of the agricultural landscape, and the hospitality of the people.
Only a couple of kilometers south of town, Capuchos is an example:
Capuchos convent or Santa Maria Magdalene, already in ruins, is now partially recovered.
Behind the picnic Park, are the remains of the former convent who gave name to the place, founded by Cardinal D. Henrique in 1566, in connection with the monastery.
The beaches of Alcobaça
Though not being a beach destination Alcobaça has a reasonable line of coast, with wild and populated beaches with a natural beauty.
São Martinho do Porto
The most popular beach of Alcobaça, São Martinho do Porto is a popular family destination, due to the always calm water in the bay.
Alcobaça is developing its wild coast, north of Nazaré.
A few villages are growing by the sea, one of them called Falca.
It is a good point to meet Sun and Nature
In the wild coast, north of Nazaré but belonging to Alcobaça, there are a few points were the wide sandy beaches are accessible.
Vale Furado, between Falca and Água de Madeiros is one of them, with a savage beauty, and all the conditions for the sun seekers not wanting to enter the sea (cold and sometimes dangerous)
Paredes da Vitória
North of Nazaré but belonging to Alcobaça, this beach has wide, soft and clean sand, but also a rough sea.
It has the best infra-structures of all the wild beaches in the area
Surrounded by the national pine tree forest, it is a very good place for picnics, with extreme cautions – fire is a always present risk, and each summer the area suffers something.
Some years ago dozens of wooden houses were built upon these cliffs, by the wide beach.
All of them were destroyed by the local authorities, and the beach keeps wild and unspoilt.
Well, until the arrival of the dust, from the parking.
O Celeiro dos Frades
In my first visit to this restaurant, years ago, I was somewhat disappointed. With a new management, things seem to be better now.
The doses may be small to some people that I know, but they were enough for us, and well prepared. I was invited and couldn’t know the prices, but in the list they were moderated. Very discreet decoration, with great “vintage” pictures of town.
Favorite Dish: Cabidela
Directions: Near the monastery, under the arch.
Good food and location
Just across the road from the monastery (and allowing us to notice that the north wing of the monastery needed cleaning – done!), it’s a serious place, with good Portuguese food at reasonable prices.
It is also a good place for a large group.
I went there again, and ate one of the best “Frango na Pucara”.
Cabeço – Simple and good
On a hill overlooking Alcobaça, this familiar restaurants closes on Sunday and Monday, and that’s the reason why I took so much time to discover it (we use to eat out exactly in those days).
I was invited by a friend, and had a good surprise. Nice place, gentle people, good food.
I had to make a second (and third, and fourth…) visit and I have no doubt to recommend it as one of the best in the area.
Favorite Dish: Seafood rice
Address: Rua Dona Elvina Machado, 65 2460-521 Bemposta
GPS: 39°33’52.45″N 8°58’45 Phone: +351 914 500 202
António Padeiro – Quality and tradition
I met António Padeiro in the 70s, when it was a tavern famous for its well-drained beer – I’m not a fan, and I went there because it had a good, cheap steak.
I stopped being a teacher in Alcobaça and forgot about the restaurant, until they told me that it had been restructured and was now something else.
I went there and confirmed it – it is now an excellent restaurant with a refined service, and prices that are not too exaggerated. I became a customer.
Telheiro – Once the best in town
A nice place in the outskirts of town. Good starters, using the typical cuisine. Fresh fish, gets its best in codfish, lamb, and chicken (“frango na pucara”).
Good deserts and list of wines. I am not going there for several months, and heard that it was going down. True or not?
PS -I saw another restaurant, not far, called “Telheiro II”, and tried it. It has nothing to do with he first one! I don’t know if it has the same owner, but the concept is absolutely different, closer to a simple “tasca”.
Quinta do Pinheiro – Not only a hotel
It is more than a rural hotel.
It is a restaurant for business, parties, or for a good meal in a nice ambiance.
Yes! I know!
It is only that, but it is also a nice site, and a good base to watch the intense agricultural activity in the small properties that surround it.
Restaurant by the sea in Falca
Located in a wild area of the coast, facing the sea from the top of the cliffs, this restaurant tries to act as an attraction by itself.
That means… food.
Betting in a selected cuisine and a careful service they match a medium/high standard. The prices… well, they are in line with everything else.
Favorite Dish: Grilled fish
Address: Falca beach
Granja Abbatiale – Different
This is not a real restaurant, but a funny and different place where you may eat.
It is a farm, prepared for tourism, in a do-it-yourself basis. You pay 5€ to enter, and become free to use everything in the farm, not only the many ludic equipment, but also the kitchen, grill, and even the vegetables produced in the farm, that you may pick in the vegetables garden or orchard.
Everything that you pick or buy (there’s a shop and a bar) will be discounted in the initial price, and you will only pay the excess, or… nothing more, if you didn’t exceed the 5€ per capita.
We’ve been there several times, the last one in July 27th, for a picnic with our dancing team, this time open to all dancers and families, which meant a few hundred people.Favorite Dish: – Damn! I forgot to bring coriander… – No problem! Third flower bed at your left.
Address: Campos da Maiorga Directions: 39.588136ºN 8.993337W
Santa Maria hotel – Right by the Monastery
Though not being the best hotel in Alcobaça (Challet Fonte Nova is special, in service and… price) Santa Maria Hotel is the best in the quality/location/price ratio. Right beside the Monastery, the only weak points are the absence of a restaurant and the access.
With the new restrictions introduced to the Monastery front, access by car can only be easily made from south, and, though parking became more difficult (and far) in Alcobaça, the hotel has a private parking to the guests. If you arrive by bus, or by railroad (with bus connection from the station, 6 km away), then you have to walk almost a quilometre across town, but, once installed, you are in the centre of everything.
Address: Rua Francisco Zagalo 20-22, Alcobaca
Phone: +351 262 590 160
Real Abadia – Promising surprise
One day I found a new hotel in a secondary road of a secondary village not far from Alcobaça. It was a surprise, such a remote location, demanding a car to be reached. The surprise grew as I noticed that it was the first four stars hotel in Alcobaça, seeming a risky adventure.
I never stayed there (and think I never will, because my home is less than 10 minutes away, but I have some friends who did and were very pleased with the quality of the service. Maybe that’s the secret – quality, and I must recognize that 90% of the tourism in Alcobaça use car or bus, turning the hotel accessible and really practical.
Address: Rua da Escola, Capuchos, 2460-479
Phone: +(351)262 580 370
Website: Real Abadia
Montebelo hotel – Top quality (and price)
Trying to make the most of the monastery’s immense space, after reserving spaces for a museum and cultural events area, an area at the back, used for years as a begging asylum, was recovered and converted into a five-star hotel, managed by the Montebelo chain.
Betting on success, the monastery itself “washed its face” and presents itself today with a fresher image.
ddress: Rua Silvério Raposo 2 460 – 075 Alcobaça
Phone: +(351)232 420 000
Challet Fonte Nova – Hotel de charme
If you can reserve one of the only four rooms available, that’s the way to sleep in style in Alcobaça. An old mansion has been converted in hotel, and provides classical accommodation with good standards. The access is a little bit tricky, but it stays close to the center of town.
Address: Rua da Fonte Nova, Alcobaça, 2460-046, Portugal
Phone: (+351) 262 598 300
D. Inês de Castro – A New *** Hotel
Located near the bus terminal, in the exit to Lisbon via Turquel, and not far form the centre, this new hotel reinforces the middle class offer in Alcobaça.
I think they could have done better with the facade (well, that’s not the reason why I have no picture of it, needing to use their own photo), but the interior is OK, and the service tries to please.
Address: R. Costa Veiga, 44/48
Phone: 351 262 582 355
Website: Inês de Castro
Quinta do Pinheiro – Rural Hotel
A good three star hotel, far from touristy points but ideal for those who want to rest. Officially it is out of Alcobaça, but so accessible, half way to Nazaré, that it may be listed here.
Website: Quinta do Pinheiro
Well located campground in Alcobaça
The camping park of Alcobaça is a good solution. Located at walking distance from everything in town, it’s a medium quality camping. There’s no beach close to it, but Nazaré is 12 km away, and the other beaches only a little more.
Some camping announced as close to the beaches are really in the middle of nowhere, forcing you walk too much or to use the car for everything that exceeds the camping resources, including… going to the beach. Here, you spend about 10 minutes more to access the beach, but you will be free yo explore the place. And to travel around…
Directions: R. Joaquim V. Natividade 2460 ALCOBAÇA
Phone: 351 262 582 265
Fish and coins
One of the highlights in the monastery is the huge kitchen. There, a tank is always freshened by running water, diverted from the river. In my last visit I noticed that merging two traditions may lead to silly things: someone decided to put fishes in the tank and some other people keep throwing coins to the water.
Both things don’t go well together – copper is poison to fishes, so the result will be easy to guess!
The wild coast of Alcobaça is beautiful, but hiding some risks:
in a recent Sunday, we witnessed a tragedy under the bright sun and in the calm waters – a distraction, and a boat was turned by a wave, killing one of the fishermen and injuring the other.
Looking at the sea, we couldn’t imagine such drama.
In several places around Alcobaça you may see signs announcing Parreitas. It’s a place where a friend of mine, about 40 years ago, discovered some roman ruins. I didn’t visit the place with him, when excavations began, nor later. But a couple of years ago I decided to go and have a look.
In the way between Alcobaça and Nazaré there’s a sign, pointing to the direction where I knew the ruins are. I decided to follow the signs and… found nothing.
Last month, travelling in the area with Fernanda and a couple of local friends, I discovered that no one of them ever saw Parreitas, and once again, I followed the signs to find… nothing.
Searching in Google Earth I discovered that the ruins are some kilometers far from the expected place, without any indication after the one in Nazaré road.
So, if you decide to go there you better forget the signs and try to find the way by yourself, but for what I have seen there’s not much to see there. The only erected columns are in a roundabout at the entrance of Alcobaça without any clear indication of its origin.
Final suggestion: At last, I found it. A waste of time. excavations were only beginning, and there’s almost nothing to see.
Carnival by the Monastery of Alcobaça
It’s not an old tradition, but the Carnival parade by the Monastery has been strengthening, and, though too much commercial for my taste, became an extra attraction subject.
Now they changed – Carnival is in a tent or out of Alcobaça, mainly in… Turquel (guess why!), but the monastery is still there (maybe hidden by a tent…).
Tombs of Pedro and Inês
No, I’m not telling the story again.
Only a remark to notice that recent works opened the access to a window from where you’ll be able to take a picture of the tombs demonstrating how the king decided to be buried, in order to, at the end of the world…
No! I promised not to tell the story again. I believe that it is impossible to arrive at the monastery without knowing our “Romeo and Juliet story”, but if you do, even the stones will tell it to you.
”Frango Na Púcara”
All restaurants in Alcobaça claim to have the best “Frango na Pucara”, a delicious chicken dish in a pot.The best that I ever tasted was in Frei Bernardo, next door to the monastery.
Justice must be done!
Alcobaça is a small town in size and population, but it has lots of cultural activity. Music, dance, and popular fairs and festivities are scheduled frequently. International folk dances were shown often in Alcobaça, organized by myself and a team of friends from Turquel in the seventies and eighties.
Now, only the city council keep, sporadically, that initiative.
Driving around Alcobaça
Take your time… It deserves it. Lunch time shall take you 12 km north, to Leiria, but don’t stop there. Proceed straight to “Marrazes” and enjoy the adventure of eating at “Tromba Rija”.
It’s an overwhelming experience, sometimes requiring a previous reserve. If you have the misfortune of not getting a table, walk across the street to “Casinha Velha”. You won’t regret.
Now it’s time to go back to Leiria, and with such a powerful lunch, you are strong enough to climb to the castle. The views are interesting. Coming down, walk a while in the narrow streets around “Praça Rodrigues Lobo”.
The way back to Alcobaça can be done via Marinha Grande, where, with time, you may go to the excellent Glass Museum, in the center of town. Just across the street, Alfredo Poeiras has a glass studio where you may see (or even try) glass manufacturing.
Finally, 7 km before Alcobaça, Atlantis is a superior class crystal producer, with visitor center and shops, close to the recently opened to the public beautiful convent of Cós.
Nazaré (12 Km west)
Absolutely must see and stay a while. Leave early in the morning, go straight to the “Sitio”, and enjoy the awesome sights. If it is summer or Sunday, you better leave the car there, and descend using the lift.
If you risk bringing down your car, parking may become a nightmare. Try the signposted paid park.
The crowds are not yet in the beach, so, if you caught the low tide, go straight to the rocks, in the north.Enjoy the healthy smell of salt and iodine, while the dying waves whisper at your feet. Notice the regularity of the waves, 7 small and then 3 higher, in a trustful sequence, while the small fragments of shell shine in the sun, dancing at your feet.
Now the flocks of children are already there, and it’s time to leave the confusion. Walk south, along the beach, watching the waves getting bigger, but always regular. Imagine the hard fisherman’s life with those small boats, now in the harbor, until recently facing the waves in the beach, despite, sometimes, the rough condition of the sea, to catch the fish that was their life, and you still can see drying in the beach.
There, in the southernmost tip of the beach, you will have the tranquility to enjoy the sun, under a comfortable breeze. A swim is safe but chilly.
Getting back to town, loose yourself in the narrow streets, trying to understand the strong differences between the locals and the other Portuguese. For lunch, sardines are good everywhere, and “caldeirada” uses to be also reliable. For anything different choose well your restaurant. “S. Miguel”, centrally over the beach, is one of the best, in quality and location. For a cozier place, I like “Bartidor”, in R. Alexandre Herculano.
Going back up to the Sitio visit the church and chapel, and learn the legend of Nazaré. To visit the lighthouse with its spectacular views, you can no longer take your car there, because the surf has taken over the area. You will have to leave the car halfway and go down a few hundred meters. On rough sea days, the northern beach is a very special spectacle. If lunch in Sítio should be an option, you have also many options (I choose Fontemar).
Almost in the way, the Hotel Quinta do Pinheiro is a great option to sleep or to a different meal.
If you followed the western route to Nazaré, and have time to proceed, or if you have another free day, follow the road to Nazaré and at the entrance of town turn right to Marinha Grande and left to the Sitio, and, from there, follow the coast.
The northern coast alternates between wide beaches several kilometers long, and small secluded beaches, with evidence to “Ursa”, “Polvoeira” or “Agua de Madeiros”.
“S. Pedro de Moel“, nested in the national pine forest, it’s an interesting urban solution, and a good stop in your coastal observation (see also my page).
Use the same exit of Alcobaça as in your north travel.
A few kilometers after Aljubarrota turn right towards Porto de Mós.
Take your time to visit the castle, and proceed to Fátima.
Some people visit the sanctuary in half an hour, some other in half a life.
Depending in your time use, you may go a little further and visit Ourém and its castle.
Anyway, lunchtime will be at Fátima, at “Tia Alice”. Bacalhau is a must.After lunch (or before), if it interests you, visit the Dinosaur trail, 10 km away, and go to the mountain zone.
Visit one (or more) cave. The most known is “St. Antonio”, the biggest “Mira de Aire” and my favorite “Alvados”.
Follow the ridge south, and descend to Alcobertas and “Salinas”, an interesting place where they produce salt, 200 mts above sea level. From there you may return to Alcobaça through Benedita and Turquel (stop and say hello)
Before or after stepping in the quiet beach, you may drive up to Facho, and see the sights. For lunch if the important is quality try “A Casa”, just in the bay.
Everything is excellent, but “Robalo ao sal” is special.
For a cheaper meal you may go to Kais Restaurant.
Proceed south, passing Salir do Porto and its dunes, and, through the hills, until stopping at Foz do Arelho. Watch the people bathing and grabbing shells at the same time. If bathing, you may need to swim, because the sand is very irregular. Take your time, but consider moving to Caldas da Rainha. There, the Thermal Spa and hospital (the oldest in the world) and the surrounding park are interesting and quiet.
Ceramics and humor are married in Caldas da Rainha. Try to find by yourself the most typical piece of ceramics. When you stop laughing taste the “cavacas” and head to the museum of Rafael Bordalo Pinheiro, the creator of “Zé Povinho” (our Uncle Sam) and much more.
Time to leave to Óbidos, a wonderful town inside a castle. Spend the afternoon visiting the arts and antiques shops, climbing to the walls and towers to see the sights. Feeling tired is time to stop and drink a “Ginginha”.
For diner the “Pousada do Convento” or “Ilustre Casa de Ramiro” are excellent but pricey. If you prefer to eat in your way back to Alcobaça, “Sabores d’Italia” in Caldas da Rainha, is much more than pizza and pasta, but “Cortiço”, in Tornada, has a delicious wild boar steak and is cheaper.
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