This town in Portugal’s central region is fairly low-key, save for one blockbuster monument: the charming Alcobaça Monastery. In 2007, this World Heritage Gothic complex was declared one of the Seven Wonders of Portugal. The monument is the final resting place of the 14th century King Pedro I and his ill-fated lover Ines de Castro, whose lives have been plagued by tragedy.
At the same time, the technical attainments of the entire monastery are almost convincing. After this, you can stay on the path of the monastery and stop at two other places nearby. There are more museums and attractions to keep you in town, and the stunning Atlantic coast is only a 15-minute drive away.
Let’s explore the best things to do in Alcobaça:
1. Alcobaça Monastery
The first ever Gothic building in Portugal, this royal monastery boasts stunning craftsmanship across a range of artistic movements.
The 12th-century nave is the purest expression of early Gothic design, 20 meters high and 17 meters high, giving it a supernatural lightness.
Whether in the Manuel portal leading to the sacristy or in the silent monastery of the Gothic and Renaissance periods, the entire craftsmanship is dazzling.
There are also gripping stories to uncover, such as the forbidden love between Pedro I and his mistress, Ines de Castro, who was murdered by Pedro’s father, Alfonso IV . The masonry on the 14th century tomb commissioned by Pedro himself is unparalleled.
2. Museu do Vinho de Alcobaça
In an old winery, this museum documents the achievements of a 19th-century winemaker, José Raposo de Magalhães, who changed Alcobaça’s viticulture forever.
In the 1870s he took over the winery, equipping it with the latest technology and applying all the new scientific advances in viticulture and fermentation.
The museum and its collections are his legacy, with more than 8,500 objects to visit, such as portable printing presses, barrels, historical labels, bottles, farm implements and copper stills, collected across Portugal.
During this time, you’ll take an insightful tour through the cellars and winery, with a wine tasting at the end to look forward to.
3. Alcobaça Castle
At the top of a high hill on the edge of the town are the ruins of the Alcobaça castle.
It has been so since it was decommissioned and mined during the reign of Queen Maria II in the 1830s.
The site dates back to at least the Moors, and after the 12th-century Reconquista, it was donated to the Cistercian Order, whose monks planted vines on the slopes, literally seeding the local wine industry Seed.
Although the castle has been abandoned for nearly 200 years, there is still a large section of the walls that needs careful study.
Best of all is the full view of the town and monastery at the foot of the mountain and the Serra dos Candeeiros on the eastern horizon.
4. Mosteiro de Santa Maria de Cos
After the monastery of Alcobaça, the next stop on the trail is in the village of Cós in the same municipality.
It was built in the 12th century, sometime after Alcobaça, as a place where widows wanted to live a monastic life.
Eventually, it became the regional community of Cistercian nuns and was rebuilt in the 1600s according to its current design.
While it may look conservative from the outside, the nave and altar have striking proportions.
The 106-seat choir has coffered ceilings, 1600s and 1700s enameling, and an altar with rich gilded woodwork.
5. Salgados Beach
With Silver Coast, you can spend a sunny afternoon at the beach.
Much of the region’s coast has unrestrained natural beauty and rough Atlantic waves.
Praia do Salgado meets all these requirements.
In summer, you can rest on the white sand and watch the mammoth surf.
Generally, these waters are not safe for anything other than dipping your toes in the water.
That doesn’t detract from the scenery, the vast stretch of perfect sand and high treeless hills covered in heather, juniper and pine bushes.
6. Baia de São Martinho do Porto
Also in the city of Alcobaça, a short walk from Praia do Salgado is an equally beautiful beach that couldn’t be more different.
Baia de São Martinho do Porto is the remains of a huge coastal lagoon that once stretched several kilometers inland.
Now it is a large bay, shaped like a clam, surrounded almost entirely by cliffs, with only a thin passage between the two capes.
These sheltered waters served as anchorages for sailboats during the Portuguese Age of Navigation in the 15th and 16th centuries.
Unlike most nearby beaches, kids can play in the water safely here.
7. Ruínas da Capela de Santana
The headland at the entrance to the Bay of Porto in San Martino is fascinating and worth a closer look.
You can do this on the trail that takes you to the South Lip.
While the awesome terrain might make the route seem challenging, it’s an easy walk that just about anyone can do.
The final panorama is your reward, including the ocean, the entire bay, and the San Martino resort.
There are also the ruins of a chapel built in 1712 and slowly disintegrating over the past 50 years.
8. Nazaré Lighthouse
The lighthouse sits on a narrow promontory embedded in a 16th-century sea fort.
The building is interesting, but takes a back seat when it faces you below it: the sight of the sea breaking through the jagged rocks is both spectacular and terrifying.
This boils down to an underwater canyon close to the waves that spawn the monster roll.
If the conditions are right, between October and March, the surf reaches incredible heights and people ride like crazy and break records in the process.
9. Nazaré Cable Car
Thanks to the promontory behind the seaside community, Nazaré is more dramatic.
At the top is a small village and O Sítio has a sanctuary, but before this cableway was laid in the 1890s, the pilgrimage to the sanctuary was onerous.
The wealthier pilgrims were literally pulled up the slopes of the rug! The original steam locomotive is long gone, replaced by an electrical system in the 60s and updated again in the 2000s.
The trains are spaced short, making the 42% incline easy.
10. Santuário de Nossa Senhora da Nazaré
O Sítio is a lovely little neighborhood with a great view of course, including the whole of Praia do Salgado and the bay of São Martinho behind.
The sanctuary has a legendary backstory: the sheriff of Porto de Mos was saved from falling off a cliff by praying to the Virgin Mary during a hunt, and this chapel is supposed to commemorate that. built for the event.
Temple Church was built in the 1300s, but was not renovated until the 19th century.
The altar has an elaborate gilded wood altar and coffered ceiling, while blue and white tiled panels of the transept depict passages from the Bible such as Jonah and the Whale.
These were drawn in 1708 by the Dutch Willem van der Klot.
11. Batalha Monastery
You can continue this theme in another UNESCO World Heritage Monastery, 15 minutes from Alcobaça.
The Batalha (Battle) began in 1386 to commemorate the Portuguese victory over Spain at the Battle of Aljubara Rota the previous year.
It took more than a century to complete, and the result of this work is one of the finest Gothic monuments in Europe.
The stonework of the nave (soaring vault), the Abbey of King John I, the unfinished chapel and the founder’s church is simply mesmerizing.
The latter holds the elaborately carved tombs of King John I and his Lancastrian queen Philippa and their four sons.
One of them was the navigator Henry, who in the 15th century helped Portugal conquer Madeira, the Azores and parts of West Africa.
12. Parque Natural das Serras de Aire e Candeeiros
The rounded chalk peaks of these mountains have a cinematic quality that you can admire while walking, biking and horseback riding.
But for all the beauty that flows above the surface, there’s more going on beneath the surface where underground rivers have hollowed out deep cave systems.
No less than four are open to the public: Mira d’Aire, Moeda, Santo António and Alvados.
Another natural attraction worth visiting is on the eastern slopes of the Serra de Aire, where a quarry has uncovered 175-million-year-old dinosaur footprints.
These were left by sauropods, nearly a meter long and some of the best defined in the world.
13. Monge Park
Located on the outskirts of Alcobaça, this park is a family choice with a loose medieval theme.
You pay a small fee to enter and then there are additional prices for attractions and activities.
Children can canoe on the park’s lake, take part in archery or mountain climbing, ride the Tyrolean or visit the animal enclosures with wallabies, turtles, monkeys and alpacas.
There is also a reconstructed medieval village and shops serving traditional delicacies, while you can watch history repeating itself with knights on horseback.
On top of that, the park has large, lovely lawns with lots of shade, so you can find a quiet spot for a relaxing family picnic.
When the red flag is raised over the beach, your choice is this water park on the highlands next to Nazaré.
It’s a relatively modest size, but big enough to keep young people happy, especially kids nine or younger.
For toddlers and smaller kids, there is a wading pool with playground and barriers.
There are also four slides for older kids, and a 25-meter swimming pool for a swim or cool off.
Zookeepers visit the park with snakes and birds of prey, and there is an activity program on the grass so no one gets bored.
15. Food and drink
If you buy a souvenir in Alcobaça, it must be a bottle of ginja.
It’s a cherry liqueur with a rich ruby color, made from a locally grown tart cherry and following a recipe handed down by Cistercian monks.
The Alcobaça monastic community also taught many sweet recipes that used egg yolks.
Pão de ló is a fluffy sponge cake and pudim de ovos is a flan covered in sweet syrup.
A classic entree that has been around for centuries is frango na púcara, chicken cooked in a clay pot and served with carrots, ham, chouriço, butter, mustard, brandy and herbs.
Where to stay: The best hotels in Alcobaça, Portugal
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