Centro region, Monastery of Santa Maria da Vitória at Batalha: a King’s promise to the Virgin Mary

Monastery of Santa Maria da Vitória at Batalha: a King’s promise to the Virgin Mary

Santa Maria da Vitória Monastery, Batalha

In 1383 King Fernando I of Portugal died without a male heir, leaving the door open for the King of Castile to sieze the Portuguese throne. However, only two years later the Portuguese throne was safe and plans for a monastery at Batalha were begun, in celebration of the decisive battle where Fernando’s illegitimate half-brother defeated the Castilian army and ensured that Portugal would remain independent for almost two hundred years.

At the time of Fernando’s death his daughter, Beatriz, was married to King Juan I of Castile and after Fernando’s death she was named Queen of Portugal, but many Portuguese people were not happy with the situation as they feared the Castilians would take control of their country. Juan proved them right by entering Portugal with an army and marching towards Lisbon. Opponents of Beatriz began to support the illegitimate son of King Pedro I, João (1357-1433), who formed an army led by the great military commander Nuno Álvares Pereira to fight against the Castilians. The two armies met on 14th August 1385 on a battlefield at São Jorge on the outskirts of Aljubarrota and the Castilians were defeated at what became known as the Battle of Aljubarrota. João was proclaimed King João I of Portugal and began plans to build a monastery at Batalha to fulfil a promise that he had made in 1385 during the Battle of Aljubarrota, in which he vowed that if the Portuguese troops defeated the Castilians he would build a monastery dedicated to the Virgin Mary of the Victory (Santa Maria da Vitória). (Outside the monastery, opposite the main portal, is a large statue honouring the real hero of the Battle of Aljubarrota, Nuno Álvares Pereira, sitting proudly on his horse with his sword at his side.) The town of Batalha (which means ‘battle’ in Portuguese) was founded at the same time.

Statue of Nuno Álvares Pereira in front of Santa Maria da Vitória Monastery, Batalha

The Monastery of Santa Maria da Vitória at Batalha is one of the best examples of Gothic and Manueline architecture in Portugal and was named a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1983. The exterior of the Dominican monastery is of a light gold limestone decorated with spires, gables and ornamental crenellations that overwhelm the eye. It was begun in 1386 by the architect Afonso Domingues, who designed the Gothic arches in the Royal Cloister (to which the Manueline decorations of ropes, exotic flowers and crosses of the Order of Christ were added later by Diogo de Boitaca, who also decorated the cloister at the Jerónimos Monastery in Belém) and the nave of the church.

The more flamboyant elements of the church were added by the architect Huguet, who took over from Domingues in 1402, including the high ceilings and the intricate late-Gothic-style main portal, which includes statues of the apostles on either side, God on his throne above the entrance and at the very top a depiction of the crowning of the Virgin Mary.

Huguet was also responsible for the Founder’s Chapel (which João ordered to be built as a royal pantheon for the House of Aviz and in which are the tombs of João and his wife, Queen Philippa of Lancaster (1360-1415), in the centre of the chapel, placed side by side holding hands, and the tombs of their four younger sons, in niches, including Prince Henrique (1394-1460, better known in English as Henry the Navigator, the man behind Portuguese exploration in the first half of the 15th century). Above the tombs of João and Philippa is a delicate octagonal lantern ceiling, with coloured-light-reflecting stained-glass windows, which acts as a symbolic canopy over them.

The church was one of the first churches in Portugal to have stained-glass windows as part of its design and it became a centre of stained-glass production throughout the 15th and 16th centuries, however, very little remains of the original stained glass that was put in in the mid-15th century. The two main artists responsible for the original stained glass were Luís Alemão and Francisco Henriques, who was the court painter to King Manuel. There was a major restoration of the building carried out in the 19th century and most of the stained glass was replaced by Mouzinho de Albuquerque during this time and since then further restoration work has been carried out by the National School of Arts and Crafts of Batalha. Through this programme the monastery has been able to preserve what UNESCO refers to as its authenticity.

Huguet was also commissioned to build a royal mausoleum, separate from the main church, by King Duarte (1391-1438, João and Philippa’s eldest son) in 1434, but it was never completed, as his grandson King Manuel I (1469-1521) moved the royal pantheon to the Jerónimos Monastery in the early-1500s. As a result, the seven chapels in the open-roofed octagonal space are known as the Unfinished Chapels. They house the tombs of King Duarte and his wife, Queen Leonor of Aragon (1402-1445). Work on the Unfinished Chapels was taken over by the Manueline architect Mateus Fernandes at the beginning of the 16th century and the space is most notable for his 15-metre high portal with Manueline motifs dating from 1509. The portal is topped by an Italianate Renaissance balcony added in 1533 by Miguel de Arruda.

Huguet’s other great achievement in the monastery is the audacious unsupported ceiling in the Chapterhouse, of which there are several legends, including one that says that the original ceiling, designed by Afonso Domingues, collapsed twice killing many people, so it was finally rebuilt based on a design by Huguet and prisoners were used to do the work with the promise that they could go free if it didn’t collapse. Another version of this story is that Huguet had to sleep in the Chapterhouse under the ceiling for several nights to prove that it wouldn’t collapse. The Chapterhouse nowadays houses the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. The tomb contains the bodies of two soldiers from the First World War, which are guarded by two soldiers and watched over by the Christ of the Trenches crucifix, on which Christ has lost a hand and the bottom half of both legs. The symbolic importance of this crucifix to Portuguese soldiers dates back to the First World War as it is all that remains of the crucifix from a church in Neuve-Chapelle which was destroyed in a battle of 1918 and it was later donated to Portugal by the French government in recognition of the Portuguese soldiers’ bravery during this battle. The only other object in this vast room is the Flame of the Nation sculpture, designed by António Gonçalves and forged in iron by Lourenço Chaves de Almeida in 1924, depicting three soldiers from different eras of warfare (one with a spear, one with a sword and one with a bayonet) and with an eternal flame burning at the top.

The former refectory which is just off the cloister is now used as a small military museum and outside the refectory is an ornate fountain dating from 1450 where the monks would wash their hands before eating.

Due to the careful conservation and restoration programmes, the monastery has retained most of the original features from its original inception, when King João I made his promise to the Virgin Mary. I think he would be pleased.


Monastery of Santa Maria da Vitória, Largo de Santa Maria da Vitória, Batalha

Opening hours
16th October to 31st March 9am-5.30pm; 1st April to 15th October 9am-6.30pm (closed 1st January, Easter Sunday, 1st May, 25th December)
Ticket: €6

Public transport
Bus: the Rodoviária do Lis interurban bus service runs between Batalha, Figueira da Foz, Leiria, Marinha Grande, Ourém, Pombal and Porto de Mós, but be warned that we tried to travel to Batalha from Leiria by bus at the most disorganized bus station I have ever encountered. Giving up on getting any useful information from the bus station staff, we finally decided to cut our losses and take a taxi.
Bus fare from Leiria to Batalha €2.15
Taxi from Leiria to Batalha €14 and from Alcobaça to Batalha €21

Óbidos: a picture-perfect town fit for a queen, Centro region

Óbidos: a picture-perfect town fit for a queen

Óbidos is a picture-perfect Portuguese town located at the top of a hill and completely enclosed within preserved town walls. It was fittingly given as a wedding present from each king of Portugal to the future queen from the 13th to the 19th centuries, a tradition begun in 1282 when King Dinis gave the town to Queen Isabel and as a result it is nicknamed ‘Vila das Rainhas’ (‘Queens’ Town’) or ‘Presente das Rainhas’ (‘Queens’ Present’). We approached it on a warm September morning from the small pretty railway station at the bottom of the hill.

Óbidos station

After dropping our bags off at our hotel located just outside the town walls, we entered through one of two town gates built into the walls, the eastern gate, Porta do Vale (also known as Porta de Nossa Senhora da Graça, after the small chapel to Our Lady of Grace, originating from the 12th or 13th century and renovated in the 1720s by a man in memory of his daughter who was said to have died of a broken heart).

Porta de Nossa Senhora da Graça, Óbidos

Lunch was calling and we were attracted by a sign at the entrance to an archway advertising a medieval bar called Arco da Cadeia (Arch of the Prison). I love a building with history and this definitely had that, with original gothic archictecture that may have been part of a prison in the 15th century. The current owners have embraced the medieval theme and decorated it throughout with heraldry and weaponry from that period; thankfully my toasted tuna sandwich and orange juice didn’t date back that far.

Arco da Cadeia bar, Óbidos

After a quick lunch we were ready to explore, but before exploring the town we decided to visit the nearby sculpture park and wine estate of Buddha Eden in Bombarral, a taxi ride away from Óbidos, which I have written about separately. We returned to Óbidos later in the afternoon and as the town is so compact, we still had time to see the main sights. Just outside the town gate is the church of São João Baptista, one of the oldest churches in Óbidos, which was founded by Queen Isabel in 1308 or 1309 and is believed to have been part of a leper colony during the Middle Ages. She also ordered houses to be built around the church for people suffering from leprosy to live in. The church was rebuilt in the sixteenth century and again after the earthquake of 1755, when the ornate bell tower was added, and it now houses the Parish Museum.

São João Baptista Church, Óbidos

This time we re-entered the town through the southern gate, Porta da Vila (Town Gate), which dates from around 1380 and contains the shrine of Nossa Senhora da Piedade (Our Lady of Mercy) decorated with eighteenth-century azulejo tiles and a Baroque balcony. We were even greeted by a medieval knight in full armour!

Just after the Porta da Vila is a monument dedicated to Portugal’s most famous 16th-century writer, Luís Vaz de Camões, designed by the architect Raúl Lino in 1932 which consists of a stone column with the coat of arms of King Afonso Henriques topped by a castle and an inscription ‘Já lhe obedece toda a Estremadura, Óbidos’ (‘All Estremadura, including Óbidos, was now under his (King Afonso Henriques) control’), which is a line from Camões’ most famous work Os Lusíadas (The Lusiads) (in Canto 3) where he celebrates King Afonso Henriques’ victory over the Moors. There is also a memorial to this, dating from the 15th century, outside the town walls, next to the big car park.

Monument to Camões, Óbidos

We climbed one of the four staircases that lead to a sentry path along the top of the town walls, which were originally built during Moorish rule and later restored in the late 18th century (after the 1755 earthquake), and from here got wonderful views of the town below, the railway station, the distinctive hexagonal, solitary and slightly neglected-looking, 18th-century Santuário do Senhor da Pedra (Sanctuary of Our Lord of Stone), and the surrounding countryside, but the walls are not for the faint-hearted, as the path is quite narrow, there are no handrails and at some points the drop is up to 13 metres. I was surprised to learn that Óbidos had been an important port up to the 16th century, when the river silted up, as nowadays there is no water in sight. From the 16th century water was brought to the town via a three kilometre-long aqueduct, which is still standing, and which fed into the fountains of the town.

The full circuit of the walls is 1560 metres, but we exited the walls at the castle, an impressive medieval structure which retains features from the ninth century with added Manueline features (as on the windows) from the 16th century, when it was a royal palace. It is now a pousada (luxury hotels owned by the Pestana Group which are generally located in historic buildings). There is something quite fairy-tale-like about it.

As we left the castle my eye was drawn to a church that was full of books. I knew that Óbidos had been named the UNESCO City of Literature in 2015, so I wasn’t completely surprised to learn that the former church of São Tiago (St James) has been transformed into a bookshop, the Livraria de Santiago. The exterior of the building retains the appearance of the original church, which dates from the 12th century (although rebuilt after the aforementioned earthquake), and inside there are still original features, including the altar, and the hushed tones inside make it a natural place to have a bookshop.

From here it was a short walk to two churches that are still in use, the Igreja de Santa Maria and the Igreja de São Pedro. Firstly we walked down the main shopping street, Rua Direita, a cobbled street dating from the 13th or 14th century with whitewashed buildings which house souvenir shops and ginjinha stands and which runs from the castle to the Porta da Vila, until we came to the Praça de Santa Maria. The square is charming and at this late hour of the afternoon was relatively free of tourists. We were able to enter the church of Santa Maria, which contains works by Josefa de Óbidos, Óbidos’ most famous artist: to the right of the main altar there is a panel with five paintings from c.1661 which refer to the life of Saint Catherine and it is also thought that the paintings depicting the Baptism of Christ and the Ascension of Christ at the top of each side of the nave are by Josefa de Óbidos. Another noteworthy piece of art in the church is a Renaissance tomb sculpted in the 16th century by João de Rouão and Nicolau Chanterene, which includes a bas-relief of the Assumption of the Virgin above it and on the tomb is a wonderful sculpture depicting the Deposition of Christ in the tomb and not surprisingly it has been classified as a National Monument. The church also has azulejo tiles dating from the 17th century and an eye-catching Renaissance portal showing the Virgin Mary surrounded by angels. It is also widely reputed to be the church where King Afonso V married his cousin, Isabel, in the 1440s. The square also contains one of the aforementioned fountains and a Manueline granite pillory dating from the 15th century decorated with the royal coat of arms and a fishing net, a symbol which is associated with Queen Leonor (wife of King João II) whose son, Prince Afonso, died in a horse-riding accident in 1491 and whose body was brought back in a fishing net. The queen came to Óbidos to grieve.

From the Praça de Santa Maria it was a short walk along the Rua Direita to the Largo de São Pedro, passing the Municipal Museum, a former manor house dating from the 18th century, which contains works of art by, among others, Josefa de Óbidos, including the renowned portrait of ‘Beneficiado Faustino das Neves’ (c.1670). Unfortunately the museum was just closing as we approached, so I will have to leave that painting until another time. The Church of São Pedro in the Largo de São Pedro is distinctive by its bulbous bell tower. Although the church dates from the 13th or 14th century it was rebuilt after the 1755 earthquake destroyed it and inside the church the late-17th/early-18th-century Baroque giltwood altar dominates. To the side of the altar is a painting of Christ giving Saint Peter the keys to heaven painted by another local painter, João da Costa, in the late-17th or early-18th century. Josefa de Óbidos is believed to be buried in this church, but there seems to be doubt about where. Opposite the church of São Pedro is the Capela de São Martinho (St Martin’s Chapel), a Gothic-style private tomb chapel built in the early 14th century, which contains three tombs and is remarkable for withstanding the 1755 earthquake.

The light was starting to fade and we were in need to some refreshment, so we made our way back to the Rua Direita and bought two ginjinhas de Óbidos, a local speciality of Óbidos, which is a shot of cherry liquor served in a small chocolate cup and can be bought from one of the many stalls on the Rua Direita.

We then winded our way through the narrow streets of pretty whitewashed houses with blue and yellow borders back to our hotel, the Casa do Relógio, a former 18th-century manor house, named after the original sun dial on the wall beneath the terrace. There we enjoyed a glass of wine and the view of a small square below which contains the Hotel Real d’Óbidos in a nicely restored 14th-century building, the (appropriately named) Literary Man Óbidos Hotel located in a former convent and another of Óbidos’ fountains, while the sun set over the fields in the distance.

We finished the day at the cosy Muralhas Restaurant and Pizzeria, whose menu had a mixture of Portuguese food and pizzas. The walls were lined with azulejo tiles, the food and wine was good and the bill reasonable. We walked back to our hotel through the atmospheric deserted dark streets and it was hard to believe it was the same town as in daylight, but it was nice to have Óbidos to ourselves even for a short while.


Lunch: Bar Arco da Cadeia, Rua do Hospital, Óbidos
Dinner: Muralhas Restaurant and Pizzeria, Rua D. João Ornelas, Óbidos
Hotel: Casa do Relógio, Rua Porta do Vale, Óbidos. One night, including breakfast, cost €55 (as of 2017)

Getting there: Buses from Lisbon, Caldas da Rainha, Nazaré and Peniche stop outside the Porta da Vila. Trains from Caldas da Rainha and Valado dos Frades stop at the railway below the town. It is also possible to get to Lisbon by train from here, but it takes at least an hour longer than the bus.
It’s a bit of an uphill climb from the station to the town, especially with a suitcase, so allow 20 minutes.

Centro region, Nazaré: place of sea mists and big waves

Nazaré: place of sea mists and big waves

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Nazaré was a most welcome sight after a long day of travelling from Leiria to Batalha and then to Alcobaça to visit two of the most famous monasteries in Portugal. A rather fraught journey by public bus from Alcobaça to Nazaré had left me feeling stressed and in need of a beer and a comfortable bed, the latter of which was waiting for us as we had booked two nights in Nazaré, a seaside resort on the Costa de Prata (Silver Coast), for rest and recuperation halfway through our week-long trip around western Portugal. After dropping off our bags at our hotel we went for a walk along the promenade, marvelling at the long expanse of golden sandy beach, which seemed to go on forever, and the imposing cliff to the north of the town, with the funicular track and eye-catching mural, topped by the neighbourhood of Sítio da Nazaré. We were too tired to investigate the town any further that evening and went off in search of a nice bar, which we found in the Praça Souza Oliveira, just off the sea front.

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Praça Souza Oliveira, Nazaré

After a good night’s sleep and a light breakfast we headed to Sítio da Nazaré, which was the original village of Nazaré until the eighteenth century, as until that time what is now the seaside resort of lower Nazaré was under the sea. Being at the top of the cliff, 110 metres above sea level, also meant that the inhabitants were less likely to be attacked by the pirates that roamed the seas. We took the modern funicular (Ascensor da Nazaré) which runs on a track built in 1889 to the top of the cliff where we stepped out near the Miradouro do Suberco, a wonderful viewpoint overlooking the sea, beaches and town of Nazaré below.

Sítio da Nazaré is dominated by the Santuário de Nossa Senhora da Nazaré (Sanctuary of Our Lady of Nazaré), a beautiful Baroque church which houses a small black wooden statue of the Virgin Mary breastfeeding Jesus, rumoured to have been carved by Saint Joseph (the father of Christ) and painted by Saint Luke. The statue is believed to have been brought to Spain from Nazareth in the fourth century (it is from this that Nazaré got its name) and then brought to Sítio da Nazaré in the eighth century where it was hidden in the rocks during the period of Moorish rule. The statue and church are connected to a famous legend which tells of Dom Fuas Roupinho, a nobleman, who in 1182 was hunting deer on the cliff. A sea mist came down and the deer he was chasing ran over the edge of the cliff. Dom Fuas’ horse was about to follow it over the edge when Dom Fuas cried out to the Virgin Mary and she appeared and made the horse stop at the very edge of the precipice thus saving Dom Fuas’ life. Dom Fuas built the Ermida da Memória (Chapel of Remembrance) as a shrine to the miracle and to house the little statue of the Virgin Mary.

It is said that the hoof prints of his horse can still be seen at the Bico do Milagre (Point of the Miracle) where it happened. The statue now has pride of place in the altar of the church which was built in her honour in the fourteenth century by King Fernando I and visitors can have the unusual experience of climbing up stairs behind the altar to see the statue close up and being able to look out over the nave from there. Also in the area behind the altar is a small chapel with beautiful eighteenth-century azulejos and an area of votive offerings to Our Lady of Nazaré, including replicas of children and limbs in wax and models of boats. For me, the highlight was a naïve painting near the entrance of the nave depicting the miracle of Dom Fuas.

Attached to the church is the small Museu de Arte Sacra (Sacred Art Museum) which has a collection of religious artefacts, such as robes, votive offerings and statues, including the affecting carving of Nossa Senhora das Dores (Our Lady of Sorrows). The church is located in a large square which has a pretty bandstand in the centre and stalls selling souvenirs and local products including knitwear and dried fruit and nuts.

Many stalls are run by women wearing traditional costume, which consists of coloured blouses and headscarves, embroidered aprons, gold earrings, long woollen socks, mules and the famous seven skirts of Nazaré, a narrow-waisted full skirt which has a thick outer layer and six or so thinner under layers. In the past there was a practical reason for wearing this type of skirt combined with an element of superstition which goes back to the mid-twentieth century when women would sit on the beach waiting for their menfolk to return from a fishing trip. The outer layer of the skirt was used as a shawl protecting the head and shoulders while the other layers covered their legs and it is also said that the women used the skirts to count the waves, believing that waves travel in sets of seven and hoping that their menfolk’s fishing boat would come to shore safely before the seventh and biggest wave. Although nowadays this costume tends to be worn on festival days and by women working in the tourist industry, older women watching over the fishing drying on the beach can still be seen wearing it.

Just behind the church, hidden away in the Rua Brito Alão, is a small peach-coloured theatre, Teatro Chaby Pinheiro, an eclectic building which includes art nouveau elements designed by the architect Ernesto Korrodi in 1907, and which is worth seeing for the eye-catching theatrical mask surrounded by musical instruments on the gable. A short walk from the centre is the bullring, which is still used for bullfights, but was not open to tourists on the day we visited. In fact, there were no tourists around in this part of the town; despite being so close to the centre it was a typical Portuguese neighbourhood with facilities for the locals, including a small grocery shop selling the cheapest bottle of water I have ever bought in Portugal!

In the other direction from the square is a path that leads to one of the most famous surfing beaches in the world, Praia do Norte, and the Fort of São Miguel Arcanjo. The fort is famous for a rebellion against the French invadors in July 1808 when a local resistance group made up of townsfolk, using any weapons they could get hold of, took back the fort where the French were quartered. Nowadays the invaders are tourists who come to enjoy the views of the coast. At the entrance to the beach is a striking sculpture in marble and steel called ‘Veado’ (‘Deer’, 2016) by Agostinho Pires and Adália Alberto, which shows a human body with a deer’s head holding a surfboard, combining the two things that Sítio da Nazaré is famous for, surfing and the legend of Dom Fuas. Praia do Norte holds the Guinness World Record for the biggest wave ever surfed (at 24.38 metres) by the Brazilian surfer Rodrigo Koxa on 8th November 2017. A photograph in the small surfing exhibition in the Fort of São Miguel Arcanjo shows a wave rising high above the fort, as if to engulf it. Luckily the sea looked very calm on the late September day that we were visiting and there were no surfers on the beach; they come in search of the big waves in the winter months.

There is an explanation in the fort as to why Nazaré gets such high waves; it is due to a 5km-deep underwater canyon. In very simple terms, the deep water of the canyon crosses the shallower continental shelf and the difference in depth, combined with a build up of water in the cove which then meets a current coming from the other direction, creates very high waves which break when their height is equal to the depth of the water. Due to the currents, even on a calm day the sea off Praia do Norte is not a safe place to swim and there is great respect for the fishermen who go to sea off this coast in vulnerable fishing boats. It is not surprising that there are so many monuments around Nazaré dedicated to the people of Nazaré, including the bronze statue ‘Mãe Nazarena’ (‘Nazarene Mother’) on Avenida Manuel Remígio, which depicts a Nazerene woman carrying a representation of the cliff and Sítio da Nazaré on her head, harking back to the days when the women carried heavy items on their heads, and holding two children in representation of her role as mother and fisherman’s wife. Also on Avenida Manuel Remígio is ‘Monumento aos Náufragos’ (‘Monument to the Survivors of Shipwrecks’), which is an emotive statue in marble showing a woman holding a drowned man with his head resting on her lap. In Largo dos Cedros is a fountain (sadly in a state of disrepair), ‘Monumento à Mulher da Nazaré’ (‘Monument to the Woman of Nazaré’), which has azulejo-panelled segments depicting scenes of village life in the past including a fishing boat being pulled onto the beach by oxen, men mending their nets, women carrying water in containers on their head and washing their clothes in a stream. Nowadays the fishing boats depart from the harbour to the south of the town, but traditional fishing boats from the past are exhibited along the top of the beach with information panels about them and rows of frames with fish drying in the sun watched over by the older women of Nazaré show that fishing is still an important part of Nazaré’s identity.

A gentle stroll from Sítio da Nazaré down the zigzagging path back into lower Nazaré took us past a huge mural, painted on the side of the cliff by Erick Wilson, of the fort and lighthouse with a huge blue wave behind it, which can be seen from miles away. On the seafront road we passed by two small, pretty, azulejo-covered chapels hidden among the abundance of modern hotels, restaurants and gift shops: Capela de Santo António na Nazaré (Chapel of Saint Anthony in Nazaré), built in the late-nineteenth century with donations from the fishermen, and Capela de Nossa Senhora dos Aflitos (Chapel of Our Lady of the Afflicted), dating from 1760.

Leaving the seafront we headed into the backstreets of the fishermen’s district, which retains a traditional feel with narrow cobbled streets of whitewashed houses and washing hanging from the balconies. From here we continued up to the fishing harbour at the far end of the town, which is a reminder that Nazaré still is a working fishing town and that the fish served in the local restaurants is freshly caught.

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Fishing harbour, Nazaré

All day we had noticed a sea mist over the town that continuously moved around, at one point completely obscuring Sítio da Nazaré and later covering the area to the east of Nazaré. However, by the late afternoon it had started to envelope lower Nazaré and as we sat at a seafront café we watched the beach and town slowly disappear in the same kind of mist that nearly killed Dom Fuas all those centuries ago.

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Azulejo panel of Nazaré (1929) at Valado do Frades station

Nazaré is accessible by bus from Alcobaça, Caldas da Rainha, Peniche, Leiria, Lisbon and Valado dos Frades (where there is a train station on the Linha do Oeste regional line). A taxi from Valado dos Frades to Nazaré costs approximately €9.

Forte de São Miguel Arcanjo: €1 entrance. Open every day 10am-6pm.

Ascensor da Nazaré: €1.20 one way. Runs June to mid-July and mid-late September 7.30am-midnight; mid-July to mid-September (and a few other holidays) 7.30am-2am; October to May 7.30am-8.30pm.

Santuário de Nossa Senhora da Nazaré, Largo de Nossa Senhora da Nazaré, Sítio da Nazaré: Open April to September 9am-7pm; October to March 9am-6pm.

Museu de Arte Sacra in the Santuário de Nossa Senhora da Nazaré: €1 entrance. Open July to September 10am-7pm; October to June 10am-1pm and 2pm-6pm.


Aveiro: where bawdy boats meet Art Nouveau, Centro region

Aveiro: where bawdy boats meet Art Nouveau


Central Canal, Aveiro

Aveiro is a small university city located between Porto and Lisbon and when we saw the uninspiring industrial outskirts (including a rather smelly paper factory) as we approached Aveiro by train, we were glad we had decided to make our stopover in the city a short one. However, as we walked out of the very modern railway station we encountered the first of many buildings which made us wish we were staying longer, the original railway station; a pretty whitewashed building with azulejo panels on the exterior depicting scenes of Aveiro.

Former railway station, Aveiro

After dropping our bags off at the Veneza Hotel, a beautiful 1930’s house, with a photogenic staircase,

located near the station, we made our way down Avenida Dr Lourenço Peixinho to the historic centre and Aveiro’s most famous attractions, the moliceiros on the Central Canal. Moliceiros are flat-bottomed boats with a high curved prow and each one is uniquely decorated with colourful, often witty or bawdy, images. They were originally used to collect seaweed (moliço), which was used as a fertilizer. It is this image of Aveiro which has given it the nickname ‘Venice of Portugal’ and like Venice the canal was bustling with boats filled with tourists, but this is where the similarity ends. Aveiro has its own distinct personality.

Mural depicting the collecting of seaweed, Aveiro

It had become a very wealthy seaport by the sixteenth century as a result of the salt industry and the cod-fishing industry. The locally harvested salt was used to preserve the cod caught in Newfoundland as it was transported to Portugal. In the late-sixteenth century the mouth of the River Vouga silted up and the former seaport became stagnant, disease-ridden marshes and the wealth disappeared, until the early-nineteenth century, when the marshes were drained, leaving a shallow lagoon in their place, and a canal was built linking Aveiro to the sea. The wealth that returned to the city is reflected in the Art Nouveau buildings that line the Rua João de Mendonça along the Central Canal and the Praça Humberto Delgado, and elsewhere in the city.

Many of these former mansions now have pastelarias (cake and pastry shops/cafés) on the ground floor selling the other tourist attraction that Aveiro is famous for, the ovos moles (meaning soft eggs and comprising a mixture of egg yolk and sugar coated with a soft wafer). The shops are full of pretty barrels and baskets displaying them.

The historic centre of Aveiro is small and had we arrived earlier in the morning we would have been able to easily cover it in a day, but due to a lengthy lunch and a lack of itinerary we ran out of time to visit the Museu de Aveiro, which closes at 6pm. The museum building, which we could enjoy from the outside at least, was a former convent dating from the fifteenth century at which Princess Joana (the daughter of King Afonso V and Queen Isabella) lived from 1475 to her death in 1490. She was later beatified and the museum is largely dedicated to her. There is a large statue of Princesa Santa Joana (as she became known) on the traffic island in front of the museum.

Museu de Aveiro

There were plenty of other things in Aveiro to enjoy and as we wandered aimlessly we discovered the Igreja de Nossa Senhora da Apresentação (Church of Our Lady of the Presentation) in Largo da Apresentação, a lovely church with a statue of a former Bishop of Aveiro in front of it and two azulejo panels depicting scenes of Christ as a child by Fernando Pereira and Lucínio Pinto dating from 1935 on the facade.

Igreja de Nossa Senhora da Apresentação, Aveiro

From here we wandered to another charming square, the Praça da República, with jacaranda trees in full bloom and two wonderful buildings, the Igreja da Misericórida (Church of Mercy) and the Paços do Concelho (City Hall), and in the centre of the square, appearing to conduct everything, is a statue of José Estevão Coelho de Magalhães (1809-1862), an Aveiro-born nineteenth-century politician.

Statue of José Estevão Coelho de Magalhães, Praça da República, Aveiro

The Igreja da Misericórdia dates from the seventeenth century and has Mannerist features on the facade, comprising two levels of columns with niches containing statues, including one of Our Lady of the Conception above the main door, and along the top decorations of Manueline crosses and armillary spheres. In contrast, the rest of the facade is unadorned except for a covering of blue and white patterned azulejos dating from the nineteenth century.

The Paços do Concelho dates from 1797 and is an elegant building divided into five symmetrical sections with a turret used as a bell tower in the middle.

From here we made our way to São Domingos Church, the cathedral of Aveiro. The building is on the site of a former fifteenth-century convent, but very little of that remains after being largely destroyed by fires in the nineteenth century. The church is part of the original convent and the Baroque main entrance, with figures of Faith, Hope and Charity above the door, was added in the early-eighteenth century, and the bell tower added in the mid-nineteenth century using the original bell. The interior of the cathedral, which has sections dating from different periods, was rebuilt in the twentieth century in an attempt to unify the parts, including the beautiful eighteenth-century main altar depicting St Francis of Assisi and St Domingos de Gusmão either side of Our Lady of the Conception; in a small chapel, a powerful life-like statue dating from 1900 of Christ falling in agony as he carries the cross on his back watched over by a grieving Virgin Mary, by Carlos Leituga from a design by the sculptor António Teixeira Lopes; and a new organ which was inaugurated in 2013. As a result of the rebuild there is a simple harmony to the cathedral. In front of the cathedral is a late-fifteenth-century gothic cross, the Cruzeiro de Nossa Senhora da Glória (Cross of Our Lady of Glory).

The aforementioned Museu de Aveiro is very close to the cathedral, but as we were unable to visit it on this occasion we had some unexpected free time, so we walked over to the very modern Forum Aveiro shopping centre, which was unremarkable except for the canal and pretty bridges which ran alongside it.

Canal by Forum Aveiro shopping centre, Aveiro

We followed the canal back to the bridge on the Praça Humberto Delgado roundabout, which pays homage to the former workers of the salt industry, with a statue of a worker at either end: O Marnoto, a salt harvester with his traditional tools and A Salineira, a salt worker carrying a basket of salt. They have been beautifully sculpted by António Quintas (1994) and take pride of place above the Central Canal.

Next to the bridge is the stately Hotel Aveiro Palace with arcades running along its lower level and a small square with patterned cobbles, Praça Joaquim de Melo Freitas, beside it. In the middle of the square is the Obelisco da Liberdade (Obelisk of Freedom) a memorial erected in 1909 to the people of Aveiro who fought for freedom, particularly those who died in the Liberal rebellion of 1828.

Praça Joaquim de Melo Freitas, Aveiro

Our final meanderings before we went to dinner were around the fishing quarter with its small but charming tiled and brightly painted houses on the narrow street along an arm of the canal. This area is where many of the restaurants are located and most offer fresh fish from the nearby fish market.

We opted to eat at O Arco da Velha in Largo da Praça do Peixe and really enjoyed well-cooked and hearty portions of barbeque chicken and pork with rice and black beans. Afterwards we headed for the canal-side gardens of Largo do Rossio for a nightcap where large TV screens and tiered seating had been set up to show a football match featuring the Portuguese team. The atmosphere when Portugal scored the winning goal in extra time was electric and made a memorable end to an unforgettable day.

Largo do Rossio, Aveiro





Buddha Eden - wine, art and peace, Centro region

Buddha Eden – wine, art and peace

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Buddhas, Buddha Eden

What do you get when you mix statues of Buddha, replicas of the Xian terracotta warriors, an Asian pagoda, stone carvings from Africa, contemporary art, and a wine estate? There is only one answer: Buddha Eden, a sculpture park in the grounds of the Quinta dos Lobidos winery in Bombarral (13 km south of Óbidos). The estate is owned by a wealthy art collector, José Berardo, who was so shocked and upset by the destruction of the 6th-century Afghan Bamiyan Buddhas by the Taliban in 2001 that he decided to create a garden dedicated to peace in the gently rolling 35-hectare grounds of the Quinta dos Lobidos estate. The first statues to be erected in the garden in 2007 were various Buddhas made of granite and marble in China, including a large reclining Buddha and a 21-metre standing Giant Buddha.

The view of the grounds from the entrance gives you an idea of the scale of the place – there is even a tourist train to take you around if you prefer not to walk – and as you look across at the hill opposite where the Buddhas live they look deceptively small.

The gardens are beautifully landscaped into zones, but the unifying theme throughout is the unity of the physical and the spiritual. The Zen-like oriental garden has Asian statues, tree-lined paths, a lake with koi carp and a pagoda.

The African sculpture garden is in tribute to the Zimbabwean Shona people, who believe that each stone carving is determined by a life spirit in the stone.

Even the Xian terracotta warriors, painted an incongruous vibrant blue, seem at home here.

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Xian Terracotta Warriors, Buddha Eden

In contrast to the traditional sculptures in the oriental and African gardens, the modern and contemporary sculpture garden houses Berardo’s collection of sculptures by current international sculptors. Pieces include ‘Néctar’ by Joana Vasconcelos (2006), which comprises two enormous candlesticks made from green wine bottles; ‘Temple’ by Allen Jones (1997); the geometric steel ‘Ace of Diamonds’ by Lynn Chadwick (2003); the glass construction ‘Stairway’ by Danny Lane (2005);  ‘Alien’ by David Breuer-Weil (2012) which shows a naked man doing a headstand, cheekily placed opposite the Buddhas; furniture made from recycled bits of machinery; and, the pièce de résistance, ‘Looking Back’ by Zadok Ben-David (2005), which shows a giant man looking back at a smaller man, and when you get up close you realise that the giant man is made up of thousands of unique miniature men. It is quite remarkable.

Finally, let’s not forget the wine. There are small reminders throughout that this is also the Bacalhôa wine estate, from Joana Vasconcelos’ wine bottle-inspired ‘Néctar’ sculpture to the tiled panels telling the history of wine along one of the paths. On the other side of the road there are vineyards for as far as the eye can see, and at the entrance to the estate there is a shop selling bottles of Bacalhôa-label wine, such as Quinta da Bacalhôa, Quinta dos Loridos, Quinta do Carmo, JP, Tinto da Ânfora and Aliança, produced at wine estates all over Portugal. Wine tastings are advertised on the Bacalhôa publicity literature, but there were no signs of wine tastings in the shop on the day that we visited and I understand that any tastings have to be booked in advance. Nevertheless, there were bottles of wine on sale for only €2 and a very decent glass of wine in the café only cost €1! So, taking advantage of this, we raised a glass to wine, art and peace.


Bacalhôa Buddha Eden, Quinta dos Loridos, Carvalhal Bombarral

Open daily 9am-6pm (except Christmas Day and New Year’s Day)

Entrance: €4 (under-12s free); Tourist train: €3

Wine tastings need to be booked in advance.

Getting there: It is not easily accessible by public transport (the railway station at Bombarral is quite a long way from Buddha Eden). A taxi from Óbidos costs €20 one way (as of 2017).

A little in love with Leiria, Centro region

A little in love with Leiria


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Leira turned out to be a lovely small city, once we had found our way into the centre. We had travelled to Leiria by train from Coimbra intending to use the university town as a stopover on our way to Batalha and Alcobaça. As we walked the four kilometres from the railway station into the centre of the city – a pleasant walk along a dirt road which runs by fields and the River Lis – the castle acted as our guide, dominating the skyline above Leiria.

The original castle, an important part of the defence system of central Portugal, was a Moorish stronghold, which Dom Afonso Henriques (later King Afonso I) conquered in 1135. The castle was rebuilt in the fourteenth century and housed the royal palace where King Dinis lived. He gave the town of Leiria to his wife Isabel of Aragon as a gift and they used the town as their summer residence.

Once we had navigated the modern outskirts of Leiria we arrived at the Largo 5 de Outubro de 1910 (in front of the bus station), with a statue of Pope Paul VI dominating the small square. It was sculpted by Charters de Almeida in 1968 to commemorate the Pope’s visit to Leiria in 1967. This square led onto the charming Jardim de Luís de Camões with a statue of Camões by Fernando Marques (1980) gesticulating to the castle behind him.

At the end of the park a small bridge crossed the tree-lined River Lis and led us to the Parque da Cidade, a small sculpture park with an eye-catching marble statue ‘As Mulheres de Leiria’ (‘The Women of Leiria’) by Pedros Anjos Teixeira (1945) created to commemorate the 400th anniversary of Leira becoming a city.

From here we made our way to the Travessa de Tomar, a steep narrow street which housed our room for the night at the small modern Dom Dinis hotel. After dropping off our bags we set off to see the town. Despite our train arriving at just after 3pm, we had wasted 45 minutes waiting for a taxi that never showed up, trying to get on a bus that drove off before we could board and walking for an hour to the hotel, and by the time we had checked in it was nearly 5.30pm: Leiria was closing and we were in need of a drink! The castle was about to shut, so we weren’t able to visit the former royal palace, the shell of the early-fifteenth-century gothic Nossa Senhora da Pena church or enjoy the views of the city and the huge Pinhal de Leiria pine forest in the distance. Instead we ambled around the pretty narrow streets, coming across murals painted on the side of buildings, houses built into arches across the street; the distinctive Baroque bell tower of the Torre sineira de Leiria (dating from 1772) in Largo Dr. Manuel de Arriaga where the original tower marked the southern entrance to the medieval walled town; a small square housing the sixteenth-century Cathedral of Nossa Senhora da Conceição (Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception) designed by Afonso Alvares; and opposite the cathedral a very pretty building comprising the Casa de Acácio de Paiva, named after the late-nineteenth-century poet who was born there, and the Farmácia Paiva which was his great uncle’s chemist’s shop (and the first chemist’s shop to open in Leiria). The building is covered in azulejos which are thought to depict Socrates, Hippocrates and Galen and it is said to have inspired the chemist’s shop in the Leiria-based novel The Crime of Father Amaro by Eça de Queiroz (published in 1875).

We then found ourselves in the Praça Rodrigues Lobo, a large graceful square with attractive townhouses and cafés built around a pavement of striking patterned cobbles. In the centre of the square was a statue of the eponymous seventeenth-century Leirian poet Francisco Rodrigues Lobo (1580-1622). It was a lovely place to sit with a beer and recover from our journey.

Two beers later we set off in search of dinner. Compared to Coimbra, Leiria was refreshingly untouristy. The downside was that there didn’t seem to be a restaurant area. We continued to walk around, making detours into any streets that looked like they might have a restaurant and by sheer luck we discovered a true gem, the Restaurante Montecarlo ‘Salvador’ – a Portuguese restaurant with the best food we had during our tour around Portugal, at unbelievably cheap prices. The food, like the restaurant, was simple and basic, but delicious and the wine, at €3.80 a bottle meant that we had to order a second bottle! As testimony to how good the food was, it was full of locals on a Monday night in late September.

Full of good food and wine we staggered out into the now dark streets of Leiria, past the photogenic market building and found another large square, Largo Goa Damão e Diu, with the Fonte Luminosa dancing fountains playing to an empty audience and a picture perfect view of the lit-up castle in the background. In the middle of the Fonte Luminso was a large statue, ‘O Lis e o Lena’ by Mestre Lagoa Henriques (1973), depicting the legend of how the Rivers Lis and Lena became one river, portrayed as a marriage between a man and a woman. A poem by José Marques da Cruz (1888-1958) telling this love story in words is carved on a tablet nearby.

We wound our way back to the hotel passing a very pretty seventeenth-century churchl (Igreja do Espírito Santo) on Rua Tenente Valadim and, it may have been the wine, but we had both fallen a little in love with Leiria.

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Igreja do Espírito Santo, Leiria

This newly found love was put to the test the next day as we tried to leave Leiria by bus from the most disorganized bus station I have ever encountered. Finally giving up on getting any useful information from the bus station staff we tried to flag down a taxi, to no avail. At that moment a kind elderly man of Leiria came to our rescue and directed us to the nearby taxi rank. My faith in Leiria was restored.


Leiria Castle opening hours: April to September 10am-6pm; October to March 9.30am-5.30pm. Entrance fee: €2.10 (as of 2017).

Restaurante Montecarlo ‘Salvador’, Rua Dr. Correira Mateus. A two-course meal for two with a bottle of wine cost less than €30.

Hotel Dom Dinis, Travessa de Tomar. A twin room with breakfast cost €43 per night.