Located in the heart of Portugal's Silver Coast, the "aldeias" and villages around Alcobaça are one of the best places to enjoy a genuinely Portuguese lifestyle.
With a privileged combination of sea and hillsides, the lands that once belonged to the ancient Cistercian monks hold centuries of history. Stories of conquest and eternal love, that have been immortalized amidst the walls of the ancient Monastery of Alcobaça and the endless farmlands that helped to form this beautiful land into what it is today.
The city that grew within the valleys of the Alcoa and Baça rivers was occupied by such diverse civilizations as the Romans and Arabs, whose heritage is present to this day in the name of various places in the municipality (such as Alfeizerão, Aljubarrota, Alpedriz...).
These ancient settlers made the most of this region's fertile lands and the direct access to the sea provided by the Pederneira Lagoon, which reached all the way to Cós.
But it was during Portugal's rise as a sovereign nation that Alcobaça registered its greatest period of expansion and development. In fact, the history of Portugal crosses with the history of Alcobaça, having been D. Afonso Henriques, Portugal's first king, who donated these lands to the Cistercian monks in 1153.
For centuries, a vast territory known as "Coutos de Alcobaça" was under the administration of the Monastery. Between São Pedro de Moel, in the North of the Silver Coast, and Alvorninha, which currently belongs to Caldas da Rainha, the Cistercian Monks innovatively supervised agricultural lands, that were divided into farms known as "granjas".
The monks also benefited from the proximity of four maritime ports that were amongst the most important of that time: Alfeizerão, São Martinho do Porto, Pederneira and Paredes da Vitória.
Legacy of Cistercian Monks
From the 17th century onwards, Alcobaça undergoes a series of profound changes. The most significant include the destruction caused by the great earthquake of 1755, the French Invasions in the beginning of the 19th century and the extinction of the religious orders in Portugal in 1834, which put a definite end to the Monastery's rule of these lands.
However, the legacy of almost 700 years of Cistercian administration is still present to this day, and it is with pride that the people of Alcobaça celebrate the 'farmer-monks'.
The importance that agriculture still holds in this region is part of that legacy. Alcobaça is especially known for the quality of its wines and apples, being the brand "Maçã de Alcobaça" a symbol of this century-old love of the land and a testament to the quality of local soils for farming.
The "sin of gluttony" also dates back to the past...
This century-old connection is also present in local culinary traditions, especially convent-inspired pastries.
Starting with the "Pão de ló de Cós" (sponge cake from Cós), whose recipe was bequeathed to the ladies of the land by the nuns of the Monstery of Cós and passed down from generation to generation.
However, the most famous "Pão de Ló" is undoubtedly the one made in Alfeizerão, with a signature creamy centre that is not only famous, but also very loved!
Legend has it that when King D. Carlos was in the region of Alfeizerão during one of his visits to São Martinho do Porto, he was served undercooked "Pão de Ló" by a local woman who removed the cake from the oven too soon. The King liked the result so much that, from then on, "Pão de Ló de Alfeizerão" was deliberately made with the centre undercooked!
But it's not only "pão de ló" that puts Alcobaça on the map of sweet tooth's favourite spots in Portugal! All over the municipality you will find several famous pastry shops where you can taste convent-inspired sweets.
If you like egg-based sugary pastries, these are some of the local's favourite spots to indulge in the sin of gluttony:
Convent inspired pastries in Alcobaça: Pasterlaria Alcoa;
"Pão de Ló de Alfeizerão" - in Alfeizerão there are several places to try this famous cake: Casa de Pão-de-Ló de Alfeizerão, Café Ferreira and Pastelaria Castelo.
One of the high moments for the locals is the Mostra de Doces Conventuais (Sweets Exhibition) that takes place every year in November in the Alcobaça Monastery.
A love affair with art
Art in all its forms also holds a special place in the heart of Alcobaça’s history and traditions, namely its unique fabric known as “chita" and ceramic pottery.
From the more traditional ceramic designs known for their vibrant blue colour and characteristic style, to more contemporary pieces with several local brands selling ceramics made in Alcobaça over the world…
This connection to ceramics is present all over the city of Alcobaça, where you can see beautiful examples in the streets that are part of the “Rota da Cerâmica” (Ceramic Route) and also in the river margins along the “Jardim do Amor” (Garden of Love).
Alcobaça also stands out for its love for music. Events such as the Cistermúsica festival is one of the most reputed musical events in Portugal.
Pedro and Inês - Portugal’s star-crossed lovers
However, the town's most iconic symbol of love is undoubtedly the tombs of D. Pedro and D. Inês de Castro, which lie side by side in the Monastery of Alcobaça.
Every year, thousands of tourists marvel at the detail and beauty of the two stone-carved tombs, an eternal symbol of Portugal’s most famous lovers.
This tragic tale of forbidden love tells the story of Prince Pedro, who betrayed his wife with her lady in waiting, Inês de Castro. Pedro maintained the affair a secret until his wife’s death, upon which he secretly married D. Inês, with whom he had three children. His father, King Afonso IV, and the Portuguese nobles disapprove of such a connection between the heir to the Portuguese crown and a Castilian woman. To put an end to this situation, in January 1355 the King orders the murder of Inês de Castro.
Mad with grief, Pedro rebels against the King, never forgiving his father for the murder of his beloved Inês. When he finally assumes the crown in 1357, Pedro has her murderers arrested and killed, cutting out their hearts, which earned him the nickname “Pedro, the Cruel”.
Not satisfied with the revenge, he imposes the recognition of Inês de Castro as Queen of Portugal. He also orders the transfer of her body to the Monastery of Alcobaça and the construction of two magnificently carved stone tombs, so that he could rest eternally next to his beloved.
Today, the Monastery of Alcobaça stands majestically in front of a square where time beats by without haste. With a "bica" and a traditional convent-inspired pastry, both locals and tourists relax in the shade of the cafés, savouring the simplicity of Alcobaça’s traditionally Portuguese lifestyle.
Alcobaça still holds that typical Portuguese feeling of community and timeless "Old World" charm that continues to enthral people from all over the world!
Although it is a tourist spot, classified as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO, Alcobaça still maintains a charm and authenticity of its own, living up to an old Portuguese song that says: “anyone who visits Alcobaça will always want to return” (Quem passa por Alcobaça / Não passa sem lá voltar).
The feeling of hospitality is equally present in the towns and villages around the city, where a mix of countryside peacefulness blends with the breathtaking beauty of some of the Silver Coast’s most beautiful beaches. And the best part is that everything is just a very short drive away!
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