Why You Should Visit Alcobaca in 2024… At Least Once

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People may tell you how beautiful Portugal is all year round, but words barely do any justice. You’ve just got to be there in person, lapping up every Portuguese city you can get to.

Yet, there are some of those towns and cities that have that extra bit of allure and presence. They aren’t just good for a quick visit along the way, these Portuguese towns command an entire experience.

Alcobaca is one such Portuguese destination, and we’ll show you some of the highlights it’s got to offer on your next visit.

About Alcobaça

Alcobaça is situated amidst the picturesque valleys formed by the Rivers Alcoa and Baça. A lot of people seem to agree that both rivers were where the town’s name comes from. Another story is that the city name came first: originating from an Arabic term denoting the area. Then, it was divided to label the two rivers later on.

Whichever came first, the town’s prominence and growth can be attributed to the establishment of the Monastery or Royal Abbey of Santa Maria by the Cistercian Order in 1153. Construction commenced in 1178 on land granted by Dom Afonso Henriques, Portugal’s inaugural monarch, to Friar Bernardo of Claraval, the founder of the Cistercian Order. This grant was a fulfilment of a vow made following the Christian reconquest of Santarém from Moorish rule in 1147.

Spanning extensive territories known as the “sanctuaries” of Alcobaça, the Monastery played a pivotal role in the region’s development. The Cistercian Order organized villages and estates within its domain, fostering agricultural advancements that endure as hallmarks of the area’s identity. These innovations, coupled with the introduction of new farming techniques and products, solidified Alcobaça’s reputation as one of Portugal’s primary fruit-producing regions.

Inspired by the architectural style of the Abbey of Claraval in France, the Monastery of Alcobaça stands as a testament to exquisite craftsmanship. Recognized for its cultural significance, it has been honored with UNESCO’s designation as a World Heritage site, further underscoring its enduring legacy.

Exploring Alcobaca

Alcobaça is renowned as a haven for aficionados of confectionery delights. If you make it down here, you’ve got to indulge in the convent-based sweets, with the “cornucópias” ranking among the quintessential treats in the world today. Originating from the Monastery of Santa Maria de Cós, established in the 12th century under the auspices of the Monastery of Alcobaça, these delicacies boast a rich historical lineage.

The distinctive shape of “cornucópias” is inspired by the horn-shaped vase, an ancient symbol of fertility and abundance, where fruits and flowers overflowed, signifying prosperity. These sweets are filled with a luscious mixture of soft eggs, a hallmark ingredient in Portuguese convent sweets. Essentially yolks and sugar, these confections epitomize simplicity, allowing the rich flavor and texture to take center stage.

Other Attractions

  1. Visit the São Martinho do Porto Beach

São Martinho do Porto Beach is located midway between Nazaré and Caldas da Rainha, and it’s such a beauty. The beach is seashell-shaped – have you ever been to a seashell-shaped beach beach? – which might be the most picturesque thing ever! Founded by the Monks of Alcobaça Monastery, this charming beach boasts a tranquil bay with minimal waves; families with children will love this place.

  1. Go Wine-Tasting in the Wine Museum of Alcobaça

The Wine Museum of Alcobaça is located in the historic winery built by José Raposo de Magalhães in 1874. It showcases the region’s rich wine-making heritage, and it does so with aplomb. The museum houses over 8,500 artifacts related to enology, offering a comprehensive look at the local wine industry’s history and evolution. 

You’d get to explore exhibits on traditional wine-making techniques, industrial archaeology, and decorative arts, gaining a deeper understanding of the region’s wine production. At the end of the day, there’s a wine-tasting session – a chance for you to sample the fruits of the region’s labor.

  1. Visit Parque dos Monges

Just on the outskirts of Alcobaça – a 10-minute drive outside the city, you’d find Parque dos Monges. It’s a medieval-themed park situated at Rua Quinta das Freiras. This family-friendly destination offers a range of exciting activities, including canoeing on the park’s lake, archery, and climbing.

While there, you can also explore the animal enclosures, home to turtles, monkeys, and alpacas. The park has a recreated medieval village and a traditional shop selling local delicacies with its unique blend of adventure, nature, and history.

Portugal sets a pretty high bar for beautiful travel destinations, and you’d be hard-pressed to find a city topping the experience. Yet, how poetic is it that a certain Portuguese city has “just a little bit more” to offer?

Alcobaça’s beauty is truly immersive and best experienced firsthand. When you consider its many attractions like the Wine Museum and São Martinho do Porto Beach, Alcobaça is worth a second visit and more!

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