SILVER COAST - TOWNS AND VILLAGES
For those who want to see more beautiful religious architecture after visiting Fatima and Batalha, you should stop in the town of Alcobaca (pop. 16,000), located about 12 miles southwest of Batalha. The town`s centerpiece is the UNESCO World Heritage-listed Alcobaca Monastery, built originally as a thanksgiving to the Virgin Mary for a positive result after the 1147 Conquest of Santarem, which saw Alcobaca transferred to Portuguese control from the Moors. Alcobaca Monastery is known today as Portugal`s largest church, and was no small task to build, taking over 75 years to complete. The monastery you see today was completed in the year 1262, and is the final resting place of former King Pedro and his star-crossed lover, Ines de Castro. Other noteworthy points of interest in Alcobaca include the 12th-century ruins of Alcobaca Castle; and the City Hall building, located inside a lush, green public park.
Located 135 miles north of Lisbon and just 35 miles south of Porto, Aveiro is the northernmost city on the Silver Coast. Aveiro is situated on a large lagoon which shares the same name with the city (although you will hear locals refer to it simply as `the Ria`). Aveiro`s name is widely believed to come from the Latin `aviarium` (a place of birds), which makes sense considering the local ecosystem. Many species of birds are protected at the Reserva Natural das Dunas de Sao Jacinto, located along the coast and across the Ria from Aveiro City. Aveiro is known as the `Venice of Portugal` due to its network of canals, traversed day and night by the high-prowed `moliceiro` boats. Aveiro is the second-largest city in this region, after Coimbra, and approximately 80,000 people live in the city limits. Two rivers are connected to the Ria: the Boco River to the west of town and the Vouga River to the east. If you have the chance to take a tour of the Ria, note the pyramids of salt along the banks; Aveiro is a noted domestic salt producer. Noteworthy points of interest include the religious museum located inside the Convent of Santa Joana; Costa Nova Beach, with its beautifully-painted houses along the shoreline; the Lighthouse of Praia da Barra, one of the tallest in Portugal; and the aforementioned Reserva Natural das Dunas de Sao Jacinto.
Batalha (pop. 7,500) is located six miles south-southwest of Leiria. The town was founded in the late fourteenth century by King Joao I as a commemorative gesture to celebrate the victory of the Portuguese over the Castilians in the Battle of Aljubarrota. Batalha, in fact, means `battle` in Portuguese. As a thanksgiving to the Virgin Mary, King Joao commissioned the construction of the Monastery of Santa Maria da Vitoria na Batalha, known today as simply the Batalha Monastery. One of the Silver Coast`s UNESCO World Heritage Sites, the Batalha Monastery is considered one of the finest examples of Manueline architecture in the world, with heavy Late Gothic overtones. The ornately-designed convent took over 100 years to build, overseen by eight different architects. The construction used techniques that were new to Portugal at the time, seen most strikingly in the Royal Cloister portion of the monastery. It also serves as the resting place of many members of the Aviz dynastic clan, such as King Joao I and his wife, Philippa of Lancaster.
Caldas da Rainha
Caldas da Rainha (pop. 27,000) may not be as dynamic as nearby cities such as Nazare or Obidos, but it shouldn`t be missed either. It is well-known in the region as a city of culture, boasting nine museums, a performing arts center, and a ceramic pottery institute. Caldas da Rainha is well-known for its ceramic works, which make great souvenirs. It is perhaps best-known for its hot springs founded by Queen Eleanor, from which the town takes its name (lit. `hot springs of the queen`). The hot springs, which opened to the public in the fifteenth century, are the oldest continuously-operating mineral baths in the world. The thermal baths are located in the historic district, alongside the Igreja de Nossa Senhora do Populo and Parque Dom Carlos I. Other noteworthy areas of town include the Bairro Azul, so named for its beautiful houses with blue tiles; and Bairro Avenal, which includes large, ornate mansions and the aforementioned pottery institute.
Ericeira (pop. 10,000) is the southernmost town on the Silver Coast, located just 12 miles from Sintra and 20 and 25 miles from Cascais and Lisbon, respectively. Out of all the popular places for surfing along the Silver Coast, Ericeira is considered to be the best place to do so. Ericeira is home to the World Surfing Reserve, the first of its kind in Europe. Praia da Ribeira d`Ilhas is a well-recommended beach for surfers of all experience levels. The more advanced surfers will like Coxos Point located adjacent to the Praia dos Pescadores. A mixed-use surfing and swimming beach is close by at Foz do Lisandro. The Praia da Baleia is the best one for those who just want to get some sun and wade in the water. This area first became a tourist destination after World War II, when well-to-do families from Lisbon would vacation here on summer weekends. Today it is known the world over as a surfing destination, and is home to Portugal`s first-ever surfing association, founded in 1993. For those who are interested in music, Ericeira is home to a cultural philharmonic which has been based here since 1849 and includes a (Portuguese-language) free musical school open to everyone.
About 15 miles southeast of Leiria, the small town of Fatima became famous in 1917 when three peasant children, Francisco Marto, his sister Jacinta, and their cousin Lucia Santos, claimed to see visions of the Virgin Mary. A number of visions and premonitions led up to a large spectacle in October of that year, witnessed by tens of thousands in a field outside of town called the Cova da Iria. Today, Fatima (pop. 11,000) is a center of pilgrimage for Catholics all over the world, and millions of people visit sites related to the children`s visions, such as the Sanctuary of Fatima, the Museum of Sacred Art, the Great Holmoak, the Chapel of the Apparitions, the Basilica of the Holy Trinity, and the Via Sacra. Also not to be missed is the Fatima Wax Museum, which tells the story of the children`s visions in the form of wax sculptures a la Madame Tussaud`s.
Figueira da Foz
Figueira da Foz (pop. 46,000), located south of Aveiro by 35 miles, is the second city you will visit along the Silver Coast if you are traveling south toward Lisbon. It is located on the mouth of the Mondego River (the name of the town literally means `the opening of the river`s mouth`), with the Atlantic Ocean to the west and the hills of the Serra da Boa Viagem sheltering the town on all other sides. Figueira da Foz is well-known for its conjoined beaches, Praia de Buarcos and Praia da Claridade, which stretch on for over 1.25 miles, making the conglomeration one of the longest stretches of beachfront in the country. It is also fairly wide, taking nearly a third of a mile to reach the sea from the Marginal (boardwalk). At the southern end, just off the beach, sit two of the most popular points of interest in the town: the seaside Forte de Santa Catarina, and the large Casino Figueira. The Casino brings in vacationers not just from Portugal, but from Spain and other countries as well, and popular singers and other acts from across Europe perform there on weekends during the summertime. On the other side of the Mondego River is the Praia do Cabedelinho, a popular spot for advanced surfers.
Foz do Arelho
The town of Foz do Arelho (pop. 1,300) is the smallest of the locations you will be visiting along the Silver Coast. It is also the least developed for tourists, although this adds to its quaint and cozy vibe. It is located eight miles northwest of Obidos and five miles west-northwest of Caldas da Rainha. Located on the mouth of the Lagoa de Obidos, Foz do Arelho is world-renowned for its beaches that are popular for windsurfing. The town is located approximately a mile away from the beach if you take the Rua Francisco Almeida Grandela; the beach is dotted with restaurants and shops along Avenida do Mar. On the northern mouth of the lagoon, there is Praia do Mar, and on the other side, there is Praia de Bom Sucesso.
Thirty miles south of Figueira da Foz, on the foot of a hill, sits the quiet university town of Leiria (pop. 31,000). Fortified since the time of the Moors, the Portuguese crown strengthened the defenses of the now-iconic Leiria Castle in the thirteenth century. On one end of the town sits the castle on the hill, while the other end of the town is bounded by the Lis River which flows through the area. In addition to the castle and the university, Leiria is known for being the hometown of the noted poet Francisco Rodrigues Lobo, for whom the town square is named. Leiria is also well-known for being the home of the realist writer Eca de Queiroz; as well as King Dinis, who lived here for a time. Noteworthy points of interest include the Se da Leiria, the seat of the diocese which includes the nearby holy city of Fatima; the historic center of town, situated between the castle and the Lis River; the Igreja de Sao Pedro, which hosts the annual music festival each year; and the Museum of the Moving Image, celebrating over 100 years of motion picture technology.
Perhaps the most famous fishing village on the Atlantic Coast of Portugal, Nazare (pop. 10,000) earned its place in history over 800 years ago, when the story of the `Miracle of Nazare` was first told. According to legend, the Virgin Mary helped to save the sheriff of a nearby village and his horse from plummeting to their deaths over a promontory, now called O Sitio. A small chapel was built as tribute, the Ermida de Memoria, which still stands today. Nazare is located 20 miles southwest of Leiria and six miles northwest of Alcobaca.
The sea is very integral to the culture and history of Nazare, and you can see that at the port and Nazare Beach, where fishermen still bring in their catches and dry them on stretcher racks like they did hundreds of years ago. Nazare Beach and the beaches to the north and south offer a multitude of vacation options, in particular some of the best surfing and bodyboarding in all of Portugal.
Nazare Parish is a beautiful seaside village and is marketed as such to visitors all over the world. It is informally divided into three areas, the two most noteworthy of which are connected by the Ascensor da Nazare: O Sitio, the promontory point, and A Praia, which is the area in and around Nazare Beach. Sights located in the O Sitio area include the Santuario de Nossa Senhora da Nazare, Ermida da Memoria, Nazare Lighthouse, and North Beach, among others. Sights in the A Praia area include Nazare Beach, Museu do Peixe Seco, Mercado Municipal da Nazare, Igreja da Misericordia da Pederneira, and Monte de Sao Bartolomeu.
Obidos (pop. 3,800) is located just 45 miles from Lisbon and three miles from the regional center of Caldas da Rainha. Obidos has a long history, still evident today as much of the city is encircled by walls nearly 50 feet high in spots. The focal point of this dynamic town is Obidos Castle, perched on the highest hill, which was built adjacent to the site of the Roman settlement of Eburobrittium. The Portuguese royal family chose Obidos as one of their homesteads, and the Queens of Portugal in particular considered Obidos to be the `jewel` in their respective crowns. In many buildings, you can see the Baroque-era art of Obidos`s most famous native daughter, Josefa de Obidos.
Obidos is well-known for its literary tradition, which took root when the city government promoted writing and bookselling, to the degree that they allowed one of its signature historic buildings, the Igreja de Sao Tiago, to be converted into a bookshop by the Ler Devagar bookstore chain. There are also bookshops in converted wine cellars and a primary school, among other locations. As a result, Obidos has been named an Edinburgh City of Literature and a UNESCO Creative City.
The main road in Obidos is the Rua Direita, running for a half-mile from Obidos Castle to the north to the Porta da Vila to the south. At its widest point, the walled city is about 1,000 feet wide. Sights such as the Santuario Senhor Jesus da Pedra and the Obidos Aqueduct are located outside the walls, but are about a half-mile away, making it very easy to fit them in to your itinerary.
Fourteen miles west of Obidos, jutting out into the Atlantic Ocean, is the town of Peniche (pop. 15,000). The peninsular headland`s area is roughly a mile and a quarter from north to south and about two and a half miles from west to east. The historic center of town is walled in, and a must-see while you`re in town should be the Fortaleza de Peniche, known most recently as the place where many political prisoners under Antonio de Oliveira Salazar (who ruled Portugal with an iron fist from 1932 until 1968) were imprisoned, tortured, and killed. Peniche is also famous for its intricate lacework and the lace handicrafts are not only great gifts, they help sustain the local economy as well. The beaches, in particular Praia do Portinho Norte and Praia da Gamboa, are considered part of the `European Pipeline`, offering some of the largest waves for surfing in all of Europe. Cabo Carvoeiro, at the western end of the headland, is a popular jumping-off point for trips to the Berlengas nature reserve just off the coast, and to see the rock formation called the Nau dos Corvos.
The southernmost inland town on the Silver Coast, Torres Vedras (pop. 5,000) is a popular historic tourist destination, centered around Torres Vedras Castle, which was fortified in the twelfth century after the Portuguese conquered the area and took it from the Moors. For centuries it was a key fortification in the Portuguese countryside, and in the nineteenth century it formed part of the Lines of Torres Vedras, which were meant to protect the countryside from English attacks during the Peninsular War. The town went into decline for over a century afterward, growing again during the 20th century when the town`s economy was centered around wine and vinitourism. It is now considered one of the most sustainable tourist destinations in Portugal, ensuring your money spent will impact and invigorate the local economy here.