March 4, 2014 by mariannat92
A fortnight ago I went on my first ever proper coach trip (I know, I know). There’s a tour company in Coimbra named Copias e Viagens do Quebra who organise a day trip every couple of months to Fátima, Batalha, Alcobaça and Óbidos. I had seen it advertised in December but hadn’t managed to get a place, so, this time round, no sooner had the advert popped up on my facebook feed as I was off to book my seat.
A couple of days later, I found myself waiting for the 7am bus at Praça de República, ready to head off exploring.
We arrived in Fátima a couple of hours later, had a spot of breakfast and went to explore the shrine. For those of you who don’t know, Fátima is Portugal’s biggest and most important religious shrine, celebrating the apparition of the Virgin to three local children. According to wikipedia (thanks very much), on the 13th May 1917 Lúcia and her cousins Francisco & Jacinta Marto were guarding their sheep when a lady in white appeared to them, bringing a message of prayer & repentance from God. She then visited the children on the 13th of every month until the 13th of October, by which time word of the visions had spread. Nowadays Fatima is a phenomenally popular pilgrimage site, drawing crowds of up to a million on the anniversaries of the apparitions. It is also popular year-round, and now has two cathedrals with a huge square between to accommodate all of the worshippers.
While we were eating breakfast I had got talking to a really lovely Mexican girl who had also come on the trip alone. When we arrived at the shrine, neither of us fancied going to mass so we dove straight into the old cathedral (above) to have a look, ignoring the bells calling us to the service in the other, modern cathedral. Although the old cathedral was beautiful, stopping there turned out to be somewhat of an error, as the rest of the site was then closed until the mass finished.
This left us wandering around the grounds of the shrine for a good hour until we could get into the new cathedral. I didn’t really mind though, because (somewhat predictably…) I managed to find a new canine pal with whom to occupy our time until mass finished.
Finally mass finished and we were able to get inside the new cathedral (Church of the Santíssima Trindade, thanks wikipedia). The church was inaugurated in 2007 to help accommodate the growing numbers of pilgrims to the shrine, and, despite knowing this, absolutely nothing could have prepared me for the sheer scale of the place. There must have been thousands of seats, it was like a football stadium! I was also awestruck by the altar – behind the statue of the crucifixion there is an incredibly beautiful mosaic, better than any I have ever seen before. It had such gorgeous colours and was really intricately laid, absolutely stunning.
Next stop was Batalha, a medieval city famous for its UNESCO listed Monastery. I had never heard of Batalha but when we arrive I realised that I did actually recognise the monastery’s facade from somewhere or other… Our guides explained that the monastery was founded by King João I to commemorate his victory over Castille (which would go on to become Spain) at the Battle of Aljubarrota in 1385, in which Portugal finally defeated Spanish attempts to take power and consolidated João’s rule as the king of Portugal.
Luckily when we were there it was unbelievably sunny, making for a really beautiful light in the cloisters. We spent less than an hour here just wandering around the grounds of the monastery and taking photos – the contrast between the light quadrangle and dark cloister makes this one my favourite of the whole day.
Soon it was time to head back to the coach and on to our third destination of the day…
We got to Alcobaça just before lunch time and headed straight for the Monastery to get some touristy time in before eating. Again, Alcobaça Monastery is UNESCO listed, and was also built to commemorate a battle. This time it was commissioned by King Afonso Henriques to celebrate his 1147 victory over the Moors at Santarém, thus expanding his fledgling kingdom and declaring himself the first King of Portugal. Unfortunately it took over a hundred years to finish the project, meaning Afonso never saw it completed, but the monastery is still used today and is stunning both inside and out.
Another reason for which the monastery is important is that it houses the tombs of tragic lovers Inês de Castro (above), a Galician princess, and King Pedro I of Portugal. Their story is all very Romeo & Juliet, but it is much more relevant to Coimbra than to Alcobaça so I will save it for another day.
We spent a couple of hours in and out of the monastery in between having lunch and exploring an antiques market in the main square. I really liked it, it had a lot more open spaces than the one at Batalha, including a beautiful walled garden. This was by far my favourite room of the monastery though, it was so light and had these gorgeous steps built into the walls!
Our final stop of the day was Óbidos, a walled town near Lisbon famous for its local drink, ginjinha. Ginjinha is a type of cherry brandy that is typically served in a chocolate cup. The drink is served all over Portugal and (probably mostly due to the chocolate link) is pretty popular with tourists and Portuguese. We were all pretty keen to have some ginjinha in its native habitat, but rather predictably it was exactly like what we can get everywhere else and not much of a novelty.
Instead, I was really impressed with the incredible scenery and the town in general. The city walls are really high and let you get a great view over the surrounding countryside and also over the rooftops inside. Even the underneath of the walls Óbidos is beautiful – this photo of the arch is part of the gateway into the city.
We decided to climb the wall straight away and walked all the way round to the far side of the town before climbing down just in time to get this incredible view of the castle. We quite fancied having a look around inside but couldn’t get in because… it’s now a hotel. Can you imagine!
After walking the perimeter of the town we then went exploring in the centre. I thought Óbidos was absolutely charming – there were lots of little houses and typical shops and at one point we came across a Tuna (one of the university folk bands that randomly show up at touristic sites all over Portugal) playing in one of the squares. It was by far the most touristy place we visited all day but it was definitely worth it, it was one of the prettiest places I have been to so far in Portugal!
I really enjoyed the trip and would definitely do it again – I couldn’t believe that we managed to cram so much into one day and the company were so professional and friendly (if you’re ever in Coimbra and fancy escaping, just give this a click!). I’ll definitely be going on trips with them again, just watch this space!