Peniche to Óbidos to Alcobaça to Batalha:
Peniche is on a windy peninsula sticking out into the Atlantic. It had little to recommend it to us though surfers flock here for the good waves and surfing championships are held from time to time. The waves were still rough and quite big from the storms that had passed through earlier in the week. Despite it being a weekday, the car-parks at the beaches were full of surfers changing into or out of wet-suits while in the water it was wall to wall surfers!
Óbidos is one of the picturesque walled towns that attract tour buses so was pretty full of souvenir shops. But it couldn't be by-passed and we parked outside the walls and walked in. The town gate in the walls gave a favourable first impression with its blue and white 17th century Azelajo tiles lining the arch. Underneath an elderly woman had set up a stall selling her lace and embroidery. We wandered the narrow, cobbled streets between the whitewashed houses and heard what we thought was choir practice in one of the churches. We poked our head in to find Mass in full swing and the locals singing in full voice. Of course it was All Saints' Day, hence the service. The walls are complete and so we climbed up to walk along the parapet. Scarily there was no fence or guard rail on the inside and the width of the path was less than a metre. The drop over the side was quite substantial and was instrumental in focussing all your attention on where to put your feet.
Alcobaça and Batalha which are not too far from each other have one big attraction each, an enormous monastery. Along with another large monastery in Lisbon, which we missed seeing, Portugal has three grand monastery buildings. In Alcobaça it is more like a Royal Palace and here apparently, the monks looked after themselves very well indeed, attracting much criticism in their time for their lavish lifestyles. We only looked around the church building set into the middle of the monastery. It was a simple, soaring interior of white limestone and clear glass windows. Light flooded in to illuminate two beautiful, elaborately carved sepulchres of a former king and his queen who was murdered by her own father for marrying him, or so the story goes. With no other ornamentation or decoration at all, it is a very serene building.
Since we had missed the one in Lisbon and not gone into the actual monastery building in Alcobaça, we thought we had better do one of the Big Three and so we bought our tickets for Batalha. The outside of this building, set in the middle of a huge, open and undistinguished square, is the most elaborate of the three on the outside. It really is quite over the top, a Gothic-Manueline flamboyance. The church itself inside was not quite as plain as the one in Alcobaça with some stained glass windows and, because of them, much darker. Inside, though, it was a bit of a disappointment. There are a couple of nice cloisters and the Chapter House is now the Tomb of the Unknown Soldiers, but the refectory is now a museum of gifts to the Unknown Soldiers and the kitchen is a gift shop. There wasn't any access to any other parts of the monastery like the cells. Its oddity, though, is an addition to the building, never finished but abandoned centuries ago, of chapels - imaginatively called 'The Unfinished Chapels'. Here are walls and arches stretching up to the sky with superb carving on all surfaces - but no roof and incompletely joined to the main church. The rain can pour into the interior of the structure and the pigeons have made a good home here.