Batalha was our last port of call in the monastic triangle with a visit to the stately Mosteiro da Batalha, another UNESCO world heritage site and a masterpiece of Gothic art. This monastery is smaller in size and built much later, over two centuries, to celebrate the defeat of Castilian forces in 1385. The motorhome parking is just a 2 minute drive away so very easy for a visit.
The monastery proudly sits in the centre of the town, totally dominating the sky line and is set back on a large plaza so you can actually see the whole building at once, which is often not the case. What’s more the decorative stone work is highly intricate, full of elaborate designs carved into it, offset by some colourful tall, narrow stained glass windows. One of the most interesting aspects are the ‘Capelas Imperfeitas’ (unfinished chapels), with their open courtyard and lack of any type of roof, ornate archways, chambers and cloisters.
The monastery is also home to the Portuguese tombs of 2 unknown warriors from WWI. We were fortunate enough to be there during the short hourly changing of the guard ceremony. There was also a small exhibition by Romanian sculptor Mircea Roman called ‘Sacrifice’ which was quite interesting with several unusual wooden sculptures dotted around.
The town of Batalha itself is fairly unremarkable but we enjoyed a walk around and a drink on the plaza before a quiet evening in ready to get up and out nice and early the next day.
We’d almost had our fill of religious sites, but Fatima was quite nearby and we felt we really should visit the shrine – one of the most famous in the world. The parking area was huge and there were hundreds of cars and dozens of motorhomes, but still plenty of space for us right outside the sanctuary grounds. The sprawling grounds were quite astounding, but considering that it’s one of the biggest catholic pilgrimage sites in the world, it has to be. The extraordinary story of this former village began in 1917 when 3 small shepherd children claimed that the Virgin Mary had appeared to them. After a few months they had built up a following and it happened 4 more times, even though nobody else had witnessed anything. On the 5th occasion there were flashes of light and apparent healings. A small chapel was built where it happened and it has grown into an immense religious complex with a giant round basilica able to hold 9,000. The main Basilica de Nossa Senhora do Rosario stands above a massive esplanade large enough for a million pilgrims who flock here twice a year, some walking for miles finishing the journey crawling on their hands and knees. An incredible conclusion to the word of 3 young children.
We completed our visit with a short look around the town and a coffee in a cafe before carrying on to our next port of call, the Pinhal de Leiria. After a bit of a building overload we needed some green space and set off towards the nearby 11,000 hectare pine forest criss-crossed with walking and cycling tracks – just what the doctor ordered. As we got nearer though, we could see something wasn’t right. First we saw some of the roads and tracks blocked off with ‘no entry’ signs, then realised the ground was littered with uprooted tree roots, blackened logs, sparse trunks without leaves. The forest had gone! Feeling a bit confused and wondering if we’d gone the wrong way we pulled over and looked it up online. A short search revealed that just a couple of years ago the forest was set fire to deliberately – apparently not an unusual occurrence – except that this time it got completely out of hand. The government has to by law sell off any burnt timber at a discounted rate and as a result there is a lot of profit to be made in fire damage. Timber firms themselves are often behind the fires, buying up the timber cheaply and reaping the benefits. It was such a vast, barren area the reforestation will surely take years.
So, with walks and cycling in the pine forest off the agenda we had to go to Plan B. There wasn’t one at that point, so on went the kettle (always much easier with a cup of coffee in your hand) and on went the thinking caps. Unfortunately we weather seemed to be turning against us too at this point and the next few days weren’t looking too good. As we tried to make a decision the wind got up, the sky turned grey and it threatened rain. Hastily choosing a place to go we set off for Vieira de Leiria, a seemingly nice resort by the sea, with a free motorhome aire which sounded perfectly fine. It wasn’t to be our day though and as the weather worsened and the wind howled we seemed to have arrived in a ghost town. Sand had swept over the roads, the streets were empty and the soulless town seemed to be falling apart. Thinking it couldn’t all be bad, we drove on a bit further to the aire, only to find that too had been abandoned, the drain was blocked, the water not working and everything looked deserted. If it wasn’t for the fact that it was now quite late and we didn’t have a clue where else to go considering a forecast of bad weather we decided to go for a walk and stay put until the morning. As suspected the rain didn’t take long to arrive and our day just got worse!