Discovering a hidden gem in Tomar’s Convento de Cristo in Portugal
We’ve headed north to enjoy some of the truly amazing sights of the Estremadura & Ribatejo regions of Portugal! This region sits below the Douro valley to the North and above Lisbon to the South… From as far east at Ortiga to the western-most tips of Europe at Peniche. So having seen the delights of Evora and Porto Covo in the Alentejo, what would we find here?
Sadly our stay was marred by a disappointing campsite at Sabor da Pedra.. which proved nothing short of daylight robbery! Charged a princely 31 euros to overnight in their restaurant carpark, with none of the promised facilities (wifi, fresh water or somewhere to dump)… it just reminded us that although the ACSI book is a good guide, sadly sometimes even this comes up short… suffice to say we’d heavily recommend those visiting in a motorhome steer clear of this campsite… especially as Tomar has a very inexpensive aire perfectly located close to the main centre… a lesson learned!!
So even after 400 days on our European Roadtrip, we still make mistakes… next time we’ll make sure we fully research our overnight stop as 31 euros for a car parking space is far too much to waste when we have so much left of Europe to see! Thankfully Tomar proved a real hit with us, an absolutely amazing place to visit (and even better if you do it on the first Sunday of the month as the Convento de Cristo is free!!) so balance was restored in the finances of LifeinourVan…
This region of Portugal is linked to the Knights Templars and the Convent was built by these monk-knights in 1160… as Portugal expanded southwards in the 12th century it took more and more land from the previously Moorish region or Spanish North… this land was then given to the religious orders hence the number of religious buildings in this region – from Batalha’s Cathedral (a result of Joãs I’s victory of the northern Castilians) to the Cistern Abbey at Alcobaça.. The main attraction at Tomar’s Convento de Cristo is clearly the Charola, the nucleus of the monastery with it’s resplendent octagonal altars based on the Rotunda of Jerusalem’s Holy Sepulchre.. the paintings/frescos date back to the 16th century and the golden gilded carvings sit beneath the Byzantine Cupola (in fact it’s so impressive it vaguely reminds us of the Cistern Chapel in Rome..)
Tomar itself is well worth a day’s visit if you are in this region, it’s happy, colourful side streets house some wonderful craft based shops before opening out into magnificent squares such as the São João Baptista with it’s intricate octagonal clocktower… the neat symertrical streets all sit beneath the imposing castle that belonged to the Order of the Templars… It appears that Tomar has a sense of fun too with the truly spectacular Festa dos Tabuleiros held in July (in which girls carry platters of bread and colourful flowers on their heads through the streets)