* Santa Maria de Alcobaça (Alcobaça): Don’t be fooled by the ornate baroque facade added in the 18th century. This church was founded in 1153 by Portugal’s founding father, King Afonso Henriques. Inside, the slender, soaring nave is done in unadorned early-Gothic style, then newly imported from France by Cistercian monks. The church is the resting place of several medieval royals, among them King Pedro II and his murdered mistress Inês de Castro, whose tragic story has long inspired poets and musicians. Their extravagant tombs are treasures of Gothic stonework.
* Igreja de São Francisco (Porto): Porto’s “Golden Church” doesn’t look like much from its plain Gothic exterior. But inside it is a gilded grotto, shimmering from floor to ceiling with wood carvings coated in gold leaf, a technique known as talha dourada developed by Portuguese craftsmen in the 18th century when the precious metal was pouring in from Brazilian mines. The church dates back to 1244. Amid all the gold, the towering “Tree of Jesse” sculpture showing the family tree of Jesus is a standout.
* Mosteiro da Batalha (Batalha): In 1385, a Portuguese army defeated a much larger Spanish invasion force in a field south of Leiria, guaranteeing the country’s independence for 200 years. To mark the victory, King João I, who led the troops, erected near the battlefield this masterpiece of the Flamboyant style of Gothic architecture. Using local limestone that glows golden in the setting sun, a succession of architects brought in influences from France, England, and beyond to make a unique construction. Unfortunately, 20th-century planners were less gifted, placing a busy highway close to the main facade.
* Convento de Cristo (Tomar): Another World Heritage Site, this convent in the pretty little town of Tomar once served as headquarters for the Knights Templar, who held off a siege by Arab forces in 1190. Around that time, they built a circular church at the center of the convent, taking as their model the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem. Inside, it is richly decorated with Gothic sculptures and paintings. Successive Portuguese monarchs kept adding to the grandeur of the convent, particularly during the Discoveries period, adorning it with some of the best examples of Manueline stonework.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.