Leiria – What to do (pt.2)

Go Check pt.1 of what to do in Leiria!


8. Museu Escolar

In Marrazes, a couple of minutes east of the center of Leiria is a museum shedding light on Portuguese school life in the 19th and 20th centuries.
It started out as a project at the local school, led by teachers to show students what school was like in days gone by.
But there was soon enough valuable material to open a museum in a separate building.
There’s furniture, antique toys, books and everyday items (slates, blackboards, erasers, clocks, crosses) from the classroom.
The museum is broken up into eight different rooms according to subjects like carpentry and geology, or time periods like the end of the monarchy, First Republic and the Dictatorship.

9. Pinhal de Leiria

As you leave the western edge of Leiria on the way to the villages of Marinha Grande and Vieira Leiria, the serene wooded landscape may seem completely natural, but humans had a big hand in this setting.
The Pinhal de Leiria is an 11,000-hectare forest of stone pines planted during the 13th-century reign of King Afonso III. This was to protect Leiria and its agriculture from encroaching sand dunes blown in from the coast, and you can visit these dunes on the edge of the forest.
The forest also had a part to play in the Age of Discovery when it provided a lot of the pine and resin for Portugal’s world-conquering fleet.
There are viewpoints, glades in the forest with picnic benches, cycling trails and the restorative banks of the River Moel.

10. Monastery of Batalha

A mere 15 minutes south of Leiria is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and one of the country’s most prized monuments.
This was commissioned by King John I to memorialize the Christian victory against the Moors in the Battle of Aljubarrota in 1385. The church, royal cloister, unfinished chapels, and chapter house all warrant as much time as you can give them.
This is because of the wealth and complexity of the carvings, which were completed in the Gothic and early-15th-century Manueline style, blending High Gothic, Spanish Plateresque, and Moorish architecture to create something uniquely Portuguese.
Out of everything the Founders’ Chapel is the part you can’t miss, containing the tomb of John I and Philippa his wife, as well as the 15th-century explorer Henry the Navigator.


11. Museu do Vidro

A few minutes west of Leiria on the way to the coast is the town of Marinha Grande, which is ensconced in that fragrant pine forest and used its abundance of sand to make glass.
The town is still Portugal’s largest glass manufacturer, and time-honored methods have been taken over by modern molding facilities.
The museum is installed in the 18th-century palace belonging to William Stephens, an English immigrant who was in charge of the Royal Glassworks in Marinha Grande in the 1770s.
In showcases, you can marvel at artistic glazing, antique glasses, and vases going back to the 18th century, and items produced in Portugal’s other glassmaking centers from the 1600s onwards.

12. Praia de São Pedro de Moel

If you’re hankering for the ocean air and a beautiful beach to laze on, you’re in luck, as this genteel coastal village is under 20 kilometers.
The drive will also take you through that pine forest, while the village has a lot of 19th centuries architecture, including the home of the turn-of-the-century poet Afonso Lopes Vieira. The waters are chilly, even in summer, and aren’t for casual swimmers or younger children; this is the Atlantic Coast after all and is better suited to surfers and bodyboarders.
But really the allure lies in the beach itself, which is vast and has white sand and lots of awesome to invigorate you, with rocky outcrops and soaring cliffs crested by a lighthouse.

13. Praia de Paredes da Vitória

Another beach that should be on your radar is this one a few kilometers down from São Pedro de Moel.
With hardly any tourist encroachment, there’s just a village and a long string of cliffs covered with vegetation behind this beach.
The soft pale sand disappears into the distance in either direction, while the village has the facilities to ensure a comfortable day in the sun.
The cliffs in Paredes da Vitória need a mention too, as these limestone and sandstone formations contain fossils from the Lower Jurassic Period, some 200 million years ago.


14. Fátima

Only 20 minutes to the southeast is Portugal’s most cherished pilgrimage site.
It all began with Marian apparitions reported by shepherd children 100 years ago.
A sanctuary was built at the site, in an idyllic spot amid hills 350 meters above sea level.
People from all over the world make the journey, and for the non-religious, you can just come to see one of Christendom’s gathering points in action.
The sightings were first reported on May 13, so Fátima gets especially busy on this date.
But the 13th of any month between May and October is also very popular, October being the last time Mary was seen here.

15. Local Cuisine

If you’re pootling about the old center of Leiria and look in the windows of bakeries you’ll see these bright orange sweets in little paper cake cases.
They are a local specialty and known as Brisas do Lis, made from egg yolk, sugar, and almonds and originally made by nuns at the defunct Santana Convent.
For savory food, there’s the typical morcela de arroz, a type of black pudding made with pig’s blood, rice, pork meat, and various herbs and spices.
And for a traditional local meal try bacalhau com migas (cod baked with breadcrumbs), deep-fried whitebait, suckling pig or chanfana, a goat or lamb stew.
Leiria is also in the Encostas de Aire wine DOC famed for its light reds and fruity whites.

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