Alcobaça or the Aquitaine?

Terence Austin Artist Alcobaca
As an artist I am enticed by water and reflections. They offer many routes of visual expression. Therefore, it’s natural that I find appealing places with water interwoven in their identity. One naturally thinks of London´s stately Thames, the canals of Venice and the sweeping romantic Parisian Seine.

Although I love Portugal dearly, I wish it had more rivers. In the seductively long, hot Portuguese summers, in an often parched and arid, ochre and umber tinted land I long for the sound of flowing water and the breath of a cool breeze to kiss the skin and temper the excesses of the sun.

This is why I adore Alcobaça. It has water in its veins in the form of two ribbons which form the rivers Alcoa and the Baça. I offer no prizes for guessing how Alcobaça came by its name, only to mention that for centuries these lifelines have offered rest, recuperation and revitalization to those who have stole the time to stroll and sit upon their banks. Today, there is still the opportunity for artists to meander through this route and ponder pictures and paintings.

There is another intriguing parallel the town shares with one of these great cities. Take a jaunt around the town and read the architecture and you will smile. Quite often you could fool yourself you are in France or even Paris.

Streams wash and bring all sorts, sometime after the great inundation that was Art Nouveau, which flooded through France and the rest of Europe, it settled here between the Gothic, Baroque and early Moorish echoes of old Alcobaça. This is still apparent in the tiny, quaint but elegant streets featuring intricate tiled facades and evocative ironwork which are constant reminders of a French influence.

There is also a more agricultural chateau style present here which can be seen in the surprising coral pink Camera Municipal building. Are we in Acobaça or the Aquitaine?

Another delightful feature of the town is the magnificent Portuguese ceramics on offer.There’s a host of shops facing the square in front of the colossal central sited monastery of Santa Maria. These are crammed to the gunnels with charming ornate typically Portuguese pieces painted in cobalt and ultramarine blues, viridians and emerald greens and the more earthy traditional colours. You are bound to be enthralled by the range, size and scope on offer.

Rich, rustic and sumptuous textiles, often exhibiting typical tessellated and lively floral Portuguese designs will also appeal.

I advise anyone with a creative personality to pay a few visits to Alcobaça. You have to let it seep in and permit its charm and character to influence you. It’s a thriving regional centre bustling  along under its own steam every day. It never needs to chase tourism in a forced manner but is not ambivalent to visitors either. It gives a genuine essence of a truly Portuguese town, full of history and authentic features. So visit, explore, sample and paint it all!