Alcoa, a pastry store in the historical town of Alcobaça, has been producing magical concoctions of flour, sugar and eggs since 1957. They use ancient recipes developed by monks of the order of Cister from two local monasteries, Alcobaça and Santa Maria do Coa.
Alcoa’s pastries have always been revered in the Alcobaça region. But outside the region, only a few knowledgeable gourmets made regular pilgrimages to taste Alcoa’s delights. That all changed when Alcoa started winning top prizes in the annual competition for the best “pastel de nata.” Suddenly, Alcobaça became a destination for dessert lovers.
Neophytes journeyed to Alcoa for the “pastel de nata” only to find a new world of delights with whimsical names and exotic shapes: cornucopias, Saint Peter’s secret, fradinho (little monk), eggs of paradise, and much more. The happiness of Lisbon residents plummeted with the knowledge that these heavenly sweets were 120 km away. Luckily, the owners of Alcoa felt pity for Lisbon’s dwellers and decided to bring their sweet alchemy to Chiado. And now, happiness has returned to the capital city.
The original Alcoa pastry store is on Praça 25 de Abril, 44 in Alcobaça, tel. 262 597 474. The new store in Lisbon is on Rua Garret, 37-39, Chiado, tel 21 1367183.
It can be hard to visit monuments with little kids, so it is always a good idea to engage them in a game. If you visit Alcobaça, a beautiful abbey in the middle of Portugal, you can ask your kids to go on a treasure hunt. They can look for stones with carved initials and photograph them. This game can turn an otherwise boring visit into a memorable one.
Masons often carved their personal marks on stones placed in the parts of the cathedral where they worked. They did it to show pride in their work but also to claim the work as theirs so they could get paid.
Centuries later, these signatures remind us of the humble people whose hard work created a legacy of enduring beauty.
To understand Portugal, you have to visit Alcobaça. It was here that the first king of Portugal, Dom Afonso Henriques, founded a monastery in thanksgiving for his conquests. He laid the first stone in 1148 on a beautiful valley irrigated by two rivers, Alcoa and Baça.
Alcobaça became a center of agricultural research with a vast library that included volumes printed by Gutenberg. The monastery served as a luxury hotel for the royal family and their guests, but it also baked bread to feed the poor. The kitchen of the monastery was famous throughout the kingdom. Water from the river Alcoa runs through the kitchen, providing water for cleaning and cooking.
Built in an early gothic style, the monastery was expanded and renovated throughout the centuries. King Dom Pedro erected sumptuous tombs to celebrate his eternal love for Inês de Castro. Henry the Navigator, who was the abbot of Alcobaça, built a palace inside the abbey. Every stone of the Alcobaça monastery is a page of the history of Portugal.
These cups and plates are so full of joie de vivre that they make the tea more fragrant, the cake more intense, the fruit more exquisite. Raúl da Bernarda, an Alcobaça factory founded in 1875, produced these and other great ceramics. Hellas, this family business closed its doors in 2008. But, since most of their production was exported, you can still find their products in shops all over the world. So, let the treasure hunt begin! And what treasures they are, produced by five generations of artisans who molded humble clay into lasting beauty.