Alcochete - Portugal

The delightful old town of Alcochete is located on the south bank of the River Tagus, in close proximity to the Tagus Estuary Nature Reserve.

The ideal day-trip destination for visitors staying in Lisbon, its foundation dates right back to the 7th century after the Moors conquered Lisbon and its name derives from the Arabic word for kiln, as several have been found in the local area.

The journey across the river is a delightful one, running past some of the older parts of the capital such as the Alfama before heading off into the great Tagus river basin. The ferry arrives in Montijo, followed by a 5-kilometre bus or taxi ride north to Alcochete.

Evidence of human occupation in Alcochete and its environs dates back to the lower Paleolithic period, while the Roman presence in the area mostly extended along the banks of Ribeira das Enguias where traces of several ancient potteries exist, most notably at Porto dos Cacos in Herdade de Rio Frio where the production of amphorae (ceramic containers used to pack and transport fish preserves) have been unearthed.

Alcochete was an important royal retreat, with both King João I and King João II spending long periods here for rest and relaxation. More importantly, King Manuel I (creator of the Manueline architectural style) was born here and in 1515 (twenty years into his reign) he granted Alcochete its town charter at a time when Lisbon and was beginning to prosper during Portugal’s great Age of Discovery.

Founded in the mid-16th century, the Church of the Misericórdia was part of the palace where King Manuel I was born on the 1st of June 1469. Today, it houses the Museum of Sacred Art whose collection includes many old paintings and some rare archaeological finds.

The town’s Gothic-Manueline parish church was built in honour of John the Baptist and later classified as a national monument. Inside are two interesting 18th-century tiled panels, while two rare early 16th-century paintings can be seen in one of the outbuildings.

Salt has long-been one of the main industries here and salt-pans can still be seen to the north and south of the town, particularly around the Tagus Estuary Nature Reserve (Reserva Natural do Estuário do Tejo), which covers a vast area of salt marshes, small islands and estuary waters. One of the largest wetlands in southern Europe, it is also a very important breeding ground for water birds and many other interesting species, as well as a sanctuary for fish, molluscs and crustaceans.

The flocks of wintering birds seen in the Tagus Estuary Nature Reserve often number more than 120,000 individuals, including the pied avocet, greylag goose, teal and the real star of the show, the greater flamingo. Later in the year, bird-watchers can spot several nesting species such as the black-winged stilt, booted eagle, purple heron and march harrier.

All the reserve’s bird and wildlife, including wild bulls and horses, can be observed from the waters of the estuary on organised cruises such as the Alcochete Council-owned Bote Leão, a 45-seater sailing boat constructed in the traditional Tagus style. Cruise tickets and timetables are available from the local tourist office in the centre of Alcochete (indicated on the Google map below).