Fátima, Portugal. Where else can you buy 100 different styles of Jesus magnets, see a piece of the Berlin Wall, and explore a massive cave system?
I haven’t looked into it, but probably not a lot of places! Fátima still sticks out as being unlike anywhere else that we have travelled.
Turning on Netflix this morning to see the newly added “Fátima” movie, gave me just the kick in the pants I needed to:
1.) turn off the TV (sigh)
2.) finally write the post that I’ve had in my drafts for a couple months. Oops!
I used to obsessively plan my trips and all the sights I HAD to get to. The choice to stay in Fatima, was made arbitrarily from a map for convenience sake. I went on that particular trip with my Mom, and when we rolled into town on a coach, we were quite oblivious about the Fátima story. I did know that there was a big church, because we picked a hotel close to that point of interest.
So why were we there?
When we visited Portugal in 2013 it wasn’t quite as tourist-friendly as it is now. There were two things in the area that I wanted to see: Batalha Monastery and Grutas de Mira de Aire. I wasn’t able to find any transit link between these two sights, but Fátima is smack dab between them and the home of Fátima Mini Tours who I found on Facebook. (More about them later!)
What Surprised Us
Considering how neurotic I used to be, the amount of planning I did around Fátima itself is shocking. As in, none. So we were surprised to find out that it is a big draw for Catholic pilgrims! The Basilica of Our Lady of the Rosary is a beautiful old church in a HUGE square. The square is known as the Shrine of Our Lady of Fatima and was very busy, with people on their knees all over the place. The large glass Chapel of the Apparitions, is also in this square. The faithful line up to light candles at all times. In the evenings there was a particularly long line.
The original basilica had limited capacity, so in the same square is the Basilica of the Holy Trinity, an absolutely massive, futuristic looking, concrete creation. Winning awards for its unique architecture, it can seat 9,000! You may enter both as a tourist, but don’t be surprised if you are the only person who isn’t there for the religious experience!
Walking around the town, you will really get a feel for what a big deal this place is to serious Catholics! Shops of religious souvenirs abound, as do tourists, but they just aren’t “regular” tourists. Everyone comes to Fátima for a higher purpose, and that energy is palpable. It is an experience like none other. I really can’t explain it.
The Berlin Wall
Another discovery – with little explanation – is that Fátima (or actually the church?) is the proud home of this piece of the Berlin Wall. I am still not clear on why, but my understanding is that one of the prophecies at Fátima has been interpreted to be about the fall of the Iron Curtain. Regardless, I have never been to Germany, and to see an actual piece of the wall, in Portugal no less, was very interesting.
The Story Of Fátima
I will be completely honest, I didn’t remember, and was confused by, the Fátima miracle that made the location famous. So I have just googled it again. Maybe I should actually watch the Fatima movie on Netflix!
The tl;dr – A vision of an angel appeared three times in Fátima, 1916, to three children and taught them some Catholic rituals (mostly prayer.) Then the Virgin Mary appeared in Fátima, 1917, to the children six times making prophecies. At some point, the Catholic church involves itself, and declares the events to be “worthy of belief.” One of the shepherd children of Fatima lived longer than the others, and continued to have visions throughout her life.
Secrets of Fatima
Where it gets confusing is that some people refer to “Fatima’s three miracles” but it was actually numerous appearances over a period of two years. The three secrets of Fatima, are portions of the message from the Virgin Mary apparition, that were not made public. (Out of fear that they would terrorize everyone.) Fatima secret three, wasn’t even released until the year 2000!
(You can read more about the story in this article that was written for the centennial of the Fátima miracle.)
I don’t think personal beliefs matter much here, allow yourself to get swept up in the magic, it’s more fun that way! Fatima’s devout don’t need a Nancy Grace.
What We Did Come For
As I mentioned at the beginning, we chose Fátima because of it’s proximity to Batalha Monastery, and some caves. To get around, I had found a Facebook page for Fátima Mini Tours*. I contacted them and they were more than happy to take us on a custom tour of both the monastery and the caves that we wanted to visit. I gathered that they were just a couple of young guys with a mini bus, trying to start a business. It was truly delightful.
*This post is not sponsored in any way. Opinions and reviews are completely my own.
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Our host was chatty and very accommodating, touring us around both sights, and handling the entrance fees. He picked us up and dropped us off right at our hotel. I typically hate tours, but this was seriously so fun and comfortable. I would do it again in a heartbeat! We also found it very reasonably priced to have someone drive us around all day! Fatima Mini Tours now offers a tour on their website for the Batalha Monastery and the Moeda Caves, so I like to think I helped create that. (Although the caves are different ones, closer to Fátima. Don’t burst my bubble!)
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The Batalha Monastery is a UNESCO World Heritage Sight — Okay, big guns! — located in, Batalha no less! Construction began in 1386, and despite being worked on for 131 years, was never finished. Regardless, UNESCO declares it to be “one of the absolute masterpieces of Gothic art.” Truly it is.
The Monastery’s exterior is incredible, but the interior is equal to it. The main chapel area is massive with sky-high ceilings and elaborate architecture. One of the most interesting parts however, is that it is still home to the actual tombs of Portuguese rulers, as well as their children, including Prince Henry the Navigator. There are not too many places in this world that you can actually reach out and touch the final resting place of Kings and Queens.
(Don’t do that, but you could.)
The Unfinished Chapels are another memorable feature of Batalha. They were started as a second royal mausoleum and are also very elaborate – with just one thing missing, the roof! It is now an impressive and quirky open-air exhibit.
Grutas de Mira de Aire
The Grutas de Mira de Aire are the caves I mentioned earlier, and is the largest cave system in Portugal! Entrance is affordable, at € 7.00 per adult, € 4.20 for kids aged 5 to 11, and free for under 5. It is a bit out of the way, but only about 20 minutes drive from Fátima or 30 minutes from Batalha. Trekking through the caves themselves, takes about 45 minutes. The one-way tour starts at the ticket office and winds it’s way through the caves to the bottom.
Definitely worth taking a Fátima Mini Tour if they still offer custom trips! Typically you will have to wait for other people to show up and then enter as a group for the tour (possibly different after Covid is over and they re-open.) However our guide was able to speak with the ticket agent and take us through himself.
I feel like on any other trip, caves of this magnitude would have been THE highlight. They were my original reason for even going to this area. I really like caves and I wanted to explore some of the biggest in Portugal! They were big, well-lit, and interesting. The funny thing about knowing what to expect though, is that it’s all a bit less fun than the unexpected! We encountered so many unique surprises in and around Fátima, that while the caves were completely worth the visit, they were a minor highlight.
Where We Stayed
We picked accommodation directly beside the main square. That ended up being the Hotel Aleluia.
Hotel Aleluia is a fairly small hotel with sleek curvy balconies next to the main attraction of Fátima – The Sanctuary of Our Lady of Fátima.
This is still one of my favourite memories of the whole Portugal trip! Guests could enjoy a meal downstairs included in the stay. During our stay, there was a group of senior citizens who dined at the same time as us, and broke out into singing and dancing (including a conga!) Therefore, atmosphere at this hotel gets a 10/10. (Even though we sat it out.)
Fatima is an amazing part of Portugal! The atmosphere of the town is truly unlike anywhere else that I’ve been. I whole-heartedly enjoyed our private mini-tour, and Batalha Monastery is still one of the most interesting historical sites that I’ve been to. One day, I would love to take my family back to Fátima!
If you plan a holiday to Portugal, don’t forget to leave the beach! There is so much to discover here.
(Speaking of the beach, see My Top 3 Beaches here! *hint – Portugal is involved*)
For more off the beach in my Portugal series, don’t miss my post on must-see sights in Sintra!