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We actually found Fatima on a drive through Portugal, it was not a planned visit, but it was one of the most amazing diversions we have ever done. It was simply a case of, its lunchtime, lets see if the sat nav finds anything nearby, that anything was Fatima.
Fátima is a central Portuguese town that's home to the Sanctuary of Fátima, a Catholic pilgrimage site. Now you may think I will go all religious here, but I'm not.
Though it is a massive site in the catholic religion, we can honestly say you do not need to be religious at all to be awed by the beauty and splendour of Fatima.
The town is chock a block with shops and cafes and most of these shops will sell plastic rosemary beads and candles, the candles may take you by surprise as they literally come in all shapes and sizes, including legs, hearts (not the valentine types!) and every other body part you can think of. The point of these candles is that there is a place inside where you can light a candle and pray, or just light a candle.
Before you spend your money on these candles, inside the Basilica, you can actually buy candles for a fraction of the cost and the money goes towards the upkeep.
When you buy from the Basilica, it reminds me why I love Portugal so much, there are a great selection of candles and prices, yet there are no staff, there are just honesty boxes, I really can't imagine this in many other countries we have visited.
It is definitely worth lighting a candle just for the experience, you lean over a great big fire pit and try to drop your candle in a holder, with big flames flying up every so often, did somebody mention health and safety? I thought not.
The basilica is a working place of worship so often you will hear a mass being performed, again this is not something you need to stay for unless you want to.
We went for the architecture and it is truly amazing. But one of the things that took us by surprise was the size of the place and the pathway that goes from one end to the other, this is for pilgrims to kneel and go around on their knees, for this you really should have some knee pads, but I am not sure if that counts.
There are a number of sites in Fatima, including the site where the children saw the the Virgin Mary, but we stayed just with the basilica.
Another nice thing was that there was no cost involved, entrance is free and there are not collection plates all over, so buying a couple of candles was a fair swap for us.
There are a number of restaurants to choose from and as may be expected near to the Basilica, the prices are slightly inflated, but if you go a little way off the main area there are some fantastic places to eat and the prices are very reasonable, we had a 3 course meal with a drink for approx 7€ each.
There is a pilgrimage that goes from Santiago to Fatima, the Camino de Santiago, this can be walked and if you do the walk there are a number of B&Bs along the way where you can stay a night for free.
But if you are arriving from Lisbon or Porto, be careful if you use the train, as there is a train station approx 15 km away called Fatima. Make sure of your journey before you start.
If you are driving, the parking in the town can be difficult due to how busy it can be, but there are numerous car parks available.
We think that Fatima is definitely a must see on any trip to central Portugal, we have been in the height of the holiday season and during winter, both times the crowds were not immense, the time it will be very busy is when there is a special religious event and then there will be people there in the 100's of thousands, so check your trip in advance
We hope you enjoy the photographs or the video (see the top of this article)