Sometimes called the Venice of Portugal…
On our way to Porto this past week, Won and I decided to break our journey in Aveiro. The drive from where we live (Monte Estoril) to Porto is only three hours, but since it was on our way, it gave us a chance to stop for lunch and take a look.
I stumbled on to Aveiro while showing my mother and step-father YouTube videos of Portugal last September when we were visiting them in California. I was instantly charmed and intrigued by this coastal town with canals, a circular bridge, and brightly colored, striped houses near the beach. It was immediately added to the list of places to see once we moved!
Here are a few basics about Aveiro. It is located on the Atlantic coast in the central region of the country and is the second largest city in the region behind Coimbra. It is just an hour south of Porto by car.
Aveiro is pronounced ah-vie-rrho (you need to softly roll that “r”). As mentioned earlier, Aveiro is known as “the Portuguese Venice”, due to its system of canals and boats similar to the Italian city of Venice. I’ll get to those colorful boats momentarily.
Won and I first drove to Costa Nova, located to the west of Aveiro, on the Ria de Aveiro coastline. We had heard about a restaurant call Marisqueira, which is known for its seafood and made that our first stop.
We didn’t have a problem getting a table and ordered the paella for two which, in addition to seafood, included pork and chicken. It was good, but the chicken had been chopped into large chunks leaving the bones and skin. This became a problem as we had to constantly remove tiny bits of chicken bones from our mouths as we ate. This ruined the experience for us. We had only water with lunch and the bill came to €35,50. Hmmm….
After lunch we walked along the riverside front of the Mira Channel of Ria de Aveiro and admired the “palheiros” – houses with interspersed vertical or horizontal lists. So cute!!!
We could see a lighthouse in the distance and hopped back in the car to take a closer look. Turns out the Aveiro Lighthouse is the tallest in all of Portugal (I guess that’s why we didn’t miss it!). It stands on the southern shore of the Aveiro lagoon’s narrow isthmus connecting it to the Atlantic Ocean where it occupies the most prominent position in the area with a 360° balcony. You can tour the lighthouse on Wednesdays, but we weren’t there on a Wednesday – bummer. The lighthouse tower including the beacon apparatus dome, stands 66 meters (217 ft) high and the light beam has a range of 23 nautical miles (43 km). [I get a fair amount of grief from my Mom about not including pictures of myself in my blog posts so here’s one for you Mom!!]
We jumped back in the car and took a quick spin around the beach town and imagined how busy and fun it would be in the summer months. The area has one of the oldest sailing clubs on the Ria de Aveiro – the Costa Nova Sailing Club. There are also kite surfing, canoeing and surf schools, among other sports. The beach is crossed by a modern bike path/ecovia that connects to both Ponte da Barra and Praia da Barra and Praia da Vagueira, located in the neighboring municipality of Vagos. As a reminder, “ponte” means bridge and “praia” means beach. One of the most frequent activities is miniature golf. It also has several outdoor sports venues for tennis and football (soccer).
Well, that was fun! Now it was time to see the city of Aveiro.
We drove over the bridge the connects Barra with Aveiro and drove through town to get a sense of the place. Aveiro is home to the University of Aveiro, ranked as the 354th best university in the world in the Times World University Rankings, and the 2nd best in Portugal. The University has about 430 professors (with PhD degrees), 11,000 undergraduate students, and 1,300 post-graduate students. That will certainly keep a town lively!
We had an easy time navigating the city and noted that it had a lot of charming elements and beautiful architecture. We parked near one of the many canals and headed toward those colorful “gondolas,” which are not actually gondolas. They are barcos moliceiros once used for collecting moliço seaweed. These boats are motorized and no one was serenading their passengers as they cruised the canals. They were, however, providing a history of the town so it was educational as well as fun.
Once again, the fabulous designs of the cobblestone walkways caught my attention. They reflected the fishing and seafaring history of the area.
But if I kept looking down, I was going to miss the beautiful architecture.
The city’s primary landmark is the 15th century Mosteiro de Jesus (Monastery of Jesus) which contains the tomb of King Afonso V’s daughter, St. Joana (who died in 1490). The presence of this royal personage, beatified in 1693, proved to be of great benefit when she bequeathed her valuable estate to the convent. In the 17th and 18th centuries, the convent housed a school of embroidery, but was transformed into the Museu de Santa Joana, or more commonly referred to as the Museum of Aveiro. It houses many of these handicrafts. Unfortunately, we didn’t have time to visit these landmarks on this trip, but will definitely go and see them the next time we are in Aveiro.
Our walk through the town proved fun and interesting nonetheless. I loved the jauntily designed tuk-tuk we passed and main street was great, plus it was already decorated for Christmas! When I asked a nearby person why, he told me the town was nervous that things might be closed down later due to COVID-19 concerns so they got them up quickly. Good thinking!
We enjoyed finding little squares tucked away down small pedestrian walkways lined with shops and cafes. I was even charmed by billowing laundry in the sunshine.
Our last stop was to see the Ponte dos Botirões, a circular pedestrian bridge over one of the canals. I had never seen anything like it before! It was impossible for me to capture the entire bridge in a single image so I pulled one from the Internet so you can see what it looks like from above. The other photos are my own.
We had a quick, but thoroughly enjoyable visit to Aveiro and the beach town of Barra. As always, it wasn’t enough time to do it justice, which just gives us another reason to return. Hopefully, it will be with some company the next time. Maybe you?
Next week I tackle our spectacular, busy, and incredibly enjoyable time in Porto. Here’s a sneak peak…
Until then, stay safe, stay healthy and stay in touch.
From Portugal with love,