One of northern Portugal’s best kept secrets; Aveiro is a small city just 50 miles south of Porto. It lies on the mouth of an estuary, has a lagoon, is surrounded by terrific coastline and has a canal system dividing the quarters. Hence its common nickname “Venice of Portugal”, water definitely features one way or another here, and a popular way to see some of the sights is to ride on a Moliceiro boat along the canals. The moliceiros were previously used to collect seaweed and have been prettily restored and painted in bright colors. But probably the most eye-catching feature of this town is its varied architecture. The beautiful Portuguese “azulejo” (painted tiles) decorated the old train station, Misericórdia church, and the whimsical Art Nouveau period buildings along the main strip. Also, the cathedral and the colorfully painted fisherman cottages at Costa Nova, (so cute they look like toy houses) are just some of the architectural highlights.
Aveiro has historically always been associated with fishing and the sea trade. It grew and benefited immensely by the Discoveries era, which brought merchants and explorers from all over Europe to its port. The city was also a favorite place for monarchs, namely Princess Joana (daughter of King Afonso), she entered the Dominican Convent in Aveiro, having lost her succession to the throne after the birth of her younger brother John. The Monastery of Jesus has since been converted into a beautiful museum, besides the lavishly decorated tomb of Joana, the museum has a wonderful collection of paintings from the 10th to 15th centuries.
Unfortunately, Aveiro also suffered bad times and a period of extreme hardship after the tragedy of 1575, when a combination of silt build up in the river and a horrendous storm caused the collapse of the port, which in turn cut the lagoon off from the tide and turned it into a swamp. Diseases breed and spread like wildfire, devastating the population.
The city did eventually recover and what had been the source of such ruin for years, the lagoon provided two fruitful industries; salt production and seaweed harvesting. The salt was used for the Atlantic Northwest Cod Fishery and the kelp was used as a natural fertilizer. Both industries are still actively exploited today.
Wine and Gastronomy
Naturally fresh fish and shellfish can be found in abundance here. Although Aveiro has an additional source for its aquatic delicacies, the many rivers and lakes and eels are a particular favorite in the Aveiro region, served as stews and casseroles, look out for “caldeirada de enguias” (eel stew). “Feijoada de búzios” is another local choice dish, a hearty bean stew with sea snails, as is “Arroz de marisco” (seafood rice).
For something sweet you must try the “Ovos Moles” made from eggs and sugar, people flock from far and wide to purchase them from the Aveiro pastry shop.
Bairrada is the neighboring wine region which produces robust reds predominantly from the Baga variety. High acidity and powerful tannins mean these wines need time to evolve before drinking. Some exceptional sparkling wines come from this region; DOC Bairrada Espumante is responsible for over half the Portuguese sparkling wine production, a number of varieties are permitted both native (Fernão Pires, Baga, Arinto, Bical…) and international; in particular, Chardonnay. Here the high acidity of the wines produced is perfect for sparkling wine production and the traditional secondary fermentation in the bottle method is used. Just over the Serra do Caramulo mountains is the Dão region with its exceptional dry wines, both red and white. Porto is also on the doorstep, just an hour’s drive north.
Traditionally used for collecting seaweed, which was in turn used as the local fertilizer. Now restored and painted in vibrant colors the Moliceiro boats are a relaxing way to take in some of the city’s main sights.
Visit the vibrant town of Aveiro on our Portugal Wine Tours. It makes for a perfect stop between Lisbon and Porto on a longer trip or as a day excursion from Porto.
Beaches and the photogenic Costa Nova
Barra and Costa Nova beaches are lovely for a spot of sunbathing, but also where some of the best seafood restaurants can be found. Costa Nova is where you will find the brightly painted fishermen houses.
A striking example of Portugal’s religious heritage, dating back to the 15th century, when it was a Dominican Convent. Both Gothic and Baroque influences can be seen from the various restorations over the centuries.
Pop into Aveiro Pastry shop for a box of the local sweet “Ovos Moles”, from egg and sugar, they are a popular treat.
Just a couple of miles down the road in Ilhavo you can visit the Vista Alegre Museum. Discover what inspired the designs behind this emblematic brand and the inspiring relationship between the founding Pinto Basto family and its workers.