While I was writing about Portugal yesterday, I was remembering other places I lived and visited often when I was there. I actually travelled all around it and crossed the border into Spain at several different points.
One of the places I could go to for a weekend from the industrial town I was living and working in (Trofa, close to Oporto) was Viana do Castelo. It’s a coastal town and easily accessible by train. I once had to run for the train and was hauled aboard by a couple of larger Portuguese! Trains are a joy to travel on! The journey takes around an hour and if you have time to spare you can go to Braga too.
Viana do Castelo is the place to be if you want good seafood. Even small restaurants will have an aquarium for live lobster and crayfish. They tie their claws together so that they can’t attack each other or the person who has to fish them out of the water for customers.
There is a clean beach there and it is great to walk along the promenade. However, for me the high spot was going on the funicular up to Santa Luiza Basilica. You get amazing views from the top (of the Atlantic and the town) and then when you descend you have a flavor of what the town itself has to offer. The funicular is free of charge! I went up the tower, but had problems with vertigo on the way down and was rooted to the spot for what seemed like hours, as people ascending had to get past me. It was very embarrassing, though the spectacular view made up for that!
The main square of Viana do Castelo is magnificent with the centrepiece being a 16th century Renaissance fountain. The buildings surrounding the square date back to the Renaissance too although some are Baroque with Gothic arches. You can soak in the atmosphere in one of the many cafés which line all sides of the square and do some relaxed people-watching. You may notice an old British phone box there too – one of the red ones!
Of course, Portugal was one of the foremost European countries during the Age of Discovery, and Henry the Navigator made sure that Portuguese explorers were well-equipped to navigate their way around the oceans and seas in the early 15th century. At that time, Viana do Castelo was an important port.
Should you tire of Viana do Castelo, visit Ponte di Lima and see the long mediaeval arched bridge over the River Lima. It was a settlement in Roman times and the town itself was founded in 1125, making it one of the oldest in Portugal. There are the old walls to see and cobbled streets to wander around, and you really should try the red vinho verde wine for which this area is famous. (Portugal is famous for its vinho verde which translates as green wine, but which is new wine in fact. It’s very cheap and flavoursome!)