PORTUGAL - A Journey from Porto to the Minho - Part I : VIANA DO CASTELO
I was so curious about meeting Portuguese people and finding out their point of view regarding their country that I kept the books apart. It is quite of an intriguing culture to me. Sometimes in shadow of other cultures, cautious and wary, yet very, very proud. There are many Portuguese in Paris, and although I worked a lot with them and we knew each other well, I found very impressive the way they loved their country but yet were very shy about it. I remember clearly the nostalgic feeling they had, but always remained silent about it. I became more and more intrigued to visit Portugal and I thought that it would be very interesting to start by the North.
This is why when I left Paris to reach Porto, I did not want to buy tons of guides. To be sincere, I did not study in detail the Portuguese history before leaving. I am actually very bad when it comes to remember the historical facts, years… maybe because my roots are Roman so my main memory is already occupied by the history of my own mother city !
I know people who study a lot before travelling. Some of them buy a lot of city guides, maps, spend a huge amount of time on Wikipedia and other websites so that once they arrive, they are “prepared” for a long tour of the main interesting spots of a City or a Country... that’s what I noticed in Paris and in Rome at least. But I did not felt like doing something like this when I decided to travel to Porto and the North of Portugal.
And I guess I made the right choice. The South of Portugal is really having an invasion from abroad if we consider the heavy tourism and the foreign retired expats. Numerous foreigners have been swayed to retire in Portugal for its pleasant climate, beautiful coastlines and reasonably priced property. Since 2009, changes to Portugal’s retirement tax laws have made it more attractive for foreigners to retire to Portugal. Portugal is also often ranked as one of best places to retire abroad (I believe that for this year 2019 Portugal is ranked on the 3rd place after Iceland and New Zealand as the safest place to live in the world), with the Algarve region listed by CNN and Forbes as one of the best places to retire in the world.
The North is pretty less touristy and more authentic, keeping a popular charm and very lovely secret spots to discover.
It also has a wilder side, especially on the Spanish boarder, where you find yourself in huge pine forests, close to the Minho River which meets the Ocean passing by the impressing Celtic Mount Tecla on the Spanish Border.
Nowadays more than ever I think travelling is about the “root” culture you’ll be related to for a certain amount of time. Globalization brought us to consume the same way, pushing us to use the same technologies most of the time. A good way to use the positive sides of it (because I’m sorry but that there are many, many bad sides) is to link with locals at least to learn about a different culture and organization with the same tools.
We stood in Viana do Castelo, a very, very lovely historic city where the Lima River arrives at the Atlantic Ocean. In the old town, especially at Praça da República, there’s 16th-century Manueline and Renaissance architecture very charming.
A Hero of Viana is João Álvares Fagundes, whom sculpture you will find facing the Atlantic Ocean close to the Fundação Gil Eannes’s Ship. He lived between the XVth and the XVIth Century. He is well known by the locals to be an explorer and ship owner, who organized several expeditions to Newfoundland and Nova Scotia around 1520-1521.
Fagundes, together with his vice-captain, accompanied by colonists (mostly from the Azores and from the mainlands of Portugal), explored the islands of St Paul near Cape Breton, Sable Island, Penguin Island (now known as Funk Island), Burgeo, and Saint Pierre and Miquelon which he named the islands of Eleven Thousand Virgins in honor of Saint Ursula.
During all the XV and XVIth century, Viana has been an important harbour and ship-building town for centuries. Back in Fagundes’ day, the Age of Discoveries was in full swing and ships from Viana sailed all over the world bringing back goods and glory. You can imagine who intriguing it must have been at that time?
A must is to visit Praça da Republica and stop by the Igreja da Misericordia. Entrance is only 1€.
Praça da Republica is where everyone meet, along with the Praça Eixo Atlântico, where you find nice concerts during the Nossa senhora da agonia festival in August.
Behind the city looms the Monte de Santa Luzia, protector of the blinds and people who more in general seeks help for their eyes, which can be reached by the longest funicular railway in Portugal.
The Santuario de Santa Luzia is a marvelous icon of Viana do Castelo and dominates the skyline of the city. The squared structure, inspired by Byzantine architecture with influences of Gothic elements represent a very interesting location to take inspiring shots. Pretty unexpected, although it seems it’s there since forever, it was actually commissioned in 1904 and fully completed in 1943.
The road to reach the Sanctuary is very enjoyable (but you need to save some strength!), if you don’t have time and really don’t feel to walk a lot, I would strongly recommend the funicular.
My Addresses in Viana Do Castelo
Confeitaria Manuel Natário
They sell more than 1000 Bolas de Berlim per day. It is the place to go to try the Pastel de Nata, as well as their most attractive products such as the Pão de Ló de Jorge Amado, the Biscoitos de Viana and the most common Bola de Berlim (in Italy we call them with a German name “ Krafen”… there is no possible diet with it… it is a fried sweet ganache with cream inside… all surrounded by cinnamon and sugar…). They are very nice people and I was really well introduced to the different products.
Located in the Jardim da Marginal, it is a lovely spot were locals usually meet. No special warm welcome, but the spot is quite nice and calm and the Porto Reserve we tasted was quite tasty.
Botts is one of my Favorite Address in Viana, and I think it is one of the best Wine Shop in all the Northen Portugal. The people I met there where young oenologists, wome of them went abroad studying. They can speak English, French, Spanish. They have an amazing selection of wine, from Porto to Vinho Verde, as well as other more specific products, and the price is simply super. The spot is cool, you feel comfortable and they are really passionate so I tell you that if you want to buy good wines, just go there.
Restaurante Beira Rio
Very Simple address with tipical products. What I like about this spot is the fact that you are along the River, so you can enjoy your meal in the terrace just looking at the river and the lovely pedestrial promenade where families walk by.
Irish Pub of Viana
Very close to the Jardim Da Marina and the Lima river, a very lovely spot when you’re just looking for a nice place where to enjoy a Pint. The pub is located on the same structure of a very cool fitness center, brand new, where you can train at a very reasonable rate and with an amazing view on the River.
Very simple but comfortable spot with terrace where to enjoy a very good espresso and meet some locals. I love their pastel de nata, especially because they do not put a lot of cinnamon in it!