Aveiro is often referred to as ‘the Venice of Portugal’, but it’s an unhelpful and misleading tag, yes the city does have a network of canals, but it has a unique beauty all of its own and it’s really nothing like that famous Italian tourist destination. Situated on the west coast of Portugal, an hour’s journey from Porto, Aveiro lies alongside the Ria de Aveiro lagoon, at the mouth of the Ria estuary. Quieter and cooler than Lisbon, the city is a charming destination with delightful villas and apartments available for holiday use. Often visited as a day trip this watery city deserves better acquaintance, and here are five reasons why.
Aveiro has three main canals and taking a trip on a moliceiro is the perfect way to enjoy the centre of this brilliantly colourful and vibrant city. The slim, brightly coloured moliceiros are larger than a Venetian gondola and far, far cheaper to hire. They were once used to collect seaweed, which was an important fertiliser, but today you can hire one from seven euros an hour.
Aveiro has a wonderful architectural heritage, but it’s the wealth of delightful Art Nouveau buildings for which it is famed. Local families who had made their fortunes in Brazil at the beginning of the 20th century returned to Aveiro to build waterfront homes in the then fashionable Art Nouveau style. The Casa do Mayor Pessoa is now an Art Nouveau museum, but in reality, the entire city is an Art Nouveau museum. Aveiro also has a wealth of more traditional architecture, such as the Aveiro Museum which is housed in the Convent of Jesus, famous for the spectacular Mausoleum of Princess Saint Joanna and the gilded wooden carving of its interior. Just across from the museum is Aveiro cathedral, a heady mix of baroque and gothic. Less grandiose, but very charming, is the old train station, with its mass of traditional tiling, depicting local scenes.
Without doubt, the most famous local dish are the oves moles, sold in little wooden barrels or wrapped in crusty wafer in the shape of clams. Originally these were produced by nuns, who used egg whites to starch their habits and found themselves with a lot of egg yolk at their disposal. Today, these sweet creamy treats can be found at the Aveiro Pastry Shop. As you would expect from a city so close to the sea, seafood is fresh and plentiful. The best place to experience what is on offer is the Praça do Peixe fish market, which has a second floor restaurant with views over the canals. Here you can try Feijoada de búzios, a bean stew with sea snails.
There are literally dozens of delightful parks in around Aveiro and they offer tranquil relaxation when your energy levels start to dip. The Jardin do Rossi’s is a canal front park with lawns and palm trees, a great place to read a book or snooze a little. The Parque Infante D Pedro is conveniently central and features a lake, picturesque bridges and winding, flower bedecked pathways.
Lisbon and areas of central Portugal can become uncomfortably hot in the summer months, but summers in Aveiro are usually warm and dry with clear skies. The best time to visit is from mid June to early September.