by Alice Mariscotti-Wyatt
It seems like every country needs their own version of Venice. There’s Amsterdam, the ‘Venice of the North’, Alleppey in India is ‘Venice of the East’. Even the UK has a version of Venice. It’s Birmingham, apparently.
So I thought I’d check out Portugal’s Venice; the small town of Aveiro, about an hour south of Porto.
First, I’ve got to ‘fess up. I’ve not actually been to Venice. So I’m no expert, but I suspect Aveiro’s three canals are no real rival to the “Floating City”. But while Aveiro might be lacking in grandeur and scale it does have plenty of charm, with endless quaint tile-coated houses, an intriguing art scene and a nice compact size. Oh, yes, and their traditional boats cost far less to ride than your average gondola.
So if you want to check out the waterways, here’s what you have to see in Aveiro.
Take a Boat Trip
You have to take a boat trip. There’s really no avoiding it. But the good news is the ticket sellers hanging around the Jardim do Rossio area will happily sell you passage on the boats for between €4 to €7 per person. And because we visited on an unfortunately grey day, we got our boat to ourselves for that.
The boats are called Moliceiros and they used to be used for harvesting seaweed. They look pretty on first glance, and then you might notice something slightly risqué happening in the hand-painted decor. Or blatantly risqué. For reasons of tradition, we were told. I stuck to photographing the PG versions, so you don’t need to cover your children’s eyes just yet.
For our tour, we sailed up and down the canals learning about various figures of importance in the town, the salt trade and why the houses are tiled (to protect them from the salty sea wind). We also were given a gift of some of Aveiro’s artisanal salt.
Eat Ovos Molhos
These traditional sweets are advertised everywhere around Aveiro, and if you have a sweet tooth you’re going to love them. They’re made from egg yolk and sugar, encased in a thin white wafer wrapper. They’re delicious, but trying to eat one as well as a pastel de nata turned out to be too much custard, even for me.
Visit the Art Noveau Museum
Silly me for not connecting Portugal with art noveau before, but in Aveiro it turns out it was all the rage in the mid-20th century. The Art Noveau Museum is set inside one of the finest examples in the city, Casa Major Pessoa.
Inside you’ll see some more of Aveiro’s celebrated handpainted tiles, decorated with art noveau’s natural motifs, naturally. On no account should you miss out on a cuppa in the Casa de Chá tearoom. It’s a great spot for cake and coffee in the day, and transforms to cocktails and ambient electronica for the evening.
You’ll be pulled deeper and deeper into the narrow streets of Aveiro, chasing after ever more detailed tilework on the traditional fishing houses. Bits of Aveiro can feel run down, but the colourful tile-clad houses don’t lose any charm.
If all the sightseeing has you hungry there’s one obvious place to head in Aveiro: Praça do Peixe (Fish Square). The covered market forms the centre piece of the square, while around the the edge is non-stop restaurants, making the most of the freshly caught produce. Eels are popular, as are dishes with Cod and Lamprey.
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