Situated in the Centro region between Coimbra and Porto, Aveiro is a charming town famous for its Art Nouveau architecture on an estuary flowing into the Atlantic Ocean. Online and in many tourist brochures, the city of Aveiro is often referred to as ‘the Portuguese Venice’. I’ve never been to Venice, but Aveiro is certainly an enchanting place with its own unique charm and unlike anywhere I have visited before.
After spending the night in Coimbra, I embarked on the one-hour train journey to Aveiro. The first thing to note about Aveiro is its train station, a white building covered in navy-blue azulejos. Boasting mosaics depicting the town’s main sights and important moments in the town’s history, train stations in Portugal are usually architecturally stunning and places to visit in their own right, and Aveiro’s is no exception. Unfortunately, I didn’t take a photo because I was in a rush to sample one of Aveiro’s traditional cakes, the Ovos Moles.
If you have read my other two articles, you may have noticed a recurring theme; the fact that I love – and always mention – azulejos, painted tiles that adorn many buildings in Portugal. As I walked along Aveiro’s Canal Central, what struck me was the quality of light. The sun was shining over the rippling water, bouncing onto the moliceiros (colourful canal boats) and reflecting onto the vibrant and radiant azulejos of the Art Nouveau shops and houses, as people enjoyed coffees and meals on the terraces of the restaurants and cafés overlooking the water under the baking September sun. The pace of life had momentarily decelerated for the weekend and the enveloping silky warm breeze matched the town’s relaxed ambience. Everywhere in the town there was the aroma of roasted chestnuts that accompanies Portugal into the autumn months.
Nestled between Art Nouveau buildings that were sparkling in the sun was another street with cafés and restaurants, where I stopped for yet another
Tosta Mista and Pastel de Nata (Portuguese custard tart), both of which have become obsessions of mine ever since I stepped off the plane in Lisbon. A Tosta Mista is a ham and cheese toastie, but if you ask for presunto instead of fiambre, you get the slightly salty Portuguese cured ham, which, in my opinion, is infinitely tastier. On the menu there was also the famous Tripas de Aveiro, a typical tripe dish from Aveiro. Although tripe is a delicacy of northern Portugal, and I always enjoy sampling local specialities, I didn’t opt for the tripe, as it really isn’t my cup of tea, or as they say in Portuguese, não é a minha praia (it isn’t my beach).
Some of the architecture in Aveiro reminded me of Flemish and northern French architecture. Although the buildings aren’t made of brick, the tops of the buildings swerve, stretch and curl as though every building is trying to outdo those beside it. The deep reds, soft yellows, sky blues and luminous whites of the houses and shops accompanied the calçada portuguesa (Portuguese mosaic pavements) and the deep azure water in the canal.
While in Aveiro, I also visited Costa Nova, a charming coastal town close to Aveiro. I would recommend visiting both places. The bus journey to Aveiro takes you through many villages where locals sit outside of cafés and churrasqueiras (Portuguese barbeque places), before crossing the bridge into the town. Costa Nova is separated from Aveiro by the Aveiro lagoon, where there are salt flats and salt is produced.
Costa Nova is a beautiful place, the wooden façades of the traditional houses and restaurants are contrasting stripes with different colours. On one side is the Aveiro lagoon with a long promenade with bakeries and restaurants. Only a couple of hundred meters in the other direction past the traditional houses and streets is a beautiful long beach with the finest sand and a deep blue sea. The beach felt natural and wild; as I emerged from the cover of the huge sand dunes, I felt the cool breeze from the Atlantic in my hair and the Portuguese sun on my skin. I was the only person there, I felt an immense sense of freedom and walked on the warm sand for a while. The sheer expanse of the beach was breath-taking; the waves were lapping gently onto the shore, and the enormity of the Atlantic Ocean was laid out before me.
After walking around the town, and stopping briefly for a pastel de nata (Portuguese custard tart) and a coffee, it was time to return to Aveiro to catch my bus back to Lisbon. I would certainly recommend visiting Coimbra and Aveiro in one weekend trip, the cities complement each other and are only a one-hour train journey apart. Around four hours after boarding the coach in Aveiro, I arrived back in Lisbon, feeling enriched by my experiences of the past couple of days and happy to be in my Portuguese home.
Photos by the author.