Viana do Castelo, Portugal. Tourism Guide
The beachside town of Viana do Castelo is serenely located between the ocean and the mountains, in the northernmost region of Portugal. Surrounded by fertile green hills and situated at the mouth of the Lima River estuary, the town has a proud seafaring history and was one of the main ports where Portuguese explorers embarked to sail the unknown world during the 15th century.
Today, Viana do Castelo has a thriving fishing industry and maintains a strong connection with the folklore and traditions of the historical Minho province, with unique culinary specialties, decorative handicrafts and lively festivals.
The town’s buildings and monuments are an intriguing synthesis of architectural periods and styles. In the elegant Praça da Republica, the Chafariz fountain from 1553 is highly regarded. Also in this square is the Igreja da Misericórdia, a late Renaissance hospice composed of impressive Roman archways and carved pillars. The town is also home to a bridge designed by Gustave Eiffel. In 2009, Wallpaper magazine called Viana do Castelo “a mecca for modern architecture” in recognition of its ambitious designs, especially the new Municipal Library and Praça da Liberdade.
Only 3 km north of the city centre, Santa Luzia hill offers spectacular panoramic views of the natural landscape. The monumental church of Santa Luzia is located at the peak, as well as the ruins of a Celtic-Iberian settlement.
Along the sparkling Lima River, recreational activities include jet skiing, sailing, canoeing and fishing. Local boatmen offer leisurely trips along the river in their traditional sailing vessels. Exquisite sandy beaches can be found across the estuary, including Praia Cabedelo. Further south, the Carreço and Afife beaches are ideal for surfing, windsurfing and body boarding.
Indulge yourself in the distinctive flavours of the Portuguese kitchen at restaurants along the riverside esplanade. Local gastronomic specialties include arroz de sarrabulho (rice stewed with pork meat and blood) and bacalhau à Gil Eanes (codfish with milk and potatoes). Sample a bottle of the local vinho verde (literally, “green wine”) grown only in the Minho region.
An annual highlight is the Festas de Nossa Senhora d’Agonia in August, when fishermen honour the Virgin of Sorrow so she will grant them a safe voyage. During this 3-day religious festival, pilgrims in colourful traditional costumes weave through streets carpeted with flowers. The procession eventually makes its way to the sea to the sound of pounding drums, the festival concluding with a dazzling fireworks display.
Venturing further out, the surrounding countryside offers a host of sightseeing opportunities: waterfalls, mountains and even isolated chapels marking the pilgrims’ path to Santiago de Compostela in Spanish Galicia.
Viana do Castelo offers an abundance of diversity and tradition. Admire the wealth of history and architecture or simply enjoy the seductive natural landscape of verdant hills and turquoise waters.
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