Aveiro – Portugal
Aveiro, often called the Venice of Portugal, is a storybook town where canals wind among historical houses displaying Art Nouveau architecture while others are adorned with traditional patterned Portuguese tiles.
Moliceiros boats, painted in bright primary colors, ply the canals gliding beneath the abundant bridges. The boats are famed for their high pointed bows decorated with paintings ranging in subject matter from religious to sexually explicit and humorous.
Moliceiros originated in the 19th century. They were put to work collecting seaweed and algae from the surrounding lagoons to be used as agricultural fertilizer. The tradition lasted until the 1960s, when chemical fertilizers became available.
Also in the 19th century, Aveiro saw a boom in the fishing trade, especially cod fish which supported the construction of the opulent Art Nouveau buildings that line the canals. To this day, Portugal is said to be the largest consumer of cod fish.
Aveiro surrounds one with beauty: from the patterned black and white stone sidewalks; to the azulejos tiles that adorn the façade of the Igreja da Misericordia Church; intricate murals; bridges; homes painted in hot pink, sunflower yellow, and cobalt blue; and the delightful moliceiros.
When in Aveiro, a one-hour boat ride with a tour guide along the canals is not to be missed. The guides paint a picture of Aveiro’s history, take one past the historic and still-occupied narrow fishermen’s houses, and explain the unique design and ornamentation of the bridges.
To our surprise, Aveiro boasts the first modern outdoor mall built in Europe. The rooftop gardens of olive trees, shaded pathways, park benches, and the mall’s location on the canals are unique. All the major international brands have a presence there.
The covered fish market is the most popular place to buy fresh fish. There is also an endless choice of restaurants serving excellent seafood dishes in the vicinity of the market.
As in most small Portuguese towns, one comes across the most atmospheric sights when wandering the maze of narrow side streets. We came across a visiting Tuna. Tunas are groups of university students who sing while playing mandolins, bandurrias, and guitars. They clogged the little lane with song, music, and festivities while others set to work carving a leg of cured pork into paper-thin slices.
Note: Bandurrias are primarily used in Spanish folk music and date back to the 13th century. The Tunas are from the relatively young University of Minha, located in the historic towns of Braga and Guimaráes.
Allow for a day in Aveiro. We drove from Coimbra to Aveiro in the early morning –a forty-five-minute drive – then to Porto in the late afternoon, a thirty-eight-minute drive.