About Viana do Castelo
Situated close to the mouth of the river Lima, 65 kilometres to the north of Porto and 50 kilometres from the Spanish border at Valença, Viana do Castelo was founded in the thirteenth century by D. Afonso III, the king of Portugal, under the name of Viana da Foz do Lima.
The sea was always the main reason for Viana do Castelo existence: at one time it had 70 merchant ships and, in the period of the Discoveries (in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries), carracks and caravels set sail from the shipyards of Viana to follow the sea routes to India and North and South America, returning laden with sugar, ebony, ivory and other exotic goods. A native-born son of Viana, João Álvares Fagundes, pioneered the navigation route to Newfoundland in the North Atlantic. Without knowing it, he was to pave the way for the beginning of the cult of the many different ways of cooking cod in Portugal.
What to do in Viana do Castelo
There are fine buildings around the vast main square, Praça da República. In the center is a Renaissance fountain, and facing it is the former 16th-century Town Hall (now used for exhibitions) with three wide Gothic arches, and the Renaissance Misericórdia Church and Hospice built in 1598.
From the square, Rua Sacadura Cabral leads to the 15th-century Parish Church (also known as the “Sé”), with a Gothic doorway with reliefs of the apostles.
The Municipal Museum is housed in an 18th-century palace and holds a fine collection of rare ceramics, furniture from Portuguese India and Moorish Spain, and archeological finds.
Standing on the Hill of Santa Luzia is the massive domed Neo-Byzantine Santa Luzia Basilica, modeled on the Sacré Coeur in Paris. Three rose windows illuminate the interior and frescoes, and there are exceptional panoramic views from the top.
On the same hill are also traces of a Celtic settlement and a pousada with a beautiful view of the sea.
Viana do Castelo is especially popular in the summer for a splendid beach nearby, the beach of Cabedelo, reached by ferry from Avenida dos Combatentes, the town’s main avenue. Also popular is the beach of Vila Praia de Âncora to the north.
What to eat in Viana do Castelo
Indulge yourself in the distinctive flavours of the Portuguese kitchen at restaurants along the riverside esplanade. Viana do Castelo 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.