We decided to spend a day along the coast in the town of Vila do Conde, a seaside resort 25km north of Porto. It’s a town favoured by locals though perhaps not on the day of our visit as it was cool and overcast. Lying at the mouth of the Ave river, it was historically a centre of shipbuilding and seafaring. Getting to Vila do Conde by public transport couldn’t be easier as it’s accessible by metro on Red Line B. From Trindade station we bought tickets to Santa Clara station (Zone 6 single fare €2.80).
Visitors to Vila do Conde have the option of taking the express metro route to Vila do Conde or the slightly slower regular service which calls at each stop. Both are the same price with the express route reducing the one hour journey time by fifteen minutes. The town has two metro stops and as we wished to view all of the town’s main sights we opted to take the slower train to Santa Clara station as the express train does not stop there. Almost the entire journey was above ground so we gazed out of the windows at the passing views.
On arrival at the station we followed a signpost leading us up a steep cobblestone hill to the Monastery of Santa Clara. The imposing monastery is closed to the public but it is definitely worth the exertion of climbing the hill to enjoy the panoramic views of the River Ave below from its viewing terrace.
Running alongside the convent is the Aqueduto de Santa Clara which was built between 1704 and 1714 to carry water a distance of 5 km from the north of the town. Of the original aqueduct 99 of the arches remain intact and it’s an impressive sight to see.
Facing the monastery is the church of the Santa Clara convent, which seemed to look even more photogenic viewed through the arches of the aqueduct with its large bells on display.
After the strenuous effort of climbing to the hilltop we then wandered down a steep, narrow lane that brought us out into the centre of town. On reaching the high street we were surprised at how busy it was with so many people about and passing traffic. The reason for this soon became apparent as we had timed our visit on a Friday when a vast weekly market takes place.
I love a stroll through a market so we were delighted to have the unexpected opportunity of experiencing it for ourselves. A stone archway leads into the outdoor market which is divided into two large sections.
The first was the most interesting with its huge number of stalls selling fresh produce, salted fish and flowers. Judging by the number of visitors and the small size of the town, visitors must come from far and wide for a trip out and to stock up on fresh market produce.
The second section contained stalls selling locally made lacework and embroidery alongside general household goods and textiles. Despite it being a well attended large event, the market was well organised with a separate entrance and exit to help with social distancing.
Spots of rain could be felt so we decided to have a slightly earlier than usual lunch and my cinnamon crepes served with a dollop of cream might not have been good for my waistline but they certainly tasted delicious!
After our lunchtime break the rain clouds had eased so after taking a look at a statue of three men across the road from the cafe we set off towards the seafront. It was quite a distance away but an easy, level walk to the old port.
There was little evidence of activity with several small fishing boats tied to the bank with their nets drying along the sea walls. A 16th century replica sailing ship, the Nau Quinhentista is moored in the harbour. Closed temporarily, this museum ship can usually be visited at a bargain price of only €1.
We continued slightly further along to a small boat harbour before turning around and exploring in the opposite direction along the Avenida do Brasil promenade. The numerous beaches form an almost continuous stretch and are sandy and interspersed between rocky outcrops. It appeared that we had the coast to ourselves and we enjoyed watching the powerful waves from the Atlantic Ocean crash onto the rocks.
Further on we reached the Vila do Conde lighthouse and the former chapel of Our Lady of Guidance with its terracotta coloured roof tiles. There’s a viewing platform next to the chapel which we carefully climbed to the top of, but with only a handrail to one side it wasn’t all that safe.
Moving on further still we had arrived at the Fort of Saö Joāo Baptiste which has been restored and is now a luxury hotel. From there we turned inland and made our way back to the centre of Vila do Conde to take the metro back to Porto. As this was the main station we were able to return in 45 minutes on one of the express services which made limited stops.
Do remember that after purchasing tickets they then need to be validated on one of the platform readers before boarding. Do also allow extra time for buying tickets on the Porto metro as annoyingly multiple tickets cannot be added to a basket and we had to make separate transactions for each one which seemed to take ages.
It was late afternoon when we arrived back in Porto following an enjoyable day out. After visiting the tourist hotspots of Guimarães, Braga and Coimbra it made a pleasant change to visit Vila do Conde as it is less developed and has a very authentic feel giving us a taste of the local way of life. On checking my phone, I noticed that our walking tour of the seaside town had exceeded 9 km’s so it was a good excuse to pop into the local bakery for another box of the delicious Portuguese Pasteis de Nata custard tarts.
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