This impressive town of Viana do Castelo is about 16 miles further north and is the biggest population centre on the coast. The Romans called this port at the mouth of the Rio Lima ‘Pulchra’ or ‘Beautiful.’ It may be hard to justify this description after a short drive through the new town, but there is no doubt that the old town is one of the finest in Portugal. Many of the buildings here date from Viana’s heyday in the 16th and 17th centuries, particularly those around the attractive Praca da Republica with its Renaissance fountain, the Town Hall and the Casa da Misericordia, an unusual late Renaissance hospice with open loggias supported by grotesque caryatids (architectural supports in the place of pillars usually sculptured females). The part of town between the Praca and the promenade is worth a closer look as there are many Manueline features to identify.
In the third week of August, the baroque Nossa Senhora de Agonia chapel in Rua do Rego is the setting for one of Portugal’s most popular Romaria’s, for which the women wear bright, colourful, embroidered costumes. This is the biggest of the region’s folk festivals, three days of processions, stunning local costumes, music and dancing and much feasting, culminating with fireworks on the bridge.
Some of these costumes which are heavily embroidered, and a display connected to linen production in the area, from field to loom, are attractively exhibited in the Museu do Traje which is situated in the Praca da Republica.
The Museu Municipal is worth visiting for the 18th century palace in which it is patially housed, with its impressive azulejos, as well as china and furniture, art and local archaeology.
A ferry crosses to the splendid Praia do Cabelo beach during the summer months.
One of Viana’s distinctive landmarks is the Monte de Santa Luzia some 5 kilometres north of the town. A neo Byzantine pilgrims’ church with a fine view can be reached by car or by an old funicular railway. If you are wealthy enough to stay in the luxury Santa Luzia hotel you will be able to enjoy some marvellous views. I have only stayed here once on business and the views are amazing and it is probably worth paying over the odds for a room with a view. You can see the arc of the bay with waves of azul, turquoise and shades of green bobbing about in front of the opposite side of the ocean which is a backdrop of red topped houses and hotels surrounded by splashes of green from the undulating hills and vineyards beyond.
For market lovers there is an all day Friday agricultural market selling everything from furniture to birds to all kinds of fresh foods. You can find this scene of colour and vibrancy in Campo da Agonia.