Vividly painted shops in Aveiro
The main gondola depot in Aveiro
Seldom an empty seat on the popular gondolas in Aveiro
Freshly caught and cooked mussels in one of many fabulous restaurants in Aveiro
Ceramics made in Aveiro
An homage to the original boats which plied the canals of Aveiro
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Portugal’s well-kept secret…from tourists

Bravo, Aveiro

After spending a wonderful week in Lisbon, we wanted to see more of the country and planned to drive up the coast to Porto and the Douro Valley.

Rather than zip up north in a couple of hours by using the excellent and comfortably uncrowded highway, we had the time and inclination to stop at various towns along the way. A sterling idea.

So, we checked with some savvy Lisboans who recommended Cascais, Sintra, Coimbra and Obidos. And because Cliff used to be an avid surfer back in his hometown of Sydney, Australia, we added a side excursion to the site of the highest, meanest, deadliest waves in the world, Nazare.

All these fascinating places we wrote about in the last issue of CULTURE. But due to the plethora of special attributes we found in an unrecommended stop (in a city we never came across in any Portugal travel brochure), we decided to devote an entire article to our experience there.

We’re talking about Aveiro, which turned out to be one of our best stops and an extraordinarily pleasant surprise. We recalled someone did mention it in passing, but not by name. Only that there was “a city up the coast that was known as the Venice of Portugal”, but not its name or a word about its considerable and fascinating other claims-to-fame.

Only by a quirk of fate did we go there.

And yes, there were the expected canals, but they were real and had been there for over a hundred years. There were no gondolas then, but workboats called monticeiros, used for harvesting seaweed from the lagoon and Atlantic Ocean (about seven miles away). It was only recently, after the seaweed business had dried up, that someone had the bright idea of making the Venice connection. They turned the formerly lucrative seaweed collecting boats into Venetian style gondolas. Not at all amusement-park corny as it sounded this Venice of Portugal was rather charming. The attractively decorated boats gliding up and down the canals didn’t seem tacky at all. In fact, these Portuguese-style gondolas appeared to be filled with local families who were obviously having a helluva time.

But I’m so enthusiastic about Aveiro, I’m getting way ahead of myself.