Aveiro (pronounced 'uh-vye-roo') in the Beira Littoral is usually considered a place to stop before heading north or south to the celebrated beaches, but the town itself is also of interest. Aveiro is situated on the estuary of the Rio Vouga and is surrounded by a system of marshlands that run 50km parallel to the sea. The town's canals, bridges and pastel-coloured houses are somewhat reminiscent of Amsterdam and at the centre of it all is a bustling fish market.
The town of Aveiro was an important medieval port until a great storm in the 1570s saw the mouth of the Vouga silt up, leaving Aveiro stranded in a marshland that heralded fever, rather than prosperity. The population of Aveiro reduced to 25 per cent of its previous size over the next two hundred years. Until the Barra Canal was built in 1808, the future looked bleak. The canal linked the town and sea once more and the marshes drained away, leaving the lagoons that you can still see today. These lagoons provide the town with salt pans, seaweed (for fertilizer) and fish, all of which power the local economy.
The subsequent influx of wealth brought with it Art Nouveau houses and azulejo (painted tile) friezes in the town. In 2004 a new football stadium was built for the European championships, along with upmarket hotels and other related improvements.
The beautiful Convento de Jesus built in the 15th century houses the Museu de Aveiro, a museum dedicated to the Princesa Joana, Afonso V's daughter. She lived in the convent from 1475 until she passed away in 1489 but due to her royal patronage (and because he father denied her the pleasure) she never became a nun. She was beatified because she shunned the material world but some say that she merely wished to avoid an unsolicited marriage that had been arranged for her. Paintings and sculptures depict her life, whilst her tomb is a marble mosaic set upon a baroque chancel that is decorated with azulejos painted with scenes from her life.
Trains from Lisbon and Porto arrive at the station in the northeast of town, and the main centre is a 15-minute walk down the Avenida Dr. Lourenço Peixinho. Unless you intend to visit during the two-week Festa da Ria in late August, you should be able to find a room easily in Aveiro. The Rua das Marnotos has some cheap dormidas, or there are inexpensive hotels dotted around the town centre, and out at the beaches and lagoons.
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