Visiting The Centre of Portugal – Experiencing the Aveiro Region – Costa Nova and São João da Madeira

In this post, we’re still in the Aveiro region. The coastal, Costa Nova, and the creative; São João da Madeira.
On a side note – this is my penultimate post. The last will be our final destination, Porto. Thanks for following along…a week-long press trip makes for plenty of adventures, and plenty of adventures = a heap of content. I hope you’re enjoying learning about all the amazing places there are to discover between Lisbon and Porto, and hopefully you’ll consider paying a visit in the future. The experience is certainly worthwhile!

We left the world of Portuguese porcelain behind and soon we were in Costa Nova. The time spent travelling was pretty much identical to travelling to Salpoente the night before…no more than 15 minutes. We first paid a visit to Mercado do Peixe da Costa Nova, a famous fish market along at the start of the boardwalk. Look at all that fresh, glistening fish and slick slippery octopus. There were also black eels wriggling around in a plastic box, filled with a few inches of murky water. One little slimy son-of-a-gun managed to sidewind his way out of the box and onto the counter. We’ll call him Maverick. While I stood in horror (and most likely shrieked) a vendor noticed, grabbed scrappy Maverick and literally put him back in his box. Not all heroes wear capes, you know?
I decided not to include the images for obvious reasons, although at the time I think I tortured instastory viewers. If you were one of those viewers, I’m sorry. There aren’t many things uglier in this life than an eel.
After that bloodcurdling drama, I turned around and noticed the little guy above, completely bored and unamused with what had just happened. Cats are so darn nonchalant.
Anyway, you can tell he wasn’t interested in me. He/she was obviously waiting for some slippery seafood to fall on the floor, or a vendor to turn his or her back, long enough to swipe a fin.

We then continued along the boardwalk to take a better look at the famous candy-striped houses. There are rows and rows of them, all in different colours. The combinations of colour really add cheer to the place. The houses, known as palheiros, which are now rented out to holidaymakers, were originally used by fishermen to store their equipment. They painted them bright colours to stand out against the pale tones of the sand.

Costa Nova is cute. It’s clean, there’s a nice beach and a handful of decent looking restaurants. It’s small though…and if all the striped houses are rented out, I’d imagine it gets quite touristy. It’s nice to visit for an hour or two, just like we did. The perfect place to stop for lunch or a coffee and enjoy the fresh sea air.

For more info on Costa Nova, click here.

Next stop, the creative hub that is São João da Madeira. Pencils, shoes, museums, oh my!
Before we get to any of that, we have to talk about food. We arrived in São João da Madeira and the first thing we did was eat. You know, the usual. Plenty of food, drink and fun. I’ve said it in almost every post, the Portuguese are incredibly hospitable and put on a good spread (as Mother dearest would say.)

We went for a late lunch at Restaurante River, on Avenida do Vale. We enjoyed fresh crusty bread with garlic butter and olive oil to start, with little bowls of what I likened to Spain’s ensalada rusa (mayo, potatoes, tuna and other veg) with a chilled glass of white from the Douro region.

The main course was a hearty Portuguese stew, served this time with a glass of red, also from the Douro region. The stew was heaving with cabbage, potatoes, carrots, blood sausage and plenty of animal bits boiling to bulk it out. One being a sheep’s head. I will admit, the flavours were a  little intense for me.
I tried it, of course (!) but decided to stick with the vegetables. It’s funny…I always thought (and often used to say) “I’ll eat anything, I’m not fussy at all, I enjoy most if not the majority of food” Well, on this trip I learned something new about myself, and also realised I needed to refine that sentence. “I enjoy food and love discovering new dishes. I’ll try anything but sometimes I can be particular about what I enjoy, and from time to time a dish really isn’t for me.”
Better?! Maybe I’m just not an offal girl. Once I’m not an awful girl, I’m OK with that. *snort*
Either way, the team at River are a great bunch of lads, some of the kindest most professional people in the business. Their menu looks excellent and their ratings are very impressive.
We finished with a slice of Ovar sponge cake (Pão de Ló de Ovar) with red fruits and a piping hot coffee.

On to the town! São João da Madeira is famous for its industrial heritage. We first visited Viarco, the town’s pencil factory. And woah, did it renew my appreciation for the humble pencil. These small batch pencils are (mostly) hand-produced, and it takes three months to produce a batch. Crazy! But oh so fascinating to watch. Graphite, wood, ceramics and manpower. We were given a couple of pencils to take home after the tour, which was a lovely gesture. To schedule tours in Portuguese, English, Spanish or French, click hereAbove is the view from the factory window, just before we finished the tour.

The above image was taken outside the factory, right before we headed to our next destination, The Shoe Museum (Museu de Calçado.)

Shoes! Shoes! Everywhere! Behind some glass so I can’t wear….them! This museum is really well laid out. You’ll discover the history of shoes, starting with the style of the very first pairs. Materials used, functionality and decades. Throughout the museum, you’ll discover how the shoe industry has developed in São João da Madeira since the 20th century and experience all the new innovative designs of current Portuguese designers. They have all kinds of shoes. Everything from classic courts to crazy Lady Gaga heels on display.

The following is part of their concept which can be found on their website
The Shoe Museum feeds on collaborations that involve the human universe of the shoe sector, from the worker to the boss, going through tradespeople, shopkeepers, consumers and designers, recovering important individual and collective memories that give structure to the being of communities. It is, therefore, a space in touch with its host community, aiming to divulge its being and its know-how.”

We bid adieu to the world of shoe and moved on to the Oliva Creative Factory, less than a 5-minute walk away. A bright and airy space with smatterings of colour and peculiarity – creativity at its best.

After we perused all the paintings and sculptures, there was a table laid out with all kinds of treats for us just by the front door. Just as well, no one wants pastel de nata prints on the art.

Look at these cute little cookies shaped like hats! They were a representation of the hat museum (museu chapelaria) which we didn’t get to, but when we were leaving we were given a bag with some of the very cute biscuits above (others were shaped like rabbits, some like shoes!) books on the region of all the factories and creative design from the area and a small little handmade hat from the hat museum. Mine is tweed with a pink ribbon. It’s on the shelf in my apartment to this very day. It looks good beside my books.

We enjoyed our museum reception with glasses of Dois Mundos Tawny Port. It was such an interesting and informative day, among some really passionate people. Speaking of port, you know where we’re off to next!

For more information on São João da Madeira, click here.
For more information on Simply B Free Tours Porto, click here.

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