The first place of our Proto trip was Vila do Conde, 25km to the north of Porto, where we had stayed three nights during our 4-day trip to Porto. Since we arrived in the late afternoon, after checked in, we went out to look for a place for dinner.
Located next to the mouth of Ave river, Vila do Conde is a resort town that has a rich maritime history. It used to be a shipbuilding town, assembling vessels that carried Portuguese influence to the other continents. Nowadays, its main industry is tourism. In the warm weather, it is the popular beach resort for the Portuguese.
The town centre
It was in late spring. The air was still quite chilly outside. Vila do Conde isn’t a popular tourist destination at this time of the year. We strolled through the centre of the town. On each side of the narrow streets are stone houses, neat and tidy. The sky was getting dark, and the street lamps were still not lit. Walking on the slippery cobbled-stone streets, we only heard the echos of our footsteps.
The church Igreja Matriz
However, as we wandered through the town, we spotted some interesting sights that full of Portuguese charm.
In the heart of the town stands the church Igreja Matriz. The construction of the church began in the last years of the 15th century. It lasted almost all the 16th century. In the 18th century, the Mother Church was adorned with gilded altarpieces. And at the beginning of the 20th century, stained glass windows coming from France were installed.
The money for the church came from the maritime exploration during the 15th and 16th centuries.
Santa Clara Monastery complex
Not far from the Igreja Matriz, the Monastery of Santa Clara dominates the skyline of Clara Vila do Conde. This impressing monastery was built in 1319 and is associated with the birth of the city. Thanks to some restoration work, the church and cloister are still well-preserved.
Aqueduct of Santa Clara
The Aqueduct is the second largest Portuguese aqueduct system. Built between 1626 and 1714, it includes 999 arches stretching for 4 kilometres from the spring of Terroso in the suburban area in Póvoa de Varzim to the Santa Clara Monastery complex in the municipality of Vila do Conde. At that time, the aqueduct system solved water supply problems in the territory of Vila do Conde.
Dinning in the modern seafood restaurant
As the weekend gateway from Porto, Vila do Conde has many unique restaurants, from stylish bistro serving fresh fish on ice, main square’s delicious steaks, to grilled seafood at the riverfront restaurant, this place offers delicious food.
The surrounding was so calming that we did not realize that it was getting dark. Luckily, we found a nice seafood restaurant on the beach. The restaurant is called Caximar and has a marvelous ocean view. We also enjoyed our seafood dinner and the Portugueses Green Wine, while watching the crashing waves at the beach.
Vila do Conde has two contrasting characters. Other than the quiet old town located on the banks of the river, there is the neighbouring Póvoa do Varzim offering some great sandy beaches along with pleasant avenues, gardens, and cafes.
Vila do Conde’s beaches, for example, Praia do Forno and the Praia Azul, are some of the best in northern Portugal. Its beach area with rocks and coarse sands make the town more attractive.
During the low season, there was no single life sign on the beach. Another site in the beach area is, for example, the pentagonal Fort of São João Baptista. It once served to protect the shipyards and harbour at the mouth of the River Ave from pirates and privateers.
On the other day, in the late afternoon, we passed a beach near Vila do Conde before returning our hotel. The dazzling sand on the vast open beach was sparkling in the golden sunset. The gentle Atlantic waves were washing the golden sand. We enjoyed the peaceful moment and breathed the smell of saltwater deeply. Looked out far into the ocean, we felt that the calm was residing over us again.
Other interesting sites
We were very happy to spend some time on the first day of our trip to Vila do Conde without planning for it. This place, in general, is overlooked by foreigners. We did not include the visit to this place in our original itinerary. Therefore, we did not have enough time to explore it later during the weekend.
Being a traditional old town, it retains its small fishing port. There are several historic buildings which are also worth a visit. So, if you have time, you should make sure not to miss out on the following sites:
Chapel of Our Lady of Guia
The Chapel is one of the oldest in Portugal. It is at the mouth of river Ave in the Atlantic Ocean and offers excellent views of the sea and the beach at your feet.
The Nau Quinhentista boat
The sixteenth-century Carrack, with 27.50 meters in length, 7.70 meters in width (beam), 4.75 meters in height, is a replica of a Portuguese ship from the early 1500s for North Atlantic routes. It demonstrates techniques used to build ships for larger load capacities during the phase of Portugal’s Empire. Its interior shows the life on board at that time, such as crew rooms, storage rooms of goods, the layout of cartographic material and instruments of aid to the navigation, etc.
It takes around half a day to see the entire town. Vila do Conde does not have the standout attractions as with those famous day trip destinations from Porto. The lack of tourist nature makes Vila do Conde more appealing because it gives a chance to experience the authentic and real side of Portugal.
Since it is popular among the residents from Porto, the small town of Vila do Conde has many accommodations. I mentioned the Axis Vermar in my Porto itinerary post. It offers an outdoor pool with a sun-lounger terrace and air-conditioned rooms with panoramic views of the North Atlantic Ocean.
In the centre, the Santana Hotel & SPA offers features an indoor pool, a hot tub, and a sauna. The rooftop terrace features panoramic city and beach views.
So, if you are seeking a different beach atmosphere, Vila do Conde is a choice in Portugal.
How to get there from Porto
Vila do Conde is reachable from Porto by the modern Porto metro system. The red line (line B), which heads north from central Porto and the Trindade metro station stops at Vila do Conde.
The taxi is affordable and because the place is not far from Porto. Check the price online to arrange a ride.
The quickest way from Porto to Vila do Conde is to follow A28, which is a toll road. The driving time is around 30 minutes.