Vila do Conde: The City of Lace Making

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The delightful beach resort town of Vila do Conde is on the estuary of the Ave River, just 27km north of Porto. It has several excellent beaches as well as a harbor and was the ship-building center during Portugal’s Golden Age of Discovery in the 15th and 16th centuries. It is dominated by the huge edifice of the Santa Clara Monastery which is situated on the hillside above the river.

The downtown district of Vila do Conde has a number of historic monuments including several ancient churches. Some of the winding cobbled streets have houses which date back to the 1500s such as the well preserved Rua da Igreja Street where the magnificent Matrix Church is one of the highlights to visit.

Visitors will be charmed by the authentic medieval town center with its bustling Friday market, the busy fishing harbor and the golden sandy beaches which are ideal for family vacations. The town’s main claim to fame is its lace making industry and this ancient and skillful craft is kept alive from generation to generation by the Escola de Rendas, or lace-making school. Part of the school is given over to a fascinating Lace museum, an interesting place to visit. Handmade lace goods can be found throughout the area and make beautiful gifts and unique souvenirs.

Things to Do in Vila do Conde

The impressive Santa Clara Monastery was founded in 1318 and was completely rebuilt in 1778. It is a magnificent building to tour with a guide and visitors can see the tombs of the founders, Dom Afonso Sanches and his wife Dona Teresa Martins. One of the most awesome sights is the 5km-long aqueduct which was built to bring water to the monastery. Many of the 999 arches are still in evidence and mark the original route. Interestingly, the builders purposely designed the structure with 999 arches as it was believed that 1000, being such a perfect number, would offend God. Despite its length and impressive history, it seems to only feed the small fountain in the cloisters!

Visitors will find plenty of things to do in the old town of Vila do Conde. The 16th century Matriz Church has a decorative portal in an ornate Manueline style of architecture and is typical of the sculpture found in Vila do Conde. The town also has an interesting museum and a bird sanctuary. A visit to the huge Friday market is an education in itself with its crafts, local produce and fresh foods.

Beyond the town, the beaches offer plenty of traditional seaside activities and things to do. The nearby resort of Povoa de Varzim, just 3km north of Vila do Conde, has superb beaches and a lively nightlife.

Local Food and Drink

Local cuisine is typically Portuguese in Vila do Conde with plenty of fresh fish and seafood on offer. Spices are also an important part of local cuisine, as they were introduced by Vasco da Gama after his voyages. Sardines and bacalhau, which is salted codfish, are the mainstay, along with lobster, hake, salmon, trout and prawns.

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