One of the biggest annual celebrations in Finland is the midsummer solstice. The fact that we sailed into new country just at midsummer felt like a proper thing to do for celebrating the year’s longest day. And so Suwena sailed from Spain to Portugal. Of course, later we will return to Spain further south but now it’s time to focus on adventures in Portugal.
We had eagerly waited for a longer sailing distances as in Galician shorter trips we have had favorable winds and we enjoyed having sails up a lot there. But we did not get what we wanted. The wind forecast changed and there was no wind at all on our departure day. So, we falled back to our iron sails for the whole 34 nautical miles to Portugal.
The day was wonderfully sunny, and I went sunbathing to a foredeck. Just as I was about to fall asleep in the monotonous sound of the sea, I woke into the increasing engine noise. As I was half sleeping and my first thought was that someone is approaching us at full speed. I was a bit shocked before I understood that Andrus was cleaning the engine by running it at full throttle. Usually about once a month Andrus runs the boat WOT (wide open throttle) for 10 minutes as preventive maintenance that removes excess carbon deposits and prevents cylinders glazing.
The marina of Viana do Castelo is on the river in front of the town. There is space only for five bigger boats and of course for several smaller ones behind the opening bridge. Rest of the visitors must moor alongside of the floating pontoon on the river. That is all good but The Atlantic swell will enter the river at high tide.
Behind us several other boats were arriving from both north and south at the same time. We got lucky because we got the last med-mooring berth behind the bridge. Especially as we wanted to spend several days in Viana.
During our stay boats arrived every day to the river pontoon and rafted up. And every evening there was quite a swaying in these rafts when the waves from the Atlantic arrived from the sea. It also looked like every evening different boats were rafted up. I guess the experience of visiting Viana depends a lot on if any berths in internal basin are available.
Viana also felt like an overnight stop for most cruisers. We fortunately stayed longer as the town surprised us nicely. Our intent was to stay 4 to 5 days in Viana do Castelo and thus we took advantage of the weekly rate which cost us like 4.5 days if paid separately.
From Viana do Castelo we found a very charming old town. Its historic center with gorgeous 17th century villas and cobbled shopping streets together with the lively buzz of locals created nice atmosphere. Especially as we were visiting there during the midsummer celebration of festa de São João. The streets were covered in tables and chairs and every restaurant even half alive had brought out its own barbecue. The smell of grilled sardines and not inconsiderable amount of smoke was floating over the whole town. Live music and various performances were entertaining the people. We of course joined the festivities and had some sardines as well. OMG, we had to keep our jackets hanging on the back deck for several days before the fleshy smell of smoked fish let go 🙂
The town is located next to mountain of Monte de Santa Luzia and you can climb 667 steps to the height of 250 meters or take a ride by funicular of Elevador Santa Luzia that we had to try of course. This funicular is the most modern of the eight still in use in Portugal. It is inaugurated in 1923. The funicular ascends the 650 meters to the summit in just under 7 minutes during which we could enjoy the surrounding scenery. But at the top the views got even better.
The Gothic styling of the Santa Luzia suggests a longer history than it actually has, it was only commissioned in 1904. This beautiful white church is very bright internally because of huge rose windows. Breathtaking are also the views from the roof of the church. First you must take a lift to the top of the ceiling and then continue very narrow and long spiral staircase up to the roof. The stairs are so narrow that there are even traffic lights as it would be impossible to pass.
It felt very special to be walking on top of the dome of the church hall. It even got a bit uneasy feeling, just imagine when the stones of dome start falling down under our feet and we will drop though the floor. You could not know that down below there was an ongoing church service.
The scenery in every direction was worth the effort of climbing up. Limia river valley to the east, center of town to the south and in the west the Atlantic beaches continued as far as we could see. Some say that this is the finest panoramic views in the whole of Portugal.
When we planned our sailing route, we just could not make up our mind, should we stop in Viana do Castelo or not? Fortunately, we came. We really liked the town and its people. This was an amazing start to our adventure in Portugal.