ROTA DA LUZ
Where the plain seduces the mountain
In this region, located south from Porto, coastal irrigated plains mingle with high granite Mountains, like no other place in Portugal. Even in the district's capital, Aveiro, the mix of water, earth and sea could not be more perfect, for the canals of the "ria" (drowned river valley) enter the city, as if they were liquid avenues.
Raul Brandão once said that the Aveiro "ria" was "a big coral with its arms stretched to the inland", since "the waters of Vouga and Águeda rivers and their tributary rivers flow to the sea, irrigating the low lands", transforming the city in a sort of Venice cut by the canals. There are no gondolas here, only "mercantéis" and "moliceiros", typical traditional boats, which are now used for tourism and ethnographical purposes. In the past, these boats were employed in salt extraction and in the collection of "moliço" (underwater vegetation used as natural fertiliser). The traditional décor of "moliceiros" boats with colourful paintings of popular taste seemed already to prepare them for tourism-oriented goals. Besides, Aveiro is a modern city that has one of the most dynamic Portuguese universities.
Nature has distributed fine-grained sand beaches in the coastline and green mountains in the inland. Ancient places like Arouca connect these areas, bringing together the monumentality of the monastery and a rural environment. Arouca is delimited by one of the cleanest and wildest rivers in Portugal, Paiva River. It is needless to say that this is the paradise for canoeing and related sports. In the coastline, the beaches of cold angry waters have the peaceful lagoons of Aveiro "ria" behind. In the middle of them, lay the colourful traditional constructions called "palheiros", which can be seen in Costa Nova and Mira, for instance.
The north part of the district is densely populated, concentrating most part of the renowned industries. You must visit the Hat Museum in São João da Madeira and the Paper Museum in Feira. This city has one of the most beautiful castles of the country, which has been recently restored. You must also bear in mind the century-old tradition of china production of Vista Alegre factories. The contrast between mountain and sea provides a rich gastronomic menu: fish and seafood; fish stews, eels cooked in vinegar and meats. Arouca veal is internationally famous, as well as roasted kid in the oven. There are plenty of convent-based sweet specialities: soft eggs; sublime sponge cakes such as the ones baked in Ovar and Arouca. In this locality, you can taste egg chestnuts, sweet "morcelas" (typical U-shaped sausages); almond bagels, "barrigas de freira" (nuns' bellies) and "manjar da língua" (sweet speciality made of cow's tongue). In Ílhavo, you must taste the "folar" (sweet bread with boiled eggs inside), in Oliveira de Azeméis Úl bread, and in Santa Maria da Feira "doce fogaça" (sweet bread).
In terms of environment, the region has two parts, both them pretty welcoming. The interior has grandiose landscapes, sometimes covered by snow, such as Freita Mountain with the impressive Frecha da Mizarela waterfall, as well as some geological curiosities like the so-called "reproducing stones" and picturesque villages. In the coastline, the main highlights are: the Natural Reserve of São Jacinto Dunes and thanks to the Bioria project, the Low Vouga Lagoons in Salreu, located in Estarreja district, which is a protected environmental zone where you can observe numerous species. They chose the irrigated zones of the former rice fields to seek for shelter and food.