In the 16th century, Portuguese explorers were among the first to sail across the Atlantic and set up trade with the New World. Around 1520, a local ship owner and explorer from Viana do Castelo named Joao Alvares Fagundes set off on several expeditions across the Atlantic, landing in what is now Newfoundland. The surrounding waters were home to abundant cod stocks, and he soon established fishing settlements and began importing cod to Portugal. The low-fat fish was called bacalhau by the Portuguese, and it proved to be ideal for long-term storage. Ships filled with cod sailed back across the Atlantic to be salted and air-dried, after which it could be stored indefinitely.
These days, things are a bit quieter in Viana, but maritime industries like ship-building and fishing still survive. A walk through the city reveals a mix of architectural styles, from Late Gothic and Baroque in the old city center to Art Deco and Modernism as you near the waterfront. With the Lima river on one side, and the Atlantic on the other, it’s a great place to relax on a bike or just meander along the miles of waterfront paths. A road trip north will take you through villages, past centuries-old stone windmills, and provide gorgeous views of the rugged coastline. There’s much more to see and do here than I could fit in a winter weekend, but it was a great introduction.