Bayona - Viana do Castelo,Leixoes.9thSept-12th Sept

Chris & Sally Longstaff
Sun 24 Sep 2006 19:44

Viana do Castelo  9th Sept


Fog all the way, until the final few miles, when it cleared to reveal a labyrinth of lobster pots; set unbelievably (it seems on first encounter, but later treated as the norm) as a ‘mine-field’ to deliberately prevent entry to port. Then, having had no wind all day, as we turn to enter Viana do Castelo we are blasted by 30 knots. Not surprisingly the estuary is buzzing with wind and kite-surfers, for whom this is obviously a mecca.


As a first impression of Portugal  Viana do Castelo could hardly be better. Friendly and helpful, the town is also a beautiful mix of the atmospheric historical and the sophisticated modern. Also lots of real shops! Hardware stores crammed with useful looking objects that cry out to be needed aboard (though not permitted). Dancing and music in the Pl. de Republic.


On Sunday we decide to take the train inland (making the mistake of thinking that, like Spain, Sunday lunch would be, by tradition, a long leisurely indulgence. Wrong again. No lunch to be found anywhere at our stop-over train connection.) However our main objective was to see the impressive Baroque Escadaria of Bom Jesus; sanctuary and staircase. Devised by the Archbishop of Braga in 1722 the ‘Bom Jesus’  is both a representation of Christ’s life and an architecturally inspired spiritual experience for the pilgrim / tourist. A series of long paths through the woods emerge at the base of a set of magnificent stone stairways; the first section of five represent the five bodily senses of man. The next three represent Faith, Hope, and Charity. The long climb, which has at intervals individual chapels, with themes such as The Chapel of Darkness, The Chapel of The Crucifixion, together with themed fountains, ascends ultimately to a grand chapel. The whole is supposed to be both a representation of our spiritual journey, and an actual spiritually uplifting experience. Religiously very catholic and overbearing, architecturally  well, not surprisingly, very ‘Baroque’.


The taxi driver who took us from the station is (no doubt intentionally) such a bad driver that he falls effortlessly into that international brotherhood whose members we all seem to have stories about. He drops us off at the very summit, and we rather shamefully, but perhaps significantly, take the easy course, and descend, from spiritual elevation to forest floor. Standing on one of the terraces, mid-way, and looking back, the extraordinary visual impression is of people ‘ascending’, by a series of elevators. It is genuinely very impressive, and quite amusing; I cannot be sure what exactly was intended (especially in an age before elevators!) but am sure that this is by architectural intent and design. 


We return to the physical heights via the water driven funicular railway, which we all agree is a great tribute to the wonders of simple science. We are even allowed to hang limbs dangerously off the side and front, which is the sort of fun we no longer seem to be allowed in England. A great day out!



In sharp contrast to our previous trip we motor all the way in bright sunshine, and arrive in dense fog; which was a bit harrowing, entering Leixoes at the same time as a large ship (not intended). This is our base to explore Porto. Leixoes itself has non of the charm of do Castelo, and unfortunately provides us with our first, and so far only feeling of being ‘ripped-off’; conned into a restaurant on false pretences and charged exorbitantly for a false representation of food ordered