VIANA DO CASTELO is the Costa Verde’s principal resort town and a highly appealing one it is, too, with a historic old centre, good restaurants and, across the river, the Praia do Cabedelo, one of the best beaches in the north. As a prosperous seafaring town, Viana produced some of the greatest colonists such as João Álvares Fagundes, who plotted a route to Newfoundland during the “discoveries” under Dom Manuel, and it was subsequently a departure point for fishing expeditions to Newfoundland’s Great Banks. In the eighteenth century, the town was the first centre for the shipment of port wine to England. The most interesting buildings are a throwback to these times where, unusually for the north, you’ll notice Manueline mouldings around the doors and windows of the local mansions.
Wherever you stand in Viana, the twentieth-century basilica atop Monte de Santa Luzia makes its presence felt. There’s a fun funicular railway to the top; otherwise it’s a pleasant 20-minute walk up the stairs which start just past the hospital – though take note of the inscription at the bottom which translates as “My God help me get up”. However, the effort is worth it because from the top are fantastic views of the coast and Rio Lima.
At the summit there’s a café, restaurant and plenty of picnic tables among the trees. While the basilica itself is of little interest, look for the small Núcleo Museológico at the side, showing a few religious icons. Here is the entrance (marked Zimbório) to a narrow winding staircase that climbs right through the building, past traffic lights laid on during summer to keep tourist hordes in check, and out on top of the dome itself. It’s very narrow, very steep and – at the top – pretty hair-raising when the wind picks up, but the magnificent views are worth every step.