Vila Praia de Âncora: a ‘cool’ place to visit

Friday, September 20, 2019, 23:00

A view over the bay of Vila Praia de Âncora from the fort

Let's suppose that you don't have a swimming pool – after all most people don't, do they? Nor do the majority of hotels and AirBnBs. So, when it is hot in the Minho, what do you do?

"Ah but..." I hear you cry before I have a chance to explain, "We're talking about the north of Portugal. Surely it doesn't get hot there?"

Well, you'd be surprised. Despite the mistrustful opinions of prominent climate deniers, global warming seems to be affecting the north of Portugal just as much as elsewhere and it can get pretty hot. So, when the temperature is in the high 30s and you are sweltering, where can you go to cool down? Clearly from my picture you can hope it's a cloudy day in Vila Praia de Âncora and go there!

To find out more about this seaside town, and to see a more encouraging picture, click here.

Let's have another look. That's better, isn't it? Under a clear blue sky, there's a pale cream strand where the River Âncora enters the Atlantic. Is that what you're looking for?

The cream sand at the mouth of the River Âncora

As you can see there is a wide sandy bay where you can bathe and play safely with children. Pop into a shop, get yourself a bucket and spade and start building castles with moats or making a landscape of canals, lakes and reservoirs. Idyllic!

Not your cup of tea, after all? What about bringing a beach ball so you can play at catch or at keeping it up in the air as long as possible? Or if you're really brave, of course, you could puzzle the locals by finding some sticks, making a wicket and playing cricket with a tennis ball!

Maybe you don't have children and what you really want is to get away from the hurly burly and childish screams of delight. In that case you can take the wooden walkway over the dunes to the exposed Atlantic coast where there's a huge sandy beach and breakers rolling in from the west. Sail out from here and it's next stop America.

The long seaward beach over the dunes

If you are an adult - one with common sense - you can swim here. However, you must take safety seriously because the Atlantic is not an ocean to be trifled with. The onshore currents can be lethal. I've known them so strong elsewhere that they can strip almost a metre of sand from the seaward stretch of a beach.

Such circumstances bring out the child in all of us: O.K., I really mean in me but I'd lay bets that most of you still have a child lurking within you too. I find jumping on the edge of the sand shelf and sliding down the edge irresistible, though I'm not sure that it is an ecologically sound thing to do.

Put that child aside when it comes to swimming, though. Even when the water appears calm there can be dangerous currents and undertows out there. Paddle by all means, even swim on an incoming tide as long as you stay in the shallows and always pay attention to beach guards and warning flags.

Pink and yellow spring flowers on the succulents

If you do take a stroll over the dunes, which in spring are bedecked with yellow and bright pink succulent flowers, make sure to stick to those wooden walkways. Intruding feet breaking down the structure of the dunes is definitely anti-social. They are the Minho's defence against the ocean and must not be eroded

Had enough of the beach? Now what else can you do?

How about a walk to the north end of the town? Here where the sand has given way to rocks jutting out to sea, the ocean roars in with spray and spume. At low tide you can boulder hop amongst the rock pools looking for wildlife. Mind you, spring, autumn and winter are probably better times than summer to go searching. At the hottest time of the year, the seaweed can be bleached white by a searing sun and the pool water is probably too warm for any but the most robust shells and crabs.

Rock pools in the foreground and breakers rolling in from the ocean

But by now, after castle building, swimming and rock pooling, I expect you are getting hungry. All along the front at Vila Praia de Âncora there are dozens of restaurants. This is the place to go if you fancy a seafood lunch – shrimps and mussels, sea bass, octopus... You choose. And after lunch, if you're tired of the beach and the sea, you can wander into town for a post prandial coffee in the main square. Purple, red and pink petunias are planted everywhere here beds and hanging from baskets clustered like topiary trees. Have you ever seen so many together before?

The central square full of red pink and purple petunias

And just look at the parish church! Petunias are clambering all up the front and over the top of the door!

Petunias clambering up the church

Ah the church! If you fancy a few moments of quiet reflection, a time to gather your thoughts before venturing out into the fray again, this church is welcoming in its simplicity. The folk of Vila Praia de Âncora have not lavished on their church the numerous side chapels decorated with excessive gold painted baroque twists and twirls that you see in other towns and cities. They have left the walls plain white and soothing to the eye.

Inside the parish church

Lift up your eyes, if not to the hills of the psalm from whence cometh help, at least to the ceiling and you will find paintings that give you food for thought while you recuperate

Paintings in the ceiling of the nave

Are you better now and ready to face the world? What more is there to do? Well perhaps not a lot because this is a seaside town where people flock in summer to let off steam, frolic in the surf and do all the things they've been unable to do for the rest of the year. Vila Praia de Âncora is not essentially a historic town with old streetscapes and museums to visit but there is still the odd interesting building. For example, I rather like the old fire station, which, by the way, seems to have become the repository of some escaped petunias...

The old fire station

And I love a huge tree which is recognised as of special interest by the Portuguese state. Just look at it dwarfing the nearby houses. This is a Norfolk Island pine. It's a long way from its home on an island in the Pacific Ocean. Perhaps the proximity of the Atlantic makes it feel less homesick than an inland location would. I hope so as it has been here since 1886! You may just be able to make out from the picture that it is now 45 metres tall. There are many other pieces of information on the plaque – its girth at various heights and so on – but to find all that out you need to go there and see for yourself
A tree of special interest to the people of Portugal, a Norfolk Island pine

I hope this has given you a flavour of a coastal town where you can escape the heat of the interior but if it isn't enough for you, try looking for the humorous picture of the unhappy fisherman having his finger bitten by his catch. That's on the wall of the tourism office. Go inside and they can advise you on what to do.

Humorous wall painting of a fisherman on the wall of the Tourism Office.

Well I'm off for an invigorating dip. Next time it's hot, maybe I'll see you there!

Do you have a favourite seaside town?  If you have, why not tell us about it? (If you are Portuguese, please feel free to write in your own language. You don't have to write in English. Lembre-se: o que é importante não é a língua mas a contribuição.)

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