When we left Stansted Airport on a six-thirty Ryanair flight to Porto there was a hard frost on the ground and the temperature was minus 3º centigrade and when we arrived less than two hours later in Porto there was a hard frost on the ground and the temperature was also minus 3º centigrade.
It is unusual to get frosts on the west coast of Portugal and this had clearly taken people by surprise and at the airport there were shivering staff on duty to make sure we avoided the untreated icy patches on the short walk to passport control.
Once through we were met by a lady from the car hire company who explained how cold it had been and why this necessitated the wearing of several layers of clothes, a scarf, a hat and a pair of woolly gloves. I have to concede that it was a bit chilly but I have to say that she seemed to me to be exaggerating the effect. Later we were told that on the day before that it had actually snowed and this was the first time that anyone here could remember such a weather event.
After picking up the car we put our watches forward one hour, as you do when you visit mainland Europe, and we set off for our hotel at the nearby town of Vila do Conde. Unusually for me this turned out to be very straight-forward and we drove straight to the town and followed the location instructions that turned out to be completely accurate. Consequently there was no reason for me to get agitated or to blame anyone else for getting hopelessly lost and within an hour of landing we were booked in to the Hotel Santana and settling into our room which was on the second floor and had a good view over the river Ave and the Convent of Santa Clara on the opposite side of the water.
We only had two days in Portugal so we didn’t stay long in the room and we went back to the car and drove the short distance into the town. We were surprised to see the extensive remains of an old aqueduct so we parked the car and went sightseeing.
The Aqueduto do Convento was a sixteenth century structure that was built to supply water to the Convent which was once the largest in all of Portugal but is now being converted into a Pousada hotel, which is the Portuguese equivalent of the Spanish Paradors. It was cold in the shaded narrow streets but the good thing about this frosty weather was that there was a clear blue sky full of a big sun and out of the shade it was really very pleasant indeed.
After leaving the town we drove to the sea front and were delighted to find an empty golden beach and a big Atlantic Ocean with huge waves crashing in over the rocks that fringed the edge of the water like steadfast guards on eternal sentry duty. It must have been a very cold night because the damp sand was still frozen and it broke with the snap of a dime bar as we walked across the long roaming silver lines which marked the tide line right down to the rocks and the salty spray. I am not really a big fan of beaches and tire of them quickly but in the winter when they are deserted like this I can explore them for hours. The only other people were a jogger or two and some fishermen at regular intervals along the rocks.
Actually it was beginning to warm up and according to a street sign at a chemist shop the temperature was approaching double figures so as it was about midday we looked for somewhere to stop for a drink and choose a bar with outside tables and selected one in the sunshine at the edge of the pavement. This seemed to surprise the young girl at work behind the bar and she apologised as she chipped the ice of the table and wiped it down as she explained that she hadn’t really expected anyone to sit outside this early.
After the sun had warmed us through we left Vila do Conde and drove north to the neighbouring city of Póvoa de Varzim which was once the busiest sea port and had the largest fish market in northern Portugal and still has a busy port today where we could see fishing boats going in and out of the harbour. We didn’t stop at Póvoa but carried on along the coast road adjacent to the wide beaches and arrived in the village of Apúlia where we thought we might look for somewhere for lunch.