Hands-on salt extraction with spa, city beach, playground, cosy restaurant and an overnight stay in a houseboat
Aveiro is a city between Lisbon and Oporto, which is perhaps not without reason often compared to Venice, even if it only has three canals on which the colourful Moliceiro boats used to cruise, where seaweed was used to fertilise the fields, and now tourists cruise. These boats are indeed reminiscent of gondolas, but I find the omnipresent lagoon landscape in particular comparable to that of Venice.
The Rio Vouga, reaches its mouth here after 148 km and forms the huge marshland and lagoon Ria de Aveiro. This lagoon is constantly supplied with saltwater from the sea and is known for its great variety of species. Aveiro itself came into wealth in the 16th century due to Newfoundland’s high-yield fishing and developed into a comparatively large town, but soon lost its importance and size again due to the silting up of the sea entrances and was in a steady decline until the beginning of the 19th century.
Even the Romans valued the area as a salt extraction area, and the first written sources show that salt was already being extracted in Aveiro in 959. However, the ria changed and the inhabitants tried to control it over the centuries, but it was not until 1808 that this was achieved to some extent and immediately led to a new economic boom for the region. Salt from Aveiro was exported to many European countries. In the 1970s, salt production reached its most visible peak. From 270 marinhas, countless white-hot salt mountains towered up into the sky. Today, only 9 of these 270 marinhas are still in operation, and salt production has lost much of its importance.
For this reason, some of the marinhas have expanded their range of services and offer guided tours and other tourist functions in addition to sustainable salt production. The Marinha da Noeirinha stands out in particular. Easily accessible by a ten-minute walk from the centre of Aveiro, it offers, in addition to the production and sale of salt products, exciting guided tours (in Portuguese and English), a very pleasant foot bath in a salty spa water pool, and a pretty beach with salty lagoon water, a small playground and right next to it a nice restaurant with some very tasty food.
When we arrived at the Marinha, there were thick clouds in the sky, although it was the middle of August. We had already understood that in this region by the sea, the days often start out cloudy and cool. One of the Marnotos, the salt-worker Senhor Alberto, lead us to the many different pools of the Marinha and explained to us vocabulary-wise their function, while our attention was distracted again and again by beautiful birds that stalked through the pools.
He talked about the difference between marinhas and salinas, and about the special nature of the local salt, which undergoes a much longer crystallization process than in warmer areas of Portugal, such as the Ria Formosa, where the water evaporates much faster. The salt here is therefore also has a higher moisture content in the end product, and is therefore more intense in taste. He also mentioned the famous singer José Afonso, who was born in Aveiro and then in 1974 gave the starting signal for the carnation revolution with his song “Grândola, Vila Morena.”
At the end of the guided tour, we looked with fascination at the large salt mountains, the results of a silent process of sun, wind and Marnotos that lasted about ten days. Of course, we also bought fresh salt, which we use enthusiastically for cooking back in Lisbon.
Meanwhile, the sun was shining, the clouds had cleared away, we made ourselves comfortable on the beach. The children were looking for stones in the sand and splashed around in the salt water, which is less cool than the nearby Atlantic Ocean, and we finally sat down in the restaurant and enjoyed the tasty food. There were even vegetarian dishes on offer.
If you don’t want to leave by in the evening, you can now rent one of the houseboats that rock in the saltwater lake. They are very luxuriously equipped and are certainly a wonderfully exceptional place to stay in the middle of Aveiro and yet a little away from the hustle and bustle. Maybe you will spot a group of flamingos in the morning in one of the surrounding pools?
Marinha da Noeirinha
GPS: 40.645515, -8.659566
Daily: 9:00 am – 7:00 pm
For an English speaking tour, you should contact the Marinha staff before your visit, e.g. by phone or via Facebook.
The Marinha’s restaurant has several outdoor seats with direct access to the beach and playground. Some vegetarian dishes are also available.
Definitely to try:
In Aveiro (TêZero) and Costa Nova (Zé da Tripa) you can taste the typical Tripas de Aveiro, a kind of crepe sold with delicious sweet and salty sauces. Don’t be put off by the long queues!