Churches -- Sitting fortresslike on a hill, the large, squat Convento de Santa Clara (Convent of St. Clare), on the north bank of Rio Ave Largo de D. Afonso Sanches (tel. 25/263-10-16), was founded in the 14th century. The present monastery was built in the 1700s, accompanied by construction of a 999-arch aqueduct to bring water from nearby Póvoa do Varzim. Part of the water conduit is still visible.
In the upper rooms, you can see relics and paintings collected through the centuries by the nuns. The building is now a charity home. Simplicity and opulence play against each other in a combination of Gothic and Romanesque styles. The plain altar of its church offers contrast to the gilded stalls behind the communion grilles and the ornately decorated ceilings. A side chapel contains 14th-century sarcophagi. One is the elaborately carved tomb of Dom Afonso Sanches, founder of the convent; the feet of his effigy rest on a lion. Also here are the tomb of his wife, Dona Teresa Martins, topped by a figure dressed in the habit of a Franciscan Tertiary nun, and those of two of their children. The convent is open daily from 9am to 12:30pm and 2 to 6pm. Admission is free.
The 16th-century parish church, Igreja Matriz (tel. 25/263-13-27), is also worth seeing. It stands in the center of town near the market. Another national monument is the pillory, opening onto Praça Vasco de Gama. Built from 1538 to 1540, it consists of a graceful column, slightly twisted, which recalls many creations from the Manueline art style.
Lace Making -- Visitors are welcomed free at the Museu Escola de Rendas, the lace-making school on Rua de São Bento (tel. 25/224-84-70). Here you can purchase the finest examples of lace for which the town is known. Vila do Conde guards its lace-making and pastry-making traditions with fierce pride. The Rendas school is devoted to perpetuating the traditions of Portuguese lace making, and it's one of the largest technical schools in the country. Some students enroll as early as age 4 and tend to have completed their technical training before they turn 15. A handful of the matriarchs associated with the school, now in their 70s, remember its importance in their town when they were young girls. You can buy most of the lace made in the school at its on-site boutique. Admission is free. The Museu Escola de Rendas is open Monday to Friday 10am to noon and 2 to 6pm, Saturday to Sunday 3 to 6pm. For more information, contact the tourist office at tel. 25/224-84-73.
A nearby annex, Centro de Artesanato, Avenida Dr. João Canavarro, also stocks lace curtains and tablecloths, doilies, and trim. Most of the lace you'll see here is white, designed according to traditional patterns established long ago. In recent years, however, some limited experiments have been conducted using colored thread.
Pastries & Sweets -- During the 18th and 19th centuries, the nuns of Vila do Conde developed recipes for pastries and sweets that their detractors claimed were thinly masked substitutes for their yearnings for love and affection. Examples of the sweets they invented are still sold in almost every cafe and about a dozen pastry shops in the village. The best known of these pastries are papo de anjo (angel's belly) and doce de feijão (bean sweets). The ones seemingly best appreciated by modern-day palates are the Jesuitas (Jesuits), concocted from lavish amounts of eggs, flour, and sugar. You'll see dozens of outlets for these confections. One of the most appealing is the Pastelaria Santa Clara, Rua 25 de Abril (tel. 25/264-78-92).
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