Granja beach is one of the most aristocratic in the country. Or at least it was, during its glory days. Kings, queens, nobles, writers and poets passed through there, a tribe that made the summer season a social event.
Currently, Granja remains one of the most popular beaches on the extensive coastline of Vila Nova de Gaia, relatively far from the most popular beaches and still with a certain panache reminiscent of past glories.
It is a beautiful place for a family outing, where you can arrive by train and follow in the footsteps of people as remarkable as Eça de Queiroz, Ramalho Ortigão or Sophia de Mello Breyner Andersen.
Granja: a historic beach in the North
The origins of the Granja date back to the 18th century, with the construction of a farm, belonging to the Crosier friars of the Monastery of Grijó, who used it for rest or convalescence during the hottest season.
But it was in the 19th century that the Granja, as it became famous, began to take on real form. In 1860, Frutuoso da Silva Ayres, an entrepreneur, bought the farm, mortgaged and sold a substantial part of the land, kicking off the development of the beach.
Development was fast, becoming exponential when, in 1864, the train passed through Granja, where a station was built. It was there that King D. Luis I stopped, on his way to Porto, where he went, in 1877, to inaugurate the D. Maria Pia bridge.
It was a time of growth for the seaside resort, where a hectic social life and the frequency of high society at the time led to the Granja becoming known as the “bidet of the Marqueses”.
A hotel (today a condominium) was built to meet demand, the Assembly building (another condominium today) hosts the most desired parties, and outdoor games are held in the pine forest. The name of the Granja gains weight and many personalities of the time give it an air of grace.
Ramalho Ortigão calls it the “bijou beach”, Eça de Queiroz also passes by, already keeping an eye on what would be his wife, Emília de Castro Pamplona. Even in the politics of the 19th century, the beach gained a prominent place. The Pacto da Granja was signed there, through which two parties, Historic and Reformist, merge into one, the Progressive Party.
Later, the Granja became the favorite haunt of one of the greatest names in Portuguese literature, Sophia de Mello Breyner Andersen. For many years there she spent her holidays, there she dated her future husband, Francisco Sousa Tavares, immortalizing the Granja in the poem Casa Branca, the same place where the family spent their summer holidays.
In recent decades, Granja beach has turned out to be a bit of a victim of progress. Some atrocities were committed (such as the demolition of the house where Eça de Queiroz’s wife lived until her death) and some dubious constructions appeared. But the charm still breathes among the trees that stubbornly resist.
What to visit in Granja
One of the calling cards for anyone arriving at the Granja is, of course, the beautiful train station. It succeeds the original one, built in the 19th century, and is an extraordinary example of the art that populates a significant part of the national railway heritage.
Completed in 1914, this station has spectacular tile panels by Licínio Pinto and Francisco Pereira, manufactured in Aveiro, at Fábrica Fonte Nova, a reference in Portuguese ceramics.
Avenida Sacadura Cabral
This avenue is, most likely, the artery that best preserves the spirit of what the Granja was like in the past. Part of it starts at the hotel, passes through the historic houses where the Pacto da Granja was signed, and leads to the memory of what the Assembly was like, not without first revealing a spectacular house, today transformed into a retirement home. All protected by a leafy tree. And no traffic.
The half orange is one of the ex-libris of Granja. It is a circular structure, which faces the sea and supports a substantial part of the waterfront, where hundreds of people walk every day. Its staircase has been the subject of thousands of photos and, on calm sea days, it is an excellent place to relax.
It has been, since its construction, one of the great poles of attraction on the beach. The pool has seen successive generations pass there, not only of Granja natives, but also of many people from Gaia.
Currently, it no longer has slides or boards, but its proximity to the sea makes it a place not to be missed. The daily ticket costs between 4 euros (children and seniors) and 6 euros (adults). There are also half-day tickets (3 and 4 euros) and end-of-day tickets, between 17:00 and 18:00 (2 euros).
Where to eat
There is no shortage of places to eat in Granja and surroundings. But the best known is, without a doubt, Barraquinha Nova.
As the name implies, it succeeds the historic wooden shack that served successive generations of “granjolas” (the beachgoers were known as that) and was the inspiration for many of Sophia’s writings, who are said to have spent hours writing there. The menu is eclectic and reasonably priced.
How to get
For those coming from the North, the simplest way is really the train, leaving at Granja station (can be taken at São Bento or Campanhã stations).
Those coming from the south, either on the InterCidades or on the Pendular, can get off at Espinho and quickly head to the beach. For those arriving by car, the A29 is the way to go, taking exit 11, São Félix da Marinha (North)-Granja.