Almost 200 years ago an entrepreneur and visionary Jose Ferreira Pinto Basto opened what is today known as one of the most prestigious porcelain brands in the world, Vista Alegre Factory in Ilhavo, Portugal. It all started in 1815, right next to the lagoon of Aveiro, when José purchased the mansion Quinta da Ermida. The location was carefully chosen as the soil of the region is rich in the essential manufacturing elements of porcelain and glass, such as fuels, clay, white and thin sands and crystallised pebbles. Soon after, he started expanding the property and in 1824 the iconic factory was established. The patent authorising the operation of the factory was granted, in the same year, by Portuguese King D. João VI.
Vista Alegre has always been more than a factory. José Ferreira Pinto Basto built a whole little village for his workers around it, because the factory was too far from surrounding towns, from which most of them came from. Some houses are occupied by the workers even nowadays. Besides the houses, there is also a theatre, a church, a kindergarten and other leisure facilities for the staff. All of this in a beautiful setting of a neat park and right next to the Lagoon. This park, and the lagoon view are some of the reasons why I never get tired of visiting this place.
Visiting a factory, you may think. How interesting can it actually be. Well, believe me. I visited it probably 20 or more times! If you are thinking of large trucks, warehouses, a lot of noise and heavy machinery, you are all wrong. This place is actually a leafy square with a small picturesque chapel, an industrial chimney is now home to a family of storks, there is a nice café and a unique opportunity to travel through the history. The old factory has been partially transformed into an interesting and modern interactive museum, there is a discreet 5 stars hotel right behind it, and another, new factory establishment nearby.
While visiting the Museum you will not only get familiar with the entire creation process of fabricating of some of the most emblematic porcelain pieces, seeing how they were made from the dough composition until the final boiling, but will also be able to see several internationally awarded pieces, of which some ended up in different royal palaces all over Europe. The most interesting to me was the hand painting school, as Vista Alegre is one of the few industries which still employs specialised artists in charge of the production of prestigious pieces.
Of course, there is a shop inside the complex. If you have never seen a piece of porcelain at 2000 euros or more, this is your chance. If you just want a cute souvenir, there are more affordable options in the outlet store, also inside the complex.
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