JOIN THE BIG ARTY PARTY! Portugal's Old Capital Buzzes with Art and a Thrilling Social Scene

Article excerpt

Byline: by Victoria Gooch

YOU might not expect to find a corner of New York in an ancient city barely 30 miles from Porto, but here it is, in a former textile factory, in Guimaraes.

Wandering into this unassuming building, I find a gleaming new blackbox theatre, production studios and exhibition spaces. Guimaraes, the first capital of Portugal, is having a resurgence in 2012, thanks in no small part to its new status as a European capital of culture. With cultural figures including Jean-Luc Godard and Manoel de Oliveira heading its way to get involved this year, the 'cradle city' is swiftly becoming a rocking one.

Once the hub of Portugal's textile industry, the threads of a new kind of town are being woven together by one of the youngest populations in Europe -- half are under 30.

In designer shades and skinny jeans, the university city's youth gather in the old town's cobbled squares to drink espressos and, as I see later, dainty glasses of regional brew Super Bock. But while a fizzing social scene is centred around its heart, in recent years its young entrepreneurs have turned their attention to its semi-derelict industrial zones.

Many factories were left vacant after cheap overseas labour lured business away in the Nineties, but there is little sign of a decaying town in dire economic straits.

The Centre for Art and Architecture Affairs, a factory turned cooperative, is part of an explosion in the Guimaraes arts scene. Local architect and the gallery-cum-theatre's director Ricardo Areias was quick to spot the opportunities opening up on his return from studying and working in New York.

'It was the right time to come back: Guimaraes is an exciting place to be right now,' the 34-yearold explains to me over canapes and his family's own vinho verde.

A slender young woman dressed in black wanders over to join in, adding in near-perfect English: 'Young people would move to Porto after leaving school, but I think that's changing and they're coming back.

'The social scene here is terrific -- you've got places like this opening up, plus bars and clubs that will be packed until five or six in the morning -- but it's also an affordable place to live, and they're finding it's a great place to raise a family. …