Porto is Portugal’s hard working city on the banks of the wine laden Douro River. Porto is tourist friendly, historic, with many sights, and sips at the dozen Port wine lodges across the river in Vila Nova de Gaia including the Ports of Sandeman, Taylor, Grahams and many more. Porto is a delicious destination for a few days of tours and tastings. We enjoyed our Porto apartment with river views near the Ribeira on Rua dom Infante D. Henrique, by Palace de Bolsa.
Morning is the best time to visit the historic Porto sites, while its cool and maybe too early to start drinking port wines across the river. Sao Francisco Church is a 17th century gothic beauty, honoring St Francis Assisi, the catacombs below are creepy.
Palacio da Bolsa is an extraordinary example of Manueline architecture next door – a grand, lavish Chamber of Commerce, and tribute to Portugal’s bold exploration and craftsmanship. The Arabian room is the piece de la resistance and the commerce folks’ gesture to the church that trade and business run Porto, not religion. The Stock Exchange was here until 1996 before it moved to Portugal’s capital Lisbon.
Climbing the landmark Clerigos Tower is a highlight of Porto, this magnificent 70-meter tower built by Portugal’s Nicolau Nasoni is panoramic, just hope the bells don’t ring while you are inside the 225 twisting stone staircase.
Stroll Rua das Flores, a pretty pedestrian cobblestone street to enjoy a coffee, pastry and the scene. Avenidas dos Aliados is a picture perfect Portuguese square with monuments and beautiful municipal buildings in all directions, plus an imperial McDonalds.
Pop in the Sao Bento Train Station to admire the tile work in the grand entry, then the 12th century Cathedral where Henry the Navigator was baptized, and the old city walls as you near the River.
Walk the grand iron Dom Luis Bridge, built by Paris famed Eiffel’s protégé across the Douro River to Vila Nova de Gaia. This 1880 double deck 500’ expanse across the Douro is the mightiest of the seven bridges of Porto.
Vila Nova de Gaia on the south side of the Douro is home to the great port lodges, Sandeman, Taylor, Graham, Augusto, Calem, Ramos Pinto, Ferreira and more. This is where the sweet grapes that grow on the Douro River Valley come to mature and be bottled. Each house has its own tour and pride.
Graham’s Port is worth the hike – a large port wine company since 1820. Vila de Gaia also has a modern gondola to transport you part of the way to and from the Dom Bridge to the many port lodges. We also enjoyed the small intimate Augusto tour. You can’t go wrong drinking your way through this port.
Evenings in Porto, stroll the Cais de Ribeira where the riverboats tie up and the restaurants pour out onto the waterfront alleys and promenade. Entertainers play music, the locals come out for drinks, and the vibe is so Porto, casual, convivial, authentic. Wine Quay Bar is a casual tapas bar right on the river to have wine from their extensive list, small plates of cheese, olives, sardines and chorizo, and people watch – ask for a squirt gun to chase away the seagulls and pigeons – surprisingly amusing.
Porto’s best cuisine, reserve at Ode Porto Wine House. Its very pricey for Portugal at 3 course $55 plus the $25 wine pairing per person, but the service and setting, request an outside table overlooking the river, are extraordinary – so is the food. For heartier fare head west along the Ribeira toward the sea to Trilhos Do Tomilho for an outdoor dinner of sea bass with lobster and watch the Viking cruise boats embark up the Douro River valley. Our next Portugal trip, we may have to board one of these river cruises.
Hit the Beach if its too hot in Porto during the day, head south west 20 minutes to Miramar Beach, a gorgeous stretch of sand, with a church right on the Atlantic coast. Several beach bar restaurants serve three-course menu lunches for under $10 Euro. Here you can rent a beach tent and chairs for $10 Euro for the day. Showers and free parking are available, though it must get crazy crowded in peak summer.
For a spiritual pilgrimage head an hour north to Braga from Porto.
The village of Obidos is completely encircled by a 45’ tall stone wall. Obidos, which means walled town, is a compact romantic 14th century settlement popular among kings and now couples as a unique wedding spot. Stroll Obidos’ narrow café and shop lined streets of white washed cottages ablaze with flowering vines up to the Castle – which is now a stodgy hotel, then walk around the western perimeter of the high wall for a nice breeze and distance views of the Atlantic (or the fog). Warning: walk the wall only with proper footwear and no fear of heights, then return to Rue Dirieta for a traditional lunch in the cozy Petrarum Domus – their pasta dishes are fortifying after conquering this charming fortress. Skip dessert, back on the cobblestone street, opt for a ginjah -the local cherry liquor served in a chocolate cup filled for $1 euro.