Porto

A Weekend in Porto

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A sip of this lusciously sweet wine gives me memories of this rustic port city this wine is named after.

Also, the azulejos, these distinctly patterned blue-and-white porcelain tiles adorned in most buildings, the enchantingly winding Duoro river with dotted ships, the sumptuous Portuguese cuisine marked with their love for bacalhau, tripes, pastries, port wines, Madeira – all these remind me of Porto.

Duoro River

Porto is the second largest city in Portugal located along the Duoro river at the north of the country. As one of the oldest cities in Europe, and a mercantile one as it has always been, Porto as a city offers various architectural mix of medieval and modern living side by side.

ALSO READ HERE: MY 10 Most Unforgettable Travels in 2013 (Part 2)

The town center showcases soaring bell towers, monumental baroque churches, and stately Art Nouveau buildings. Many of its colorful buildings are built into a cliff face overlooking the river, with narrow lanes and zigzagged staircases running up and down along the cliff. Across the river, the attractive cellars and warehouses of port wine companies are located in this suburb of Gaia.

Me

Porto is also believed as the best place to go to eat. It has some of its finest restaurants in Portugal and their cuisines are generous and divine.

The historical center of Porto was proclaimed a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1996.

Porto Up Close

A short vacation or long weekend in Porto does offer the right combination of enjoyable things. Its gastronomy is a mirror of its cultural diversity and passion for good food. The port wine stands out from other wines thanks to its huge range of variety. There’s also the eclectic hodgepodge of architectural styles – from the Neoclassical to Art Nouveau. And of course, the comfortable Iberian weather anyone will surely enjoy.

Church

There are so many nice things to see, from the beautiful churches, iconic buildings and rustic houses, nevertheless, here are some highlights I recommend not to miss.

Sao Bento Railway Station

The best way to start exploring this historic city such as Porto is by simply walking through its streets. Centrally located in the city and standing proudly at the crossroad is the Sao Bento railway station, where you can feast on a century old traditional azulejos or Portuguese tiles.

Sao Bento train station

Dating back to the 16th century, the train station was built on an old Benedictine monastery, which was originally burnt down in 1783 and its replacement found itself in a serious state of disrepair at the end of the 1900s.

Sao Bento train station

Sao Bento train station

With the ongoing expansion of the railways, it was decided to turn the site into the new home of Porto’s mainline station. With King Carlos I supporting the project, Porto’s architect Jose Marques da Silva was designated to design the building in French Beaux-Arts style. The Sao Bento train station was finally inaugurated in 1916.

Sao Bento train station

Sao Bento train station

Sao Bento train station

In between 1915 and 1916, the most renowned tile painter in Porto, Jorge Colaco is commissioned to put up these 20,000 azulejos. These blue and white tile panels depict scenes from Porto everyday life and history, from King Joao I and Queen Philippa of Lancaster standing by the cathedral in 1387 and Prince Henry the Navigator conquering Ceuta in Morocco, to a representation of the Battle of Arcos de Valdevez and the meeting of the Knight Egas Moniz and Alfonso VII of Leon in the 12th century.

Livraria Lello

Get ready to be mesmerized on one of the magnificent book shops one can ever imagine. Built in 1906, the Lello bookstore was built by the Lello brothers, Antonio and Jose, who also formerly owned another bookstore a few streets away.

Livraria Lello

Livraria Lello is considerably one of the most ornate bookstores in the world. Much of the interiors and its façade are decorated mix of Neo-Gothic and Art Nouveau.

Livraria Lello Source: bookriot.com
1906 photograph of the early days of the Lello Bookstore
Carved wood ceilings, an opulent red staircase, a stain-glassed roof, a built-in wheel barrow on rails used to move hundred thousands of books around – all these will make you feel like coming into a fantasy world. Bookworms won’t go elsewhere any longer!

Livraria Lello Source: portugalconfidential.com

Livraria Lello Source: portugalconfidential.com

Livraria Lello Source: bookriot.com

Livraria Lello Source: bookriot.com

You may somehow think that the interiors, along with the inviting presence of books, remind you of the movie Harry Potter. Interestingly, JK Rowling, the famous author of the Harry Potter series, taught English in the university in Porto and is reported to have gotten inspired writing her book while frequently visiting Livraria Lello.

Livraria Lello Source: portugalconfidential.com

Alongside with that, a few blocks away from the bookstore is the University of Porto where you find students donning their traditional uniforms.

Harry Potter students

A classy getup of black pants or skirts paired with long, knee-length black capes draped around their shoulders – does it now look very familiar to you at all?

Harry Potter students

Majestic Café

If you fancy having coffee in one of the greatest historic cafes in the world, visit the Majestic Café. It was built in 1921 along Rua Santa Catarina, one of the busiest streets in the city center.

Majestic Cafe

The café was originally a place where the city’s most elites meet – politicians, artists, writers. Recently, prominent personalities like JK Rowling and Kubitshek (Brazil’s former president) used to visit the coffee shop frequently.

Majestic Cafe

Its Art Nouveau façade is an inviting sight indeed, but since it has been brought as a spot of public interest, its status as a sought-after tourist attraction can make the café a bit too packed and busy, and its food a bit pricey.

If you get lucky when the café is more relaxed, the Majestic Café can give you an incredible old-feel ambiance you can surely enjoy.

Bolhao Food Market

Mercado do Bolhao is known as a colorful and lively market in Porto that sells basically everything, from household goods to fresh fruits and vegetables.

Bolhao food market

Located in the city center, along the street of Rua Sa da Bandeira, the food market is a two-level covered establishment where you’ll be warmly greeted by flamboyant sellers, along with their huge variety of goods, which that makes this market popular in Porto.

Bolhao food market

Torre dos Clérigos

Built in beautiful Baroque style between 1754 and 1763, the Clerics Tower or Torre dos Clerigos provides the perfect centerpiece in the historical city of Porto.

Torre dos Clerigos

Me at Porto

The tower is very visible, as it is high above the rooftops from many vantage points throughout the city. At 76 meters in height, the ships coming into the Duoro waters on trading routes between Portugal and the rest of the world used this tower as a guide.

Cais da Ribeira

Located on the waterfront and in the center of Porto, Cais da Ribeira is the most picturesque part that offers a myriad of medieval narrow streets and alleyways, with ancient buildings in some stage of decay, old homes of multiple hues guarding over the waterfront and the harbor filled with typical Porto boats.

Cais da Ribeira

Cais da Ribeira

Cais da Ribeira

Cais da Ribeira

Around the corner on Rua da Alfandega is Casa de Infante or House of the Prince, birthplace of Prince Henry the Navigator. Not so far away, you will see Dom Luis I bridge, a double-decked metal arch bridge spanning between the Duoro River between the cities of Porto and Vila Nova de Gaia. The bridge was completed in 1886 by a student of Gustave Eiffel.

Dom Luis I Bridge

Cais da Ribeira at night

Cais da Ribeira at night

The Cais da Ribeira comes alive as the sun sets, when numerous cafés, bars and restaurants bring up the nightlife in the area. Here you can start enjoying local cuisine to get a taste of Porto.

Porto Wines & Cuisines

Porto is one of the best destinations to enjoy Portuguese traditional cuisine. In Porto, not only I enjoyed seafood and fish specialties, but the Porto locals and I have developed the same liking for tripe stew – as such that they’ve become known as “tripe eaters.” It’s called tripas, an iconic local cuisine in Porto, and there are all sorts of versions!

food

food

In the Philippines we have this we call callos, a Spanish-influenced stew with tripe, sausages and chickpeas. I missed it terribly that I ordered that right away as soon as we got a dining table. Call me a full-fledged tripe eater as well.

I also came to enjoy bacalhau, another Porto specialty that consists basically of dried salted cod fish, cooked in centuries-old traditional recipes.

Port wine

The Port wine is the most prestigious local produce of Porto, and we had a good time coming up close and personal with it, by visiting the cellars of well-known Port wine producers. The Port wine is basically a fortified wine usually served as a dessert. It comes both in reds and whites, but the reds are commonly referred to as the typical Port wines.

food

Other Porto dishes to be enjoyed of course are francesinhas, sardinhas, caldeirada de peixe, ameijoas à Bulhão Pato, lampreia, porco preto, caldo verde, egg tart…then sip with equally refine Portuguese wines!

My Travel Notes
How we got there

I actually came to visit Porto for certification training. My husband had also not been to Porto either, so we both decided to stay in Porto for a weekend. After that weekend, I stayed three extra days for the said training while hubby flew back to Switzerland.

So yeah, we flew from Geneva to Porto for around 2 hours, via EasyJet to be exact. The airport is not so far from the city center. Taking the cab, it just took us around 20 minutes getting to either destination.

Where we stayed

We stayed in Mercure Hotel for the weekend, and I moved to Grande Hotel do Porto after, where the training is also held at.

And guess what, Grande Hotel do Porto is such a pretty!

Grande Hotel do Porto

Playground for the nobility and aristocracy from all around the world, a haven for spies, politicians and exiles, a privileged setting for artists, bohemians and intellectuals, the Grande Hotel do Porto is a charming hotel which maintains a dramatic, nineteenth-century, fin de siècle charm, harmoniously combined with modernity, comfort and timeless design.

Grande Hotel do PortoGrande Hotel do Porto

Located in Rua Santa Catarina in the historic city centre within walking distance of shops, services, theatres and monuments, the Grande Hotel do Porto has 94 rooms, all recently modernised and equipped.

What did we do

We first passed by the Majestic Café, Bolhao food market, Sao Bento train station and the Ribeira square. We then went exploring in a rather deliberate fashion and we found ourselves in quaint neighborhoods of narrow alleyways between traditional fishermen’s houses, leading us down a steep slope to the Ribeira waterfront, where we eventually had a few of our lunches and dinners.



Click on the images to enlarge.

Crossing the Dom Luis I bridge, we went to the other side of the river in Vila Nova de Gaia to spend the afternoon exploring port wine cellars. We took a wine tour in Caves Sandeman that let us discover more about Sandeman’s wine tradition and the ageing process. At the end of our tour around its ageing warehouse, we had an opportunity to taste some Ruby and Tawny wines where we also admired its antique bottle collection.

Later on, we took a brief boat tour along the Duoro river. We also visited Torre dos Clerigos and Livraria Lello. And still we went on in getting lost in between small streets in Porto!



Click on the images to enlarge.

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