PORTO | A city that shares its name with a drink beloved worldwide has to be good, right? Well, we are here to tell you it was. Paul M, myself and a large group of friends took a jaunt to Porto to sample its namesake drink and visit the stunning Douro wine region. It is here, in the world’s oldest demarcated wine region, that Port grapes are grown and Port itself is produced.
Porto is the magical city where the Douro River flows into the sea. We found the people to be warm and friendly and overall were mesmerized by the city itself. Porto has an old medieval look, but a modern vibrant feel. Porto is Portugal’s second biggest city but is quite compact and with about 240,000 people it’s the perfect place to escape to for a mini break.
We opted to stay in Porto as our base for the weekend and travel to the Douro for the wine tasting. Porto and the Douro Valley are listed as Unesco World Heritage sites and it’s not hard to see why. Our weekend include sampling all varieties of Port, from the white Ports served as aperitifs to the ruby and tawny varieties.
Patricia Alves of ecoTours Portugal was amazing in planning our 1 day wine tour. We had a large group so were able to arrange a discounted rate, but generally the one day tour runs at €80.00 per person. Our guide, Tania and driver met our group right outside of hotel for pickup.
Tania was so accommodating and knowledgeable. As we were leaving Porto, Tania provided us with some highlights about the city’s history. We learned that one of the most iconic bridges in Porto, the Maria Pia Bridge which was built in 1877, was designed by Gustave Eiffel. Harry Potter fans will appreciate that Lello & Irmao bookstore likely provided inspiration for JK Rowling, who lived in Porto and worked as an English teacher for 10 years in the 1990s.
We had a 2 hour drive from Porto to the Duoro wine region, passing through stunning scenery in the comfort of a super plush coach bus. Our tour included a visit to 2 Quintas (“wineries”) and a lunch stop. The Quinta de Seixo is the impressive home of Sandeman, who have been making Port and Sherry since 1790. Our guide, dressed in the Sandeman signature zorro-esque cape took us on a tour of the newly renovated facilities. The Sandeman signature cape combines the traditional outfit of Portuguese students and the brimmed hat of the horsemen from Jerez in Spain where the company also makes sherry. The millions of euros in renovations have resulted in a truly state of the art facility. The vistas from the tasting room are absolutely stunning and offer breathtaking views of the terraced farming that makes the Douro valley so unique.
Our next stop was the Quinta do Tedo, which provided us with the opportunity to experience a small family run producer. In this Quinta, our guide explained that they still stomp the grapes using their feet. Our tour guide had our entire group laughing with his sharp, sarcastic wit. He even, possibly only half serious, invited us all back next season to stomp their grapes for them. The tour was informative and fun and after we finished we were treated to a relaxed tasting sampling of four different ports.
Overall, ecoTours arranged an excellent tour. The tour provided the contrast between a large producer and a more intimate operation. The day had the perfect pace with a good balance of information vs actual tasting.
When you’re finished with all of the wine and Port tasting, there is plenty to explore back in Porto. For shopping and strolling, we recommend the Rua das Flores. It is a pedestrianized street packed with shops and cafes. Shops are mostly closed on Sundays but as most of the street catches the sun it is a perfect place to take a stroll. For a respite, we recommend Mercearia das Flores. Merceraia is a shop-cum-cafe with an excellent selection of Portuguese products for sale and tapas to enjoy inside. Around the corner from Rua das Flores, we definitely recommend Take Away Porto for well packaged, stylish gifts and souvenirs.
From fine dining to cafes, Porto’s dining scene caters to every taste and price point. Menus abound with both fresh seafood and high quality meats.
We had a superb dinner at the Vinum Restaurant and Wine Bar inside Graham’s Port Lodge. Graham’s is perched on a ridge in Vila Nova de Gaia across the Douro River from Porto. Vila Nova de Gaio is where Port producers have to finish off their wines for them to legally be called Port, so there are many branded storage facilities here, one of which is the independent, family run Grahams. Upon arriving at Graham’s we were greeted with a signature welcome drink, the Porto Tonico (white port and tonic water). It was the perfect accompaniment to enjoy the impressive view overlooking Porto. Since Vinum opened in 2013, it has been winning awards as a wine restaurant. The wine we selected, the Altano Douro from Symington vineyards provided such amazing value for money and we were very pleased to track it down in a local wine shop, Vinofino, the following day.
After we finished our meal, we were lucky enough to visit the cellar. Upon entering, the cellar seems to have no end. We learned about the process for making Port and saw barrels dating back to 1882. Graham’s prices are relatively high but for the view, food quality, and wine selection it’s worth it.
We enjoyed another fantastic meal at Camafeu. Dining at Camafeu one has the feeling they are eating in someone’s apartment right in the heart of Porto. The service was excellent, attentive and welcoming. Throughout the meal you actually felt like you were enjoying a home cooked meal.
If you are suffering from last night’s sins, you must try Porto’s hangover-curing meal, the Francesinha. A Francesinha (“Little Frenchie” in Portuguese) is a Porto’s signature sandwich. It’s best not to attempt to eat with only your hands. It’s a Portuguese twist on the croque-monsieur. It’s made of ham, linguica (a Portuguese take on pepperoni), steak, melted cheese and drizzled with the house’s secret sauce. Café Santiago has a constant line of people queuing around the corner to try what is arguably Porto’s number one Francesinha and we can see why.
Nightclubs in Portugal are clustered in a central area. Visitors tend to congregate in the lovely main square in Ribeura. Along Rua de Candido dos Reis it is party central. On the weekend the place is heaving with people in and outside of the concentrated area of bars, which stay open late until the early dawn.
Joao from Eurostars Des Artes was fabulous in setting us up with a group rate (B&B rate: £110.00 for two). The hotel is well located in the centre of Porto’s historical Old Town and has a modern feel to it. The excellent buffet breakfast is the perfect base for a full itinerary of Port tasting and touring.
Porto Airport is rated one of the best airports in Europe and it’s clean, modern and efficient. Ryanair flies from London Stansted to Porto while TAP, Portugal’s national airline flies from Gatwick to Porto. It’s easy and quick to take bus 601 (€1.85) or the Metro (also €1.85) to the city centre.
Money can’t buy happiness but it can get you a weekend in Porto, Portugal and that’s pretty much the same thing. For more information about Porto, check out the official Porto Tourism website.