I think Portugal is one of the most underrated countries in the world…at least out of the countries I’ve visited. It has a rich history, beautiful artwork, a unique language, and did I mention the WINE? So when Javi asked me one day, “Do you want to go to Porto?” He hardly finished his sentence before I blurted out “¡Por supuesto!” Porto is the third city I’ve visited in Portugal after Lisbon and Lagos.
Spain is a little bigger than Texas and Portugal is even smaller. Portugal and Spain combined make up what’s known as the Iberian Peninsula. Porto lies on the northern coast and is about an hour by plane from Madrid.
We departed for Porto immediately after work on Friday afternoon. We decided that dinner would be our priority for the night and left sightseeing for the following day. My friend and coworker is head over heels for Porto and gave us a great recommendation called the Taberna Santo Antonio. Holy yum. We indulged in some fried bacalhau or codfish, panadas, some of the best red wine I’ve ever had called, Pensamiento, and some tasty desserts. The chef even came out of the kitchen for a break and asked us how the meal was! It was a delicious start to our weekend adventure.
We filled the next three days with every appealing Porto attraction we had read about during the weeks leading up to our trip. We were able to squeeze everything in thanks to Javi’s superb navigation skills. Porto is rather hilly on top of having streets that twist and turn around old monuments and churches. Javi is like my dad in the sense that he can study a map the night before and memorize it for the next day. Not me, ha!
The well-known Mercado de Bolhao was one of our first stops. It’s filled with colorful vegetables, fresh fish and seafood, butcher shops, wine, flowers, and souvenirs. One item you can find all over is the Barcelos Rooster, a symbol of Portugal. We found the biggest one a few days later!
Next we visited the Baroque Clérigos Church which was built in the 18th century by Italian architect, Nicolau Nasoni. The interior is stunning, but the views from the top of the Torre dos Clérigos were even more so.
We made our way down to the Rio Douro for a 50 minute tour from the water. The colors of the buildings against the grey water and green hillsides makes Porto even more appealing.
One of my favorite stops was the Palácio da Bolsa from the 19th century. It holds one of the most exquisite ballrooms I’ve ever seen known as the Salão Árabe. Every inch is covered in detailed Moorish designs which will take your breath away!
Portugal is known for their beautifully painted tiles which can appear anywhere from the sides of buildings to the souvenirs you buy in local shops. Tiles or azulejos, came to Portugal when the Iberian Peninsula was still under Moorish rule in the 15th century. Poor Javi had to put up with me stopping at every tile-covered building to take a souvenir photo. I promised him I’d make a collage:
Some of these tile-covered buildings include the Chapel of Santa Catarina (Capa das Almas):
The interior of the São Bento train station:
The Church of St. Ildefonso (Igreja de Santo Ildefonso):
And inside the Catedral de la Sé:
Blue is my favorite color, so of course I was completely in love!
Nighttime in Porto is just as stunning as it is during the day. Luckily my camera battery held out for this beautiful view and for our fish dinner.
A number of bridges connect Porto with Vila Nova de Gaia, another city in the Porto district. The Douro River divides the two, but is easily accessible via bridge or boat taxi. We walked along the Ponte de Dom Luís I for some spectacular, postcard views of both sides.
One of Porto’s main appeals is its wine, and Vila Nova de Gaia is where many go to drink and discover its secrets. You can visit countless wine cellars such as Graham’s, Churchill, Sandeman, Offley, and more for tours and wine tastings. We were going to visit Sandeman (simply because it was the closest to us at the time), but tours in English or Spanish didn’t begin for a while. We decided to get lunch in the meantime and ended up at the Ramos Pinto wine cellars next door.
All the wine tasting tours range in price from 6-10 euros. Ours was 6 and included a very informative tour along with two wines to taste at the end. Adriano Ramos Pinto founded Ramos Pinto in 1880. He was known not only for his wine, but also for his entrepreneurial spirit and passion for his brand. He began to export his wines to countries such as Brazil and inspired other wine makers to export as well. He was also known for his daring marketing strategy of combining art (a lot of nudes which was risqué at the time) with wine and his name. This strategy worked because Ramos Pinto is still going strong and has a high reputation. He wanted to treat his customers like kings.
Our last day in Porto was my favorite. One of the “must sees” of Porto is the Livraria Lello; a Potteresque bookshop that claims to be the most beautiful in the world. The curvy staircase and the incredible wood carvings are enough to convince you that Lello’s claim is for good reason.
This shop has been open since 1906 and this is what current senior bookseller, Mr. Domingos, says about what a bookseller must do:
*Know the shop’s entire catalogue by heart (authors, titles, dates)
*Be able to recognize rare editions
*Be adequate and polite with all customers
*Gather relevant information from his top customers who often suggest and help with important information on books and relevant titles to order
*Know how to sell well
For a different view of Porto and a long walk, we visited the outside of the Palácio de Cristal and its surrounding gardens. The sun finally came out and we were able to take some nice photos.
Before heading back to the airport we visited another church, the Igreja de São Francisco, and the Majestic Café. This elegant café is filled with Art Nouveau decoration and the charm of “La Belle Époque.” It opened in 1921 and became a regular stop for some of the most influential figures in Porto. We enjoyed a café con leche and shared an almond tart.
I highly recommend Porto to anyone, especially any auxiliares or others working in Spain. It’s an easy, neighboring destination and you can see most of the city in one weekend. Despite it being an old city, it’s full of charm, art, and great food. I would heartily visit again!
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