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A Taste of Porto

… This is a guest post by Lee Thompson …

There’s oh so much to love about this city on the Douro.  Yes, there are endless opportunities to indulge in the sweet wine that is its namesake, but look beyond the tawny’s and you’ll discover a picturesque playground, full of amusement.  

Upon arrival in Porto, Portugal, I first want to taste the wine for which it’s famous, and walk across the historic Dom Luís I Bridge.  I’d already become enamored with the country’s capital, Lisbon, about 200 miles down the Atlantic Coast, and was expecting something similar. 

And, yes, there are striking similarities; the abundance of cathedrals, baroque bell towers and the colorful azulejo tiled building facades.  What I found however was a town that slowly reveals its attractions with each passing hill until you finally arrive (breathless) at the (breathtaking)view across the Douro River. 

 

 

My port pilgrimage began at the Sheraton Porto Hotel & Spa. The hotel is located just outside of the historic core in the city’s tidy business district.  It’s a quick walk down cobbled streets to Francos Metro Station to board a modern light rail to the city center.  I departed at Trindade Station, a great starting point for a sightseeing journey across the old town.

Heading down Avenue dos Aliados, I passed a barbershop.  I was in need of a cut, which is one of my favorite things to do any place I visit.  A great way to immerse yourself in a foreign city is to get to know the locals on an authentic level.  I listened to my barber tell stories about his life in Porto.  He was a Colombian immigrant who colorfully articulated the differences between the two cultures.  It was a good natured chat between strangers, the kind that makes the world seem smaller, better.   

Porto is hilly, and exploring its attractions shouldn’t be completely on foot. There are several leisurely ways to get from point A to B.  Jump on one of three electric tram lines that traverse the city’s beautiful neighborhoods. 

Line 1, the most popular route with tourists, is chock-full of historic sites and stunning architecture.  It carries its riders along the northern banks of the river from the Ribera district to Foz and O Jardim do Passeio Alegre.  A park that dates back to the 1800’s featuring fountains, sculptures and river views.

You could also take the modern funicular from the northern riverbank up the cliff alongside the medieval Wall of Freiras.  The ascent is quick and saves the feet, you’ll need them later.  You’ll arrive at the upper crossing of the double-decked Dom Luís Bridge, Porto’s most iconic structure.

If the bridge brings to mind another European landmark you’d be correct.  Its striking resemblance to the Eiffel Tower is no coincidence.  It was designed by Gustave Eiffel and was completed in 1886, three years before the famed French tower.

Crossing the bridge is an Instagramable experience. Its bird’s eye view is a dramatic reminder of the hilly terrain you’ve just conquered.   Your reward awaits as you are now a just a gondola ride away from refreshment.  Admire the landscape on your descent and plot your route, you have reached your tasty destination.

Disembark the gondola and you’re in Gaia, the heart of the port capitol’s warehouse district, where grapes grown up-river are aged.  I learned on my guided Sandeman Port Cellers 1790 tour the wine was named port wine because that’s where it was sold.  It’s a bit of a misnomer as most wines are named after the region where they are cultivated.  In this case, the Douro Valley.  There are a plethora of port tours and tastings to choose from, I can’t list them all here. Just make your way along Av de Ramos Pinto where several warehouses offer tastings.

After many, many glasses of port and whatever knowledge we managed to absorb on our tour, I thought dinner was in order.  You know, life is all about balance.  I was craving pizza and a local gave me an excellent recommendation that I will now pass on to you, Il Pizzaiolo. There was a little wait for a table but the pizza was hot, crisp and tasty, exactly what was needed after our afternoon of port tasting.

After a pit stop at the hotel to rest and change clothes we caught an Uber to one of Porto’s “Nightlife Zones”.  These are pedestrian districts fronted by bars that get busy late and stay open till 4am. Clubs stay open till after the sun rises. 

Rua Cândido dos Reis and the surrounding blocks used to be the home of Porto’s fabric industry but is now a pedestrian zone full of bars and nightclubs housed in the old garment warehouses.  We started (and finished) our night at Fabrik Bar.  Most revelers grab a drink indoors and then move outside to the streets, where the real party is happening.  The atmosphere is joyful and it is very easy to strike up a conversation and make a friend out of a stranger.  

Portugal as a whole is currently having its well-deserved moment.  Exploring its vibrant cities and historic towns, miles of beautiful coastline and vineyard covered hills are what the best vacations are made of.  The people are friendly, food is fabulous and the opportunity to enjoy a porto tónico, Porto’s famed cocktail, on the sunny banks of the Douro River, well, that’s vacay nirvana. 

 

 

This has been a guest post by Lee Thompson, an entertainment industry professional living in Los Angeles, California.  His enduring curiosity in foreign places keep him and his partner busy circling the globe in search of adventure and friendships. 

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