Oporto, locally known as Porto, definitely gives Lisboa a run for its money when it comes to charm and relaxation. Both cities are nestled along beautiful rivers, and have miradouros (viewing points) that take your breath away. Oporto, however, feels a bit more ‘untouched’ with its narrow lanes unfit for cars, and with the wonderful number of family owned restaurants. It’s December, yet the sun was shining down making each day feel longer during this short weekend trip. We quickly found out that our airbnb was just minutes away from Cafe Santiago, the best restaurant to score a francesinha, a sundae-sized sandwich bursting with ham, chorizo, steak filet all covered with cheese, a fried egg and smothered in beer sauce. Yes, it was absolutely worth forgetting that we may have been vegetarian in recent history.
We purchased our first piece of art together from a local artist who had charcoal on canvas pieces dedicated to the fado culture in Portugal. We also discovered the American store, complete with hard-to-find, quality imports from the States like fruit loops, snickers, twizzlers, marshmallows, and other sugary junk food.
It was exciting to see the Se Cathedral near closing time when selfie sticks were off duty and tour buses were pulling out of the parking lot. Those visiting were peacefully praying under the sky-high arches made of stone. Behind the Se, we wandered down residential paths and peeked at families having dinner, and smiled up at the laundry hanging out to dry.
Because it was dusk when we reached the Ribeira district, the Ponte de Dom Luís I bridge was lit up, along with the welcome signs of the port taverns on the other side of the Douro river. The architect who built the bridge, Téophile Seyrig, was Eiffel’s assistant and created the bridge design from this influence. We couldn’t have been more relaxed at the Wine Quay bar where our waitress allowed us to taste four different wines before choosing a bottle, and also told us the stories of the vineyards and the names of every grape used in each bottle. She was incredibly sweet and kept saying we could try as many vinhos as we liked since she liked happy customers! We finished with an inventive meal at LSD, where the pulvo and sweet potato dish spoiled me, and Corey’s dessert choice, called La Infancia (Childhood), was served with a spatula of cookie dough.
On Saturday, we knew we’d need to hit up at least one market, and Mercado do Bolhao was an easy walk from the flat. There weren’t breakfast pastries as one website promised, but wandering about the various fruit and veggie stalls made me wish I was bringing groceries home for a big meal. The women running these stalls cupped their hands around the colorful treasures like tangerines and peppers to offer customers a try.
Our trip to the Museu Serralves gave us the opportunity to ride the tram, and ask the locals about the bus system. My favorite part of the museum was an exhibit called “Tree School” where two schools, one in Brazil, and one in Pakistan, discussed and shared ideas about the ancient Baobab tree. The tree connected people from different places and highlighted how we can learn from one another even amidst displacement, oppression, and loss.
The gardens surrounding the museum were stunning and I highly recommend visiting the grounds even if other parts of the museum were a bit too abstract for me.
I loved our lunch in Foz because we sat outside with a river view, and ate yummy tapas. Vinho verde, people! Drink up!
We were a bit rushed to the port taverns because of our long lunch, and thus missed the cellar tour at Taylor’s. But hey, we still tasted the ports as if we went on the tour because you can’t beat a 5 euro tasting-YOLO! We rushed over to Croft Cellars and squeezed into their last tour, adding another port tasting to our line up. Learning the differences between a ruby and a tawny port was really great….read on for the differences or skip down if you already know. I should note that this explanation is what I remember after two tastings in a row, with an additional glass of the tawny 20 year and the ruby LBV.
A ruby finds a home in a large vat where almost all of the port doesn’t come in contact with the oak container, leaving it with a sweeter taste like strawberries and cranberries. An LBV, or late barrel vintage, means that the ruby was left in the vat for an extra year (6 years compared to the average 5 years). A tawny lives in a oak barrel, where the wooden slats are smoked to get them to round into the barrel shape. The smokiness on the inside of the small barrel mixes with the sugary port, and one tastes caramel when drinking a tawny. The years listed are an average of how long the tawny has been in the barrel (10, 20, 30, 40 …years!)
After a walk along Vila Nova de Gaia’s cobblestoned waterfront, we crossed the bridge along with other tourists leaving Gaia for the day. The weather was just gorgeous. I couldn’t stop feeling like we were on an island somewhere. I’m hesitant to post this, but we found ourselves at another wine bar, Prova, with a server from London who provided a short list of more restaurants and landmarks to visit. So nice! We stopped in for a late dinner at a restaurant called Traca and again, the pulvo was amazing, and I forget what Corey ate because my dish was so good.
Being in Oporto just puts you in a good mood- maybe is the vitamin D in December or maybe the vinho?! We spent the last day visiting the cathedral district, seeing the detailed azulejos artwork at Sao Bento station (painted ceramic tiles), and visiting a small palace that was actually housing a discount book fair (Palacio de Cristal).
Around every corner, you’d spot street art, small shops, or even the famous Lello bookstore that inspired JK Rowling. Our last lunch was a traditional meal of fresh fish at Adega Salmao, a family owned restaurant where the son and mom hold down the kitchen, and the father as the head host and server.
A delayed flight at the airport couldn’t dampen our spirits as Corey reconnected to fantasy football line ups, and as I purchased a bottle of vinho verde for 5.50Euro from a duty free shop!
Day 1 (Friday)
- Lunch at Cafe Santiago for the infamous francesinha
- Walk off your lunch along Rua de Santa Catarina and find local artists, and clothing shops
- Visit the Se Cathedral right before closing time so you get a more peaceful experience, and you also see the rooftops as the sun is setting
- Wind your way down to the Ribeira (water front path) and find Wine Quay bar for a bottle of wine for about 10 euro, a baguette, and pickled sardines
- Gaze across the Douro River at the various port taverns you’ll be visiting tomorrow and also feast your eyes on the Ponte de Dom Luís I bridge
- March back up the hill for a slightly more posh and inventive dinner at LSD
Day 2 (Saturday)
- Covered marketplace at Mercado de Bolhao
- Bus to Museu Serralves for contemporary art and a gorgeous garden!
- Tapas style lunch at Casa de Pasto da Palmeira in the Foz do Douro neighborhood (yummy pork cheek!)
- Vila Nova de Gaia for port tastings at Taylor’s or Croft or both!
- Gaia waterfront and walk across the Ponte de Dom Luís I bridge
- Wine tasting at Prova
- Dinner at Tasca (we walked in without a reservation at 9:30pm but folks should try to get a reservation if they can)
- Roll home
Day 3 (Sunday)
- Se the Se Cathedral in the day
- Walk Avenue Alfonso Henriques to Sao Bento Station
- See Igreja Clerigos and decide if you want to wait in line to go up the tower
- Lello Bookstore is so close, but there’s a line to see the famous staircase that inspired JK Rowling
- Palacio de Cristal and more wonderful gardens (with peacocks this time)
- Find lunch at Adega Salmao or Casa Guedes
- Metro back to the airport