Fall in Love with the Mystique yet Majestic Porto

Porto (“Oporto” in Portuguese), the second largest city in Portugal, is a popular tourist destination located in the most enviable estuary of the river Duoro. If you are a wine lover just like me, the word Duoro would have instantly reminded you about the world-class Duoro valley wineries. It is in my wish list to visit the Duoro wine valley someday. So watch this space. My Portuguese best friend once told me that “I must go there”! A glass of Duoro red wine paired with a juicy steak is one of the little pleasures of life! Don’t you think so?

Again, if you remember the location of Porto, you will applaud the ingenious minds who had invented the rabelo boats (“Port wine transporters”) to ferry the Port wine casks from the Duoro Wine valley to be sold  downstream at port wine cellars of Villa Nova de Gaia. Nowadays, you can still capture a photo of the Rabelo boats laden with port wine casks rocking gently and resting majestically on the beautiful Gaia riverbanks.

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Port wine is a fortified Portuguese red wine that tastes sweet to the palate with a fruity raisiny aroma and when placed against the light, has the bejewelled ruby red colour. Port wine is often served as an aperitif or a dessert wine. When pairing port wine, you cannot go wrong with a salty block of hard cheese or bitter dark chocolate. It’s the marriage of the contrasting tastes that brings out the flavour profile and character of the Port wine. Do you think port wines taste better when you are on vacation? I am a firm believer! I’m absolutely certain that relaxing with a glass of port in hand, savouring a nibble of the dark chocolate with great company and admiring the atmosphere of the wine cellar do enhance the flavoursome musical notes of the port wine. I do not have a sweet tooth, therefore Port wines is not one of my favourite wines but I will entertain you with the occasional tipple socially. Don’t let me put you off Port wine though. If you are in Porto, do visit at least one of the Port wine cellars.

For the non-wine lovers, having trodden on the cobbled historic centre of Porto, you will be able to tick off the checklist that you have visited yet another UNESCO World Heritage site. I love the intricate blue patterns on the age-stained white tiles that adorn the many walls of the colourful old buildings in Porto. It’s a match made in heaven for the clear blue sunny skies. Somehow I find that the daytime skies of Porto are bluer than the usual blue and Porto has a sunset like no other city I have been before. Is this the side effect of Port wine consumption or an overdose of the romantic charmer of old Porto?

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Another favourite of mine is watching old trams trundling through the streets of Porto, walking on the Dom Luís I Bridge (Portuguese: Ponte Dom Luís I) from the historic Porto centre to Gaia and admiring the scenic river views should you not be afraid of heights, and lastly another must see is the night views of the now closed Gaia’s Port wine cellars from the riverbank of the historic centre of Porto. Do tell me what’s your favourite memory of Porto.

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Where should you stay? I would recommend you to stay on the Gaia side of Porto i.e. not in the historic centre of Porto. There are many advantages of staying on the Gaia side, namely you are just a stone’s throw away from the Port wine cellars and at sunset, you can marvel at the beautiful historic centre of Porto from Gaia. Have I managed to convince you yet?

Having driven from Lisbon airport, we stayed for 2 nights at the Charm Guest House Duoro – Vila Nova de Gaia. It’s a small, modern and clean boutique hotel with free breakfast and a free Port wine reception in the evenings. Aha, now you know why we have chosen to stay at the Charm Guest House hotel! Thanks Charm Guest House Duoro for making us feel so welcomed. A word of caution though: The Charm Guest House Duoro does not have its own parking lot. In the end, we parked our car at Estacionamento Centro Histórico public car park after having driven round and round the heavily traffic-congested one-way streets of Gaia for at least 3 times trying to find an entry into R. Cândido dos Reis from the Av. de Diogo Leite. The Sat Nav is really not a great helper as it likes to take you to the narrowest and steepest streets in Porto. If you are an adrenaline junkie, you may love the Porto driving experience. Otherwise, stay away from driving in Porto! Dare I say that there is a need for more visible public car park signage on the Av. de Diogo Leite in Gaia to help lost tourists just like us. Pretty please, just grant us the wish.

Tip: If you can avoid driving in Porto, please do so. Navigating the steep, narrow and most frustratingly one-way streets of Porto to find an empty parking space in often full public car parks will eat into your vacation time! We have made that mistake once, don’t make it yours! Fly into Porto, it’s a wiser option!

If money is no object, you may wish to stay at the Yeatman Hotel, which is advertised as a luxury wine spa hotel. It looks very posh but definitely not light on the pocket. Let’s see where the Dreampliflyer travel blog takes me, it is still early days. Maybe one day, a chance to stay at the Yeatman Hotel will be a dream no more! Aha! One can only day dream and hope for hope is a powerful vessel that carries you to places you have never dare to dream of! 🙂

To avoid blisters on your feet and save your energy and strength for pounding the must eats and must sees of Porto, you may wish to book the Porto Hop-On-Hop-Off Tour with optional River Cruise and Wine Tasting at the Viator website. The Hop-On-Hop-Off bus is also known as the HOHO bus, how amusing! I am easily amused. Redeem your Viator voucher from the bus driver (easiest option!) or at the Yellow Bus kiosk at Praca de Liberdade. There are two yellow HOHO bus routes to choose from: The Historic Porto Route or the Castle Route.

If you are not too time-starved, I recommend that you spend at least 3 days in Porto. Do take time for Porto is begging to be explored and Porto is beautiful beyond words. You have to trust me on this. The Porto river cruise is also well-worth paying the money for. It is an entirely different experience pounding the streets with your own feet, viewing the sights of Porto from the comforts of your bus seat and on a river cruise. You will get to experience the city in more depth, taking in the sights, sounds and smells from an entire different dimension and you have so much more to write home about. Travelling is truly a panacea for the hectic lifestyles of today.

If you are a sun-catcher, get some breakfast in you and put on your shades. Let’s take the Castle Route yellow HOHO bus, spoil yourself with Foz de Duoro and the many beaches (Portuguese: “praia”) and indulge in another session of Instagram frenzy. Take your pick from Fortaleza de São João da Foz (a fortress), Antigo Sanatório de Tuberculosos da Foz do Douro, surfers cradled by the waves to watching seagulls glide effortlessly in the skies. Take a deep breath and sooth your soul with waves crashing on the shores. Ahh! It’s so delightful when you are on vacation.

When you are ready for lunch, the same yellow HOHO bus will take you to Matosinhos, a seafood foodie paradise hotspot frequented by locals. Don’t rob your tastebuds by eating at the touristy restaurants lining the Duoro riverbanks in the historic centre of Porto. There are many seafood restaurants at Matosinhos to choose from. I am a picky eater and I only eat at the finest. By finest, I mean not necessarily the most expensive or the most well-known but where the food looks good enough on the Tripadvisor photos to take a punt on! Because of my unfortunate indecisiveness as a picky eater, we missed out on being in the front of the queue for lunchtime. If you come to the O Valentim restaurant, Matosinhos, at lunchtime, be prepared for a super-long queue. It’s that popular! We waited patiently for at least 20 minutes to get a seat. When in the queue, the sights and smells of freshly grilled seafood wafting in the air and watching enviously as the other luckier diners tuck into their food did not make the wait any easier. Alas! It’s our turn. 🙂 I recommend the starter of fried padron peppers laced with sea salt, grilled sardines (also grilled and deep fried seafood of all kinds depending on your budget), monkfish risotto, seafood stew at the O Valentim restaurant in Matosinhos. I can vividly remember the monkfish stew and the seafood risotto. Yummylicious!

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I find that the HOHO yellow bus is a great sightseeing mode of transportation especially when your legs are too tired to carry you any further but your heart is still craving for more adventure. Do remember to bring along a light sweater if you wish to sit on the open rooftop seats of the HOHO bus, it can be a tad chilly. You are right! I love to play! If you have timed it right, by about sunset, you will pass by an avenue of palm trees, Jardim do Passeio Allegre. It reminds me of the Sunset Boulevard in LA for some reason.

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Now it is probably about time to checkout the hard-earned photos of the day and complete your Instagram duty whilst enjoying the free pre-dinner Port wine reception at the Charm Guest House Duoro. If you are still gung-ho for another romantic stroll along the riverbanks prior to dinner, then hat’s off to you. It’s truly a life well-lived! Cheers!

At dinnertime, we had the Couvert (interesting starters of bread to dip with olive oil and beef, do check it out!), another starter of bacalhau (salted cod fish) in Filo pastry with leek cream and the Argentinian “bife the chorizo” steaks as the main course. We matched the steaks with an excellent bottle of Crasto Superior Duoro D.O.C. 2013 red  wine at the Belos Aires Restaurante. What a day to remember! Nham! It’s making me hungry just thinking about these delicious food.

Am I making you hungry yet? Visit Porto and you will in no time be earning your own bragging badge too. I hope you have enjoyed reading about my Porto trip as much as I love writing about them. I do hope that you will fall in love with Porto too. Tchau!

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Must Eats

  • O Valentim
    Signature dish: Monkfish stew, Seafood risotto

          Address:  R. Heróis de França 263, 4450 Matosinhos, Portugal

  • Belos Aires Restaurante
    Signature dish: Argentinian steaks

          Address: R. de Belomonte 104, 4050-600 Porto, Portugal

The Port Wine Cellar that I had the pleasure to visit:

  • Kopke Wine Cellar (The oldest port wine company established in 1638)
    Address: Av. Diogo Leite, 310/312,4400-111 Vila Nova de Gaia, Portugal.

The Hotel that I had the pleasure to stay at:

  • Charm Guest House Duoro
    Address: R. Cândido dos Reis 40, 4430-999 Vila Nova de Gaia, Portugal

Practical Tips

  • Currency: Euro (EUR)
  • Best Time to Visit: March and April (low season to avoid the mad tourists crush!)
  • Getting around: HOHO yellow bus (Visit https://www.yellowbustours.com/ for route maps but buy your ticket from Viator)
  • Getting here: Fly to Porto. The best way to go from the International Airport Francisco Sá Carneiro to the city centre is to take the metro. The trip takes about 30 minutes.

 

 

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