A Beautiful Few Days in Porto, Portugal
Portugal is not a huge land mass which makes travel to other spots in the country quite easy. We had heard good things about Portugal's second city Porto, a few hundred kilometres north of Lisbon, so decided it was worth a trip. We felt that the three hour train journey warranted an overnight stay to make the most of it.
We booked our tickets at the CP web site about a week in advance which allowed us to take advantage of some significant discounts that are offered if you book ahead. We decided to go first class because of the savings and the journey was perfect. We left from Lisbon pretty early and arrived in Porto shortly before 10am. We took an Uber to Porta Azul, a fabulous little guest house, where our hosts served fresh tea and coffee while they gave us a "training" session of what to do and see while in the city for two days.
So off we trundled for day one of sight-seeing. We wandered along the beautiful river Douro through the Ribeira area of the city and across the bridge. The views were simply stunning. The historic buildings crawl up and down the hills on either side of the river and several dramatic bridges span the water at both high and low points so you can take photos from every angle.
For lunch we had a local famous Porto dish called the Francesinha. It is pretty much the definition of comfort food. It's a huge soggy sandwich filled with various meats. I counted five types in mine covered in cheese and smothered in a beer/tomato sauce. Iain chose to go for extra-comfort with the egg and fries version.
Porto is of course famous for Port. A drink that the British especially appreciate as it adorns every table at Christmas paired with a good chunk of stinky stilton. As typical port loving Brits we were eager to sample what was on offer. All the Port caves are on the Vila Nova de Gaia side of the river where we had lunch and choosing which one to visit was a challenge. In the end we decided on Graham's, partly because even though it is one of the largest and most commercial Port producers we had heard their facility was impressive but also because it was a twenty minute uphill walk. That was just what we needed to work off our belly full of Francesinha we had just scoffed by the river.
The visit to Graham's was excellent. We started with a tour and some education about Port followed by a tasting where we sampled six different varieties. All were delicious but quite different from each other. We learned a lot about the difference between Tawny, Ruby and Vintage port. We now know that only a few select years are designated as vintage and that's why Vintage Port tends to be viewed as more valuable. Plus, we learned that Late Bottled Vintage Port is not a Vintage Port at all but is actually a Ruby. OK, got it? I'm glad we've cleared that up!
The remainder of our time in Porto was spent exploring the rest of the beautiful city. We slowly meandered the tumbling streets, visiting the city hall, Sao Bento station, the cathedral and several other ornate churches. We went into the most amazing bookshop we have ever visited. Many say it inspired some of the Harry Potter settings, given that J.K. Rowling lived in the area in her younger years.
We really enjoyed our short trip to Porto and are planning a return to visit the Douro Valley next time. We had great food, wine, including port and the scenery was spectacular. Our next post has some more photos from our trip. Porto is definitely well worth adding to any Portuguese itinerary.