Thursday, 26 October 2017

Picturesque Porto

With my heart and soul completely blown away by the delights of Lisbon, I thought I would take the opportunity to see how Portugal’s second compared to the capital. We arrived in Porto at the start of October, on a blissfully warm day and transferred immediately to our apartment … RS Porto Apartments …just a stone’s throw from Portugal’s oldest hospital, the Santa Maria.

Our accommodation was ideal, in a quiet area of the city away from the hustle and bustle of city life. Life goes by at a slower pace here but with everything, one needs within strolling distance, including a very nice restaurant directly opposite. This eaterie was a hit with the cool kids and we enjoyed the generous portions of freshly grilled chicken on offer. The supermarket, ‘Pingo Doce’ was only a block and a half away and as with many European supermarkets, it was more like a sophisticated deli rather than a clinically clean and uninspiring food store which is typical of most British towns and cities; full of colour, fresh produce and the best bit … very, very cheap booze!

Anyway, I digress. Back to our apartment, which could have come straight out of the pages of IKEA magazine. It was clean, modern and bright, with the added modern conveniences of a dishwasher, coffee machine, electric blinds that offered the full blackout experience (perfect for sleeping) and a very large and plush shower. Once you’ve picked up your cheap booze, there are not one but two balconies to enjoy your nightcap and people watch. After checking in, we decided to wander into the centre of the city … around about 20 minutes’ walk completely downhill in the blazing Portuguese sun. This short walk was interrupted by a pit stop at the local Hard Rock Café for one of their legendary burgers (a tradition I keep in almost every city I visit). This local version was particularly good with caramelized onions steeped in Port wine ... what else would you expect?! With our bellies full and our thirst suitably sated, following a pint of dark Sagres, off we trotted to the river. On our stroll, we passed the Sao Bento railway station (possibly the most beautiful station I’ve come across to date). It’s typical blue and white tiles matching those I had marvelled at in Lisbon, though on a far greater scale. We admired café culture in full swing, with hip Portonians smoking, drinking, laughing and enjoying life to the full. We were also greeted by an epic view of the fabulous Dom Luis I bridge, such a fabulous sight from either side of the Douro. We watched the sun go down in a local bar with a glass of vintage Portuguese red and the river sparkling with the lights of the night, including the neon signs of all the Port distilleries ….Port you usually only buy at Christmas time or see around your Grans! Graham’s, Cockburn’s, Taylor’s, it’s all here. Day 1 had been a delight.

After a blissful sleep and a leisurely breakfast, it was time to explore this fabulous city. Porto is so pretty from any angle but if you’re by the river clearly the higher you go the more you can see. After crossing the most famous of Porto’s bridges, take a turn up the cobbled streets and some steep steps and there is a fabulous sky bar where we enjoyed a custard tart (a local delicacy) and a cold beer. You could happily spend hours here watching the boats, the people, and the architecture. It’s a fabulous little sun trap, too, so don’t forget your hat and your sunglasses!

More happy wandering took place, finding pretty little spots to admire and enjoy, and getting lost in the city down side streets. By the evening, we stumbled across the hip and happening part of Porto’s nightlife which we had obviously come out far too early for! But happy hour had started … hooray! We ended up in ‘Fabrik’, a cool and slick industrial looking bar with dark red lighting, where we enjoyed some cooling Sangria. All the cool cats of Porto would definitely be heading down here on the Rua Galeria de Paris much later when these night owls fill the streets and bunting hangs from window to window. If I was back home this would be Manchester’s Northern Quarter, albeit with much more sunshine. Tonight we fine dined and chose ‘Book’, where the interior references Porto’s literary scene (J K Rowling used to teach English here and the famous bookshop, which presents itself as one of the inspirations behind the Harry Potter books, is a major tourist trap). Inside, ‘Book’ looks like a little independent library and we were treated exceptionally well by the friendly and efficient staff who immediately greeted us with a glass of cold Portuguese fizz. We dined on tuna carpaccio and a sumptuous dish of fresh hake with clams. At the end of the meal, we shared a traditional pudding and were recommended a 12-year-old Port to help wash it down. What an end to another fabulous day in this wonderful city.

Of course, you cannot come to Porto and not have a tour around the distilleries. For the exceptional price of 10 euros you just must visit Calem and have a sample of two different port’s and these are ‘grandmothers’ measures… no namby pamby, measured amounts here. It’s also a fabulously informative tour full of history and a very hands-on experience with different smells and pictures and maps, colours and textures. Who knew one vat could hold 55 thousand litres? And who also knew that Port also can be white and even rose? You learn something new every day!












One of the best things about Porto and indeed, Lisbon, is that you’re close to the sea. On our last day, we ventured down to the beach which took us past some of the plushest and prettiest real estate in the city. Large palatial villas with palm trees and secure, voice activated and key coded gates. There are large spaces of green around here, perfect for a picnic. The sea is choppy but undeniably glorious and a stunning colour as the Atlantic smashes against the rocks. As you walk back towards Porto, the restaurants and beach bars abound along the sand, DJ's play chilled beats and people sip G&T’s all along the oceanfront. Once the sea turns back to the estuary, locals fish and take their boats out to the ocean. Around here the pace of life is chilled and relaxed, the seafood is outstanding and as the sun sets once more on this head-turning city, you feel totally at peace.














I flew to Porto with Ryanair from Liverpool John Lennon Airport. Prices start from just £29.99. My apartment was booked through booking.com with RS Porto Apartments price for 4 nights was exceptional value at £211.
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