Sipping port wine in the city where it all began – Porto

My time in Portugal was sadly coming to an end but there was one more place I had to visit before bidding goodbye to the country for good – Porto.

The city of Porto by night…

Porto had always been on the cards from the moment we decided we were going to visit Portugal. I heard rave reviews of the place from a number of friends and the phrase ‘favourite city I’ve ever visited’ had even been thrown around a few times. So expectations were high!

Luckily, the city didn’t disappoint.

A view of the city’s centre from Clerigos Tower

Nestled a few kilometers from the coast on the banks of the Douro River in the northern section of Portugal, Porto (the second largest city in Portugal) is a vibrant, dynamic place that has become famous for its beautiful architecture, pulsating night life and being the birthplace of its namesake – Port wine!

We were to spend five days in Porto so finally I was able to slow down a little and explore the city and a more relaxed pace – much more my style!

After a late arrival our true introduction to Porto began the following morning when we joined up with (yet another!) free walking tour. Can you tell that I’ve become quite enthusiastic about them?

One of the old riverside buildings in Porto…

Our tour on that first day was led by Pedro of Wild Walkers Porto and lead us through most of major city sites in central Lisbon. Due to our slightly more open timetable we were actually able to participate in another tour a little later in the week led by Pedro’s colleague Ana. Ana’s tour lead us through the windy backstreets of the city, taking us to a number of beautiful look out points and hidden gems we might not have discovered otherwise.

The lovely Ana at the start of our tour…

Pedro and Ana had slightly different styles of storytelling but both were undeniably excellent tour guides! I really enjoyed the fairly small size of the groups and how friendly both of them were. We were constantly running into either of them during our remaining time in Porto and they’d always stop to have a chat.

The few hours spent wandering with Pedro and then Ana involved a little of the following…

The stunning tiled walls of Sao Bento train station

– Appreciating the stunning tiled inner walls (and ceiling) of the São Bento  train station.

– Examining the locals selling their wares or stocking up on supplies at Mercado do Bolhão.

– Avoiding being yelled at by the cranky old caretaker as we admired the ornate gold leaf covered interior of the São Francisco church

One of Porto’s oldest streets…

– Wandering along the supposed oldest street in central Porto.

The view from the old city wall’s…

– Clambering along the city walls for the best view of the striking Luis I Bridge

Will clocks a speedy 22 kph…

– Timing how fast we could run by sprinting along a tiny laneway where a speedometer had been rigged up.

Hogwarts Library? Is that you?

– Visiting the Lello bookstore. This stunning art nouveau building is situated close to the Clerigos Tower and features a magnificent and curving wooden staircase right in the centre of the store. Author J. K. Rowling lived in Porto working as a teacher for a number of years and apparently drew inspiration from this bookstore for the Hogwarts Library that appears often throughout the Harry Potter novels. Sadly no photos were allowed inside!

Supposedly that isn’t the only element of Porto that was a source of inspiration for Ms Rowling. Hundreds of university freshmen wander the streets of Porto in their long academic gowns as part of their first year ‘hazing’ traditions. These longs gowns are said to be the inspiration for the long gowns that form the uniform for the students of Hogwarts. Anna actually attended the university where the author taught but says she only really remembers her as ‘the crazy teacher who would cry in class all the time’ when she was having a rough time during her divorce.

Not a bad view from a vacant lot!

– Climbing into vacant council lots to admire of the best views across the city, riverfront and Luis I bridge.

Overall both tours were fantastic and I would really recommend them to anyone who plans on visiting the area. All of the random stories and insider local knowledge we gained during our walks gave me a much greater affection for the city than I think I would have had if I had been wandering around on my own.

On our first evening we followed the advice of Pedro and visited a tiny nearby restaurant well known for its dangerously potent sangria and authentic Portuguese dishes served in small ‘tapas’ like servings.

The basic premise was that the waiter would bring out small dish after dish, explaining what each was as it arrived. If we didn’t like the sound of something we were able to just politely say we’d rather not and once we were full we just had to let him know and the onslaught of dishes halted.

Gearing up for a Portuguese tapas feast!

Whilst merrily working our way through a large Sangria jug we managed to try the following…
– a zesty mixed bean salad
– rich country style chicken cooked in a thick, decadent vegetable gravy
– little seasoned and fried codfish
– slightly sweet pan fried carrots seasoned with a hint of cumin
– eggs scrambled with traditional Portuguese pork sausage
– tempura string beans
– a selection of mixed olives
Everything was absolutely delicious except for, perhaps – the codfish. Not really to my taste! I’d even go so far as to say it may have been my best culinary experience in Portugal – excluding of course, the Pasteis de Belem – that will never be beaten!

One non-food related adventure we had during our time in Porto was a day we spent enjoying a morning train ride along the banks of the Douro River from Porto to Pocinho.

The ride was not particularly scenic at first. However after traveling for roughly an hour all of sudden the rickety looking apartment blocks and ugly fenced vacant lots disappeared and we began coasting right along the banks of the Douro River.

Just one of the vineyards we zoomed past during our journey…

For the rest of journey we wound our way through striking hilly farmland, high rocky gorges and tiny riverside villages. I manage to catch glimpses of some of the numerous vineyards that dot the Douro Valley, providing grapes to make that all too famous port! Upon arriving at the end if line in Pocinho we hopped off for a short stretch of the legs before jumping back on and continuing the trip in reverse all the way back to Porto.

Luis I Bridge…I have a friend who jumped off the lower level into the river when she visited a few years ago. Nuts!

The long morning on the train had left us both rather ravenous so we decided to try yet another one of Pedro’s local food recommendations – a rich an artery-clogging sandwich known as the “Francesinha”. “Francesinha” is apparently Portuguese for ‘little French girl’ and this sandwich is said to have been created by a Porto local who had returned from some time spent living abroad in France and was feeling a little melancholic for the beautiful and sensual women of the country.

It may be a heart attack on a plate – but what a delicious heart attack it is!

In a hope to induce some of his favourite qualities of French women within the local female population he created the wonderfully rich and spicy Francesinha. The dish is basically a sandwich that is stuffed with a number of different types of meat – ham, chorizo, bacon – you name it! Cheese is also added to the filling of the sandwich and layered over the top to then be grilled into gooey deliciousness. To add that little extra spicy kick the whole lot is then completely drenched in a spicy beer and tomato based sauce before most often being served with a side of fries. Occasionally they even come topped with a fried egg!

We were told the idea behind the spicy sauce was to get women all hot and flustered so they would be inclined to start taking of their clothing – raunchy! Apparently back in the 50’s a ‘real lady’ could not be seen eating a Francesinha or her reputation would be tarnished. Turns out perhaps I may have been viewed as a scarlett woman back then as despite having my doubts due to the overload of meat I quite enjoyed my taste of the delicacy! It was ridiculously rich and salty though, making me very glad that Will and I had opted to share one between us!

On our final full day we took it upon ourselves to indulge in a little in the beverage that has firmly placed Porto on the international radar. Port!

Sangria fueled shenanigans with Clint and Jess…

We were joined in our endeavors by one of Will’s good friends from home Clint and his girlfriend Jess. We’d caught up with them the night before and a casual tapas dinner had turned into rather large sangria-fueled night on the town. So what better way could there be to ward off a slight hangover then a solid Port tasting session – right?!

Everyone has their best ‘sophisticated port faces’ on for the tastings!

We set off on the pleasant walk across the Luís I Bridge and along the riverside towards the section of town where the majority of the Port factories were located. Our destination? Graham’s Port – one of the most well established and respected Port companies in the area. There’s also the possibility that the free tasting tour we received  as we were Yes! Hostel guest also helped persuade our legs to walk that little bit extra up the hill to arrive at the factory’s beautiful decorated tasting and bar area.

The tasting and bar area of the Grahams factory

The staff were absolutely beautiful and as we had to wait about 10 minutes before the next tasting tour began, they treated us to an additional complimentary glass of port to tide us over until the real tasting began!

Inside the factory itself…

We were eventually lead through the storage areas of the factory and were able to view the hundreds of huge wooden barrels whilst being explained the different aging and storage processes that result in different types of port. Our guide was hilarious and I found the whole process really fascinating. Upon completion of the tour we were all treated to three tastings of some of the different types of Port – vintage, tawny and ruby. I ended up surprising myself by how much I enjoyed all of them, I’d never thought I was much of a fan of Port but perhaps my taste buds were evolving? I particularly loved the ‘Vintage’.

Enjoying a nice drop of vintage port wine!

The afternoon continued with a few more sneaky tastings at some other factories as we walked back in towards town, our steps growing a little more wobbly with each further sip of Port! In need of some non-liquid sustenance, we set up camp in the gorgeous grassed backyard of Clint and Jess’s guesthouse and dug into the largest cheese, prosciutto and olive feast that I had encountered all trip. And that’s really saying something – the boys bought 400g of prosciutto! I’m a little embarrassed to say that we finished it completely within around 20 minutes.

The perfect snack for those who are slightly drunk…

Satisfied and full of port and all things delicious, I wandered back to our hostel through the cobblestoned streets of the city and settled in for a few hours of rest in preparation for another night out that evening.  Whilst resting I had the chance to reflect on my past few days in the charming city and I realised how pleased I was that it hadn’t all been talk – Porto had managed to completely live up to its exceptional reputation!

Wild Walkers Porto –

One Response to “Sipping port wine in the city where it all began – Porto”
  1. Groucho Marx says:

    Beautiful post!
    Muito bem!
    Escadas do Codecal, Bataria da Vitoria, Sangria, Vinho Tinto…
    Regards from Porto,

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