Welcome to beautiful Porto! Sitting in northeast Portugal along the Douro River it is one of the oldest European centers with its historical core proclaimed a UNESCO World Heritage site. Think Romanesque and Gothic architecture, winding cobbled streets, thigh-challenging hills. Now I can appreciate all those squats done at the gym.
The main sights are all very walkable and yes we exceeded our 10,000, steps and many, many more daily!!
View of Porto from Gaia
First up was a visit to Vila Nova de Gaia, or simply Gaia, across the river from the Ribeira district. We walked across the upper and lower levels of the Don Luís I bridge which connects the two area and provides fantastic views regardless of the time of day. The bridge was built by a student of Gustav Eiffel, of Eiffel Tower fame, and is similar in style and design.
Dom Luis I bridge heading to Gaia
Gaia has many cellars, (locally known as ‘caves’), where the port wine is stored and aged. Hello, this is Porto after all! In bygone days the rabelo boats transported barrels of port from the vineyards in the Douro Valley upstream. Here we marveled at the multi-coloured facades of houses dating from the Middle Ages.
Back across the river we took in all the sights, enjoyed the cafes, alleyways, gardens, flowers, sculptures, fountains, plaza, etc., etc.
Made some new friends!
Never know what’s around the corner!
It would be impossible to walk around and not notice all of the intricate tile work that covers almost every building, church, train station. Like Port wine, Azulejos tiles are important part of Portuguese culture. In northern Portugal, the tiles are typically blue and white.
The walls of the Porto Sao Bento train station is a great example and decorated with approximately 20,000 azulejo tiles.
Sao Bento train station
Clérigos Tower, a major landmark in Porto, was once the highest bell tower in Portugal, (over 75m), and is said to offer wonderful panoramic views at the cost of climbing 230 steps. We opted out of this challenge!
Livraria Lello Porto, is considered one of the most beautiful and oldest bookstores in the world and rumoured was the inspiration for JK Rowling’s Hogwarts Library in Harry Potter. The building itself is a piece of art with the red staircase and intricate carvings.
Inside the Livraria Lello bookstore
Majestic Cafe, is where Rowling also spent a lot of time and is said to have penned early book notes on napkins.
Iconic Majestic Cafe
Bob enjoying Francesinha, a Porto speciality sandwich containing cheese and a number of different meats in a tomato and beer sauce. He opted to forego the french fries that usually accompany it otherwise it would have resembled poutine on steroids!!
Bob’s dinner – Francesinha sandwich!
And dessert. So many delicious pastries! ￼
Porto at night is a beautiful sight – the view from Cais de Gaia is best, where you can see the whole city lit up. Cafes and bars are packed and street performers add a certain ambiance while strolling along the river.
A must see for everyone is a tour of the Douro Valley. Having a car made it so easy to tour this area with the entire Valley declares a UNESCO World Heritage site.
The microclimate here allows for cultivation of olives, almonds, and especially grapes, which are important for making the famous Port wine. Numerous Quintas look out over vast tiers of vineyards making the entire area a magical place. We wandered through the vineyards and finished off the day with a wine tasting of the white, ruby, and tawny port. And yes, we have developed yet another guilty pleasure in life!
Great tour & Port tasting at the Quinta
There are several villages in the hillsides, the views are marvellous but the driving is not for the faint of heart, right Joanne? Switchback roads, with no or questionable guard rails make ascents/descents butt puckering. Oh how memories of Chile came flooding back.
Mateus Palace on the way to the Douro was an unplanned but serendipitous stop as were several other small towns along the way.
Mateus Palace & Quinta
We stayed at a lovely old refurbished hotel in Tabuaço, great base for heading out on the wine trail visiting the various spots in the Valley.
Pinhão is a small town is where we did the Rabelo boat tour on the Doura.
A small, lovely, still finctioning train station has azulejos tiles covering the outside depicting the valley and harvest.
Pinhão Train station
Shop across from Pinhao train station
Pinhão & Douro River
Barcos, was another beautiful medieval town steeped in history with friendly folks offering up tips on the village in Portuguese. Unfortunately all that good info was lost in translation! Portuguese is a very difficult language.
Town elders sit & chat in the town square
Time is a ticking so time to start heading south.