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Weekend in Porto

19 November 2012 Portugal, Weekend in ... 1 comment

Porto: the old city

Although it is sometimes in the shadow of the more famous Lisbon, the second largest city of Portugal deserves more. Maybe it does not have the most amazing monuments on the continent, but the natural setting, the bridges, the sometimes crumbling buildings and its bohemian atmosphere makes Porto to special ! A… and not forget the famous Porto wine. That would really make you love the city :).

Let’s not tell too much now and take it step by step.

DAY 1

Although the administrative center of the city is located in a different part of the city, the heart of the town beats most of the times on the shores of the river Douro. I very much like the cities that are crossed by a river through the middle and when it also has abrupt hills on which there are some suspended historical buildings, the place becomes even more spectacular. On the right side of the river, on the shores of Douro, you will find a suite of multicolored buildings, bars and restaurants, some of them unexpectedly cheap. Just walk around on the promenade and enjoy the views…at the end of the esplanade there is a monumental bridge, the Louis I Bridge that links the two shores of the Douro on two floors. One floor, almost at the level of the water, it links the promenade to the other shore where you will find the wineries of the major Porto wine producers. The second floor, at probably 100 meters above the first one, links the peaks of the hills on   the right and the left side of the river, over which the subway also passes:) .

Go to the bridge and admire the water jumps of the boys (but the girls as well) that like to show just how macho they are. It is a couple of years now that the community and the authorities in Porto decided to clean and revitalize the Douro river – the harbor that pumped so much life and wealth in Porto was taken outside of the city and the shores, once full of docks became green areas, made for walking. The access by polluting boats on the Douro was forbidden and the nature, patient as always, slowly- slowly, responded in a positive manner. Today you can see fish in the waters of the river (I was told that something like this was actually a dream a couple of decades ago), and the children and adolescents are jumping in the waters of the river …Well, it isn’t really clean as a tear like it is in Switzerland, so to say, but it is quite OK!

After taking a few steps on the shores of the river, it isn’t possible that you won’t get hit by the offers for the cruises on Douro. The cruise costs 10 euros and they’ll take you for 50 minutes up and down the river, admiring the six impressive bridges that link the two shores of the river, but also the colored buildings or the churches on the shores of the river.

After finishing the cruise, cross the river in Gaia, the district on the other side of the river (I guess that for centuries, Gaia was considered another city) where on the shore of the river but also on the mainland you will get numerous “caves” – wineries of the major producers of Porto wine!

The Porto wine is probably the most famous product of the city. It isn’t a wine, literally. The production process is similar with the one of wine but only up to a point…the grapes are picked, macerated (in the old days by men that were dancing barefooted in the barrel full of grapes, today by shiny machinery) and it is left to ferment. But the fermentation process is interrupted before its time and the wine is fortified by adding of wine alcohol. Afterwards, the mix is left for aging for three years. If this type of wine is not produced in Porto, it is called “fortified wine”. In order to be able to get the registered name of “Porto wine” the grapes have to grow on the Douro valley, while the production process must take place in the same area as the maceration also.

Personally, I have visited the winery of the ones at Sandeman. Although Taylor’s is free, I was always attracted by the marketing and the logo of Sandeman – a black silhouette, like of a toreador, but actually, it is a man wearing the costume of the Portuguese students and an Andalusian hat on his head. Sandeman was an English man who started trading Portuguese fortified wine (Porto wine), but also Spanish sherry, later on investing also in the production capabilities, becoming one of the most important Porto wine and sherry producers (produced in the Jerez de la Frontera in the Spanish Andalusia). In 1927, the current owners (Sandeman lived in Napoleon’s era!) asked an art director to create a logo and he created this character that combined Spain with Portugal but with a mysterious attitude …The first wine brand was created and the black Sandeman man became one of the most recognizable brand symbols in the world of alcohol.

The entry costs 4,50 euros, but if you wish to visit more wineries in the Porto wine district, you can opt for visiting three wineries for a 9 euro Ticket. The visit consists of a tour through the undergrounds where the wine is aged, among oak barrels. You will find out how the Porto wine is being made, you will see a presentation movie but also collection bottles (at Sandeman the oldest are from around 1890) and at the end you will get a tasting session!

In the wineries area, there aren’t only wineries but also wine shops and lots of them offer free tasting. too. So, you cannot get away without Porto wine tasting (and buying if you like the sweet and strong taste!)

If you can still walk straight, take the cable lift that will climb you on the peak of the hill next to the Serra do Pilar monastery. You will get a wonderful panorama. Cross back the bridge to Porto but this time on the first floor of the bridge! Do not hurry. It is a wonderful place…If you continue your way straight after you reach the top of the hill, you will discover somewhere on the left, the Cathedral of the city – Se! Do not miss it, you will find an impressive church like many other churches in Portugal. Sometimes I wonder how wealthy this country would have been if they hadn’t built so many churches where the budget was “sky high”.

And while talking about poor being, go down towards the shore of the river through the district under the Se cathedral. You will discover a Portugal that is decrepit, poor and yet with a special charm. You won’t feel unsafe for a second (what’s true, I walked around here during day time, I do not know how it is during the night :)), but you will find cheap food places, with amiable and helpful people…

Once you go back to the shore of the water it is time for dinner (in case you haven’t eaten already) or for a lazy end of the day on the water side or up, on the hill, in the area of bars and restaurants.

DAY 2

This time it’s good to start your day in Jardim do Infante. Here, you will find the stock exchange of Porto, the number one building in Porto, where stocks and goods were traded, where the wealth of the Portans was made and lost. It is an impressive building that can be visited. You will discover a central garden, an Iberian patio, adorned by the flags of the befriended countries who were making business with Porto (Spain flag is missing, so it was not one of these friendly countries :)). You will discover heraldic signs from the 19th century of some far away countries like Brazil, Austro-Hungary or the Tsar Empire, possibly Romania. Then, you will be able to visit the beautifully painted halls, out of which stands out the Arabian style hall, truly superb!

In the same square, but just a little further away you will see a reddish – orange metal building. It is the former central market. As the big majority of the downtown inhabitants moved to other residential areas and the market lost its onion and pineapples, now in the old market you can find only some bars and a big club! If you are sharp and rested, you can take the road up the hill towards the city above…if not, take the road towards the shore of the river to climb the peak with the help of a funicular, that is located two steps away from the Louis I Bridge.

Once you get up the hill, you have a series of wonderful places that you simply cannot miss. First of all, the train station (it is two steps away from the funicular anyway). If you would only see the exterior, “hm, beautiful, OK”, once you get inside, your jaws will drop of amazement! The entire hall of the train station is an exhibition of azulejos, the wonderful white – blue, typically Portuguese tiles that transform the beauty into splendor. Even if you didn’t intend to take any train, the train station is not to be missed, especially for these azulejos!

Not very far away from the train station, you will find Avenida dos Aliados dominated at one end by the proud Town Hall. Here is the Portuguese version of the great boulevards built over a hundred years ago in Lisbon, Madrid or Barcelona– sided by impressive building, lots of them in the art – nouveau style, with statues housing bank buildings and large companies. Enter the McDonald’s as well, even the idea of the fast food repulses you – here is located one of the most elegant cafeterias in the whole city and the ones at McDonald’s do prove their value by keeping the interior of “la belle epoque” :)

Do not miss the Torre dos Clerigos, the tallest tower in the city, but prepare yourself for the real star of the downtown Porto– the Lello bookstore. Just think about the fact that at the end of the 19th century,Porto was flooded by a number of bookstores which resulted into a fierce competition. So every bookstore owner thought of building a store as sumptuous as possible. Oh well, the most successful ones were the ones at the Lello bookstore, who built a superb bookstore, considered one of the most beautiful three bookstores in the world. The neo gothic façade hides a fabulous interior that will remind you of the movies from the Harry Potter series. More than that, I read that some of the scenes from this famous movie production was filmed here, but I am not 100% sure.  What I am sure about is though that the interior is fabulous and is worth being visited, unfortunately, you will not be able to enjoy it as well because of the large number of people (especially tourists) and of the staff yelling every 30 seconds: “No pictures, please”. Ignore them and take pictures…you might still see some Japanese with huge “cannons” who probably really do not understand English :).

And not to forget! A couple of steps away from the bookstore you will find a church with an entire wall carpeted with azulejos. Fabulous!

Don’t you think that Porto lacks parks, you can find one of these parks around the Crystal Palace (the name is too pompous for such an uninspired building) where you will be able to admire the green course of the river Douro. At the feet of the gardens you can discover the classical tram, identical to the one in Lisbon that still operates till the church of San Francisco, next to the stock center. And here you will finish your tour of the most beautiful places in Porto. If you have some money you can opt for an helicopter flight over the city (I think it is wonderful!) or, if your passion is called football, do not miss Estadio do Dragao (Stadium of the Dragon), the stadium of the FC Porto team, double champion of Europe (in 1987 when the heel of the Algerian Madjer entered history and at the beginning of the last decade when the small – at a European level that is – Portuguese team shocked the world by winning the Champions League in detriment of some clubs with incredible budgets, launching an unknown coach, but with potential – Jose Mourinho :).)

How to get to Porto

It isn’t quite as easy nor that cheap to get toPorto. The only airlines that can be of help are TAP (with a change in Lisbon) and Lufthansa (changing in Frankfurt). Ryanair and Easyjet fly Porto from Milan Malpensa, Charleroi, Memmingen or Rome Fiumicino, to name just some airports, so you can reach it with low cost companies if you want.

Where to stay in Porto

I stayed at Quality InnPortus Cale, a business hotel with all the necessary facilities – I sleped here by cortousy of  Paravion.ro . I stayed at this hotel because it is two steps away from the Sheraton hotel where I was attending the Travel Bloggers Unite conference, but it is relatively far away from the center. Yes, it is close to the subway but if I would come to Porto for the sole goal of tourism I would stay closer to the center. A lot of the participants stayed at the Hostel Galleria – I’ve seen it as well, only the commune parts, like the restaurant, bar and it looks superb! More than that, the resident bloggers here called it one of the most beautiful hostels in Europe. And I have to believe them.

When to go to Porto

During the summer, I do believe it is very hot, but probably as it is close to the Atlantic Ocean, it is cooler. The winter though is pretty humid and unexpectedly cold. The locals told me that sometimes it is an ugly humidity that takes charge of your bones. Spring and autumn are wonderful though and you can savor the city in pleasant climate conditions.

Note:

My attendance at the Travel Bloggers Unite Porto was facilitated by Paravion.ro  who paid for my accommodation and transport. Thank you, Paravion.ro !

Pictures of  Porto:

 Sights of Porto: Douro shore

Start from here, on the Douro shore

Douro, the river that crosses Porto

where you can catch a 45-50 minutes cruise at 10 euros (plus a voucher for an entry at a Porto wine winery).

Sights of Porto: Douro cruise

So, up on the boat!

Things to see in Porto: Louis I Bridge

This is one of the spectacular bridges over the Douro…the Louis I Bridge, the city symbol

Things to do in Porto; jump in Douro river

From here the macho youngsters of the city jump

Things to see in Porto: The old city center

From the boat you can admire also the old town, up on the hills.

Things to see in Porto: Douro river

Back to the shore of the river

Naked teenager from Portugal

where I discover that jumping in the Dourois a true passion!

Things to see in Porto: Gaia district

I cross the river to the Gaia district, full of wineries with Porto wine

Things to see in Porto: Sandeman cave

I chose to visit the Sandeman winery

Things to do in Porto: Sandeman winery tour

with a woman guide dressed in Sandeman

Things to see in Porto: taste Porto wine in Sandeman cave

And a tasting at the end…should it be white, should it be red? Let there be both!

Things to see in Porto: take the Gaia cable car

It is mandatory to take the elevator in order to climb to the 1st floor

Things to see in Porto: Luis bridge

for an exceptional panorama

Porto: the old city

of the city

Things to see in Porto: Se Cathedral

What else is worth a visit in Porto? The Se Cathedral

Things to see in Porto: Stock Exchange Palace

The Stock Exchange Palace

Stock Exchange Palace in Porto

On its walls, Romania might be featured too (or the United Principalities)

Things to see in Porto: Stock Exchange Palace

With a covered patio

Things to see in Porto: The old square in the center

The old square in the center

Things to see in Porto: The train station

The train station, superbly decorated with azulejos

Things to see in Porto: McDonald’s

And in Porto, even the McDonald’s is an architectonic monument :)

Things to see in Porto: Lello Book store

Especially the Lello bookstore with the neo-gothic façade

Porto: Lello Book store

With the Harry Potter-style interior

Things to see in Porto: A church with azulejos

A church with azulejos

Porto

But Porto means more than palaces and churches, it also means the poor districts right downtown, that have their charm

Cheap restaurant in Porto

Or the restaurants in these areas where you spent a couple of euros for a lunch

Până acum există "1 comentariu" la acest articol:

  1. Porto has an interesting vintage feel!
    The views around the river are amazing!

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