Porto….not just about Port wine. While port wine is synonymous with Porto there is so much more to this amazing city that I just couldn’t get enough of.
Their port wine production is something this city is very prideful of, so naturally, I had to join a port wine tasting tour. Interestingly enough I learned on the tour that port wine is actually only produced in the Douro Valley, a region across the Douro River (that divides Porto and Douro). This was in fact where we ventured to for our tour.
Walking across the Dom Luis I Bridge, we visited 4 different wineries including the oldest port wine producer Quinta da Roeda and tasting 3 main types of Port; Ruby, Tawny, and White. I found myself liking the strong bold taste of port but learning that it really is meant to be enjoyed as an after meal drink or with dessert. Unlike myself who would order with lunch in the middle of the day. Which brings me to my other reasons for loving Porto, the food!
I would like to say I have excellent willpower but really I don’t when it comes to food and wine. I found I quickly adapted to the food scene in Porto…..pastel de nata (although that obsession really began in Lisbon) every morning with a side of….well another pastry complete with a latte.
Then my day would continue by enjoying the many different ways in which Bacalhau, the Portuguese word for cod, specifically dried and salted, was prepared. Or a cured pork sandwich, which in most cases is quite literally the meat placed on bread and nothing more. And always accompanied by a glass or two of wine usually leading me right into my afternoon pastry. Then completing the day with either grilled sardines or more cod.
But finishing my Portuguese food experience I cozied up with a Super Bock (Portuguese beer of choice) and the ever famous Francesinha sandwich. A sandwich originating from Porto that is made with bread, cured-ham, sausage, steak or roast beef smothered in melted cheese, that is topped off with some sort of tomato & beer based gravy sauce that is usually served with fries. I sought out the restaurant in town that was said to have the best Francesinha, Cafe Santiago and posted up at the bar able to avoid the long line that was wrapped around the street corner. I expressed my love for this sandwich by eating every last piece of it, for which I got an applause from the server behind the counter. It was quite the accomplishment!
But really I didn’t eat and drink my way through Porto. I actually enjoyed a few other activities. Besides wondering the streets with my camera in hand and snapping photos of the colorful tiled buildings and unique building balconies I visited the first art museum in Porto, a well sought after bookstore, the Portuguese center for photography and of course a few more churches.
Lello & Irmao Bookstore, a must see I had heard about from several people to visit while in Porto. Sure enough, as I walked up there was a line out the door to visit this bookstore. I had to buy a ticket for 4 euros, which could be used towards a purchase of a book. So basically I paid money to view the inside of a bookstore and boy am I glad that I did.
The minute you walk in you have to take a moment and look beyond the people scattered about in the store to really appreciate the beauty of this place. Once I did I quickly understood the attraction. It felt kind of strange to enter into a bookstore without the intention of buying a book and just wanting to snap a few photos. The main draw is the vibrant red staircase that twists and turns its way up to the second floor. Books cover the walls from floor to ceiling in elegant wood bookshelves, where a colorful light shines from the stained glass. While it isn’t exactly a place you come to relax and graze for a book to buy it definitely a place to come and admire…. and of course to take the best selfie for Instagram.
Part of the attraction to visit the Portuguese Center of Photography (besides the obvious) was that it was set up in an old prison and it was free! The exhibition was created by a Portuguese and Swiss photographer who photographed life in Portuguese prisons wanting to shed light on the people and the institution itself. This building, built back in the 1770’s as a prison offered the perfect backdrop to showcase this exhibition. It was a unique experience that I felt lucky to have enjoyed with Portuguese locals.
Of course, I couldn’t leave a European city without visiting the inside of a church. The most impressive and jaw-dropping was the Cathedral de Sao Francisco. Well worth the 5 euros, this church housed the most impressive display of baroque decoration that covered the inside from floor to ceiling. I think my exact words upon entering the doors were…”holy shit”, I know totally not appropriate. One could sit there for hours just gazing at every little detail. Another part of the church that I found just as fascinating for vastly different reasons was the catacombs. As part of the museum, you are guided back through the catacombs of the church, where they used to bury the dead of the city. Through this eery walk down under you can view the tombs of the Franciscan monks and the ossuary with thousands of human bones, which you can view below you. So wonderfully creepy!
Porto…thanks for the food, wine, beautiful views and unforgettable memories!