“Elegance is the only beauty that never fades” – Audrey Hepburn
I am about to break the mould. Stray from the usual path so to speak. Whenever it comes to writing about a destination, I usually like to let it sit for a while. Take stock of the experience; let it fester in the mind until a point in time the brain seems ready to piece together everything that the bodily senses took in. I believe this way it’s possible to succinct all the information down to the key points, the vital aspects which as an individual you have subconsciously remembered. In that sense these finer details form a clearer picture, a picture including all that is deemed to be important to the story, whilst excluding all the fluff which can cause everything to become distorted.
Usually the problem is that my poor brain contains a multitude of stories just waiting to be unfurled, as quite honestly I tend to travel much faster than I can seemingly write. It is due to this that I needed to get this location down on paper almost instantaneously. Whether out of fear of losing the information, or just out of total admiration for a European city which is nothing short of spectacular. Porto like an elegant persona has somehow managed to jump the queue.
Famed as the birth place of sweet port wine and its breathtaking location set upon the Douro River the coastal city of Porto is the second largest within the country, only dwarfed by that of Portugal’s capital Lisbon. With its prime location set upon the North Atlantic Ocean, mild winters, and warm summers, this municipal is as an attractive proposition as you could possibly imagine for those looking for a city break.
The first thing that becomes abundantly clear when arriving in Porto is how you never seem to be walking on an even keel. Whether that be the sharp descents, wonky slopes, or quite often a lung bursting climb almost all paths appear to be on a gradient. Only when arriving to the foot of the city does it become apparent as to why that actually is…
Porto has quite clearly been built upon a hill, with its historic buildings and settlements ascending up the rivers embankments into the vast blue space which reigns above. Not only does this produce a beautiful backdrop set along the colourful Riviera, but has resulted in many stately bridges being built linking the city to its many neighbours which form the Porto District.
Porto’s bridges are as beautiful as they are iconic, providing a wonderful unique aspect to the Douro on which this medieval city lies. Grand in structure and design they are nothing short of monumental landmarks, which leave a picture perfect landscape. There is none more impressive or illustrious than that of the ‘Dom Luis I’; a bridge probably most recognised for its two tier structure, allowing for passage both high and low. Rising high into the pristine Porto skyline it links the city centre to the neighbouring Villa Nova de Gaia, and if you can muster the courage to take the high road it is worth it for the views alone. If being left open to the elements isn’t really your thing however, then it is also possible to cable car it across the widespread waters. Either way, it is essential that on a jaunt to Porto that you do actually cross from one side to the other.
It could be argued what awaits on the other side is one of the most famous areas within the district, not for its artistic buildings, historic landmarks, or beautiful scenery like Porto itself, but for what Villa Nova de Gaia actually plays host to. Set upon the often flooded low lying banks, numerous rustic cellars are situated. Cellars which although aren’t incredibly pretty on the eye, are in fact home to none other than the famous Port wine.
As the birthplace of Port its namesake Porto holds the key to producing a beverage so sweet and flavoursome, it is held in such high regard worldwide. Found in many a drinking cabinet across the continent, a visit to the city without a trip to one of the many storage facilities would be an opportunity missed. Not only do the tours allow for thirsty travellers and connoisseurs alike to taste the variety of exquisite rubies, tawnies, whites, and gran reservas which tantalise the taste buds, but treat individuals to a firsthand look at how they are stored, the history entwined within, and an informative learning experience as to how grapes produced in the stunning valleys create a drink like no other.
The Douro Valley is set high into the hills outside of Porto, not somewhere which can be easily reached on a short trip. However, if time is in abundance it would be a worthwhile location to explore. Out in the brisk breeze with vineyards upon vineyards lining the rugged landscape which spreads out from the riverbed, it is a place one would feel totally at ease with nature. What is produced in this simply gorgeous setting fuels a gastronomical environment which gives Porto a taste both unique and flavoursome. Whilst the grapes create fresh full bodied wines, the regions chefs and bakers cook up a storm in the kitchen. From the sweet to the savoury, from the subtle to the sublime wholesome dishes and specialities offer up a feast full of delight.
Whilst the list of delicious foods from Porto could quite easily create a story by themselves, there are a couple of specialties which will treat food junkies to sex on a plate… Portuguese style!
Starting with probably one of the most famous delicacies from the country, the Pastel de Nata is effectively a sweet custard tart. The closest comparison I can think of is that of the British Egg Custard. An Egg Custard this is not however. With its subtle blend of sweetness and cinnamon this custard filled pastry not only melts in your mouth, but hits you with such an array of powerful and intense flavours. Highly addictive, it might just become your new favourite treat. As much as it is unlikely to find a poor Pastel de Nata in Porto, it would be worth a visit to Manticaria café, where not only will you be treated to one (or many) of their delightful sweets, but you will also be able to watch the professionals creating this little masterpiece right in front of your very eyes.
However, no visit to Porto would be complete without savouring their totally authentic Francesinha; a sandwich which looks for all the world like it has been put together by an excitable child who’s eaten way too much sugar. It would be quite normal for most on first viewing to have some reservations about this dish. On the contrary what this dish lacks in appearance, it certainly makes up for in taste. A gut-busting sized multi-layered breaded meal, containing a variety of succulent meats; it’s lined with cheese, and traditionally topped with a fried egg. Never the less it is the secretive sauce which the local chefs keep so close to their chests that engulfs the Francesinha, ultimately making this dish so incredibly special. For the best in town, take a walk through the old cobbled streets and head down to Café Santiago where you’re sure to find an almost orgasmic culinary experience.
The many homely cafes, restaurants, bars, and shops which line the old-fashioned pathways keep Porto’s traditions well and truly alive. The cobbled aspects of these streets are wondrous, but don’t forget to avert the eyes upwards so to witness long-established architecture which contains such beauty. Be that as it may, it is the exquisite murals imprinted onto the sides of numerous churches hidden around the city that give Porto its pristine finishing touch. What can only be presumed as painstakingly time consuming, the classically hand painted and detailed artwork effectively puts a vibrant blue and white stamp upon the location. After all, this combination of colours appears to be quite popular around these parts.
Adopted by the famous FC Porto, blue and white reigns supreme in the region. One of the big three clubs which have dominated the Primeira Liga since its creation back in the early 1900’s, FC Porto’s trophy cabinet and records sees them considered as one of the most illustrious football clubs in the country. They themselves have been around much longer it seems. Trace the history back and you’ll find they were actually founded long before that, in 1893 to be precise. Nicknamed Dragoes, the Portuguese word for ‘dragon’ the club now reside at the 50,000 seater Estadio do Dragao, a unique stadium which combines a modern and yet still traditional feel. Although the club do run stadium tours, unless you’re a fanatic it isn’t exactly worth your while. Despite that, what would be more advisable is attending an actual game to witness firsthand the pride Porto’s inhabitants have for their famous Dragons.
The club share a local rivalry with the neighbouring black and white of Boavista, however it is the highly competitive rivalry against Lisbon’s S.L Benfica which gets tongues wagging. Like Ali and Fraizer, these two greats have gone toe-to-toe for many a year with success swaying back and forth like a mesmerizing pendulum. Fiery, competitive, and ultimately a special spectacle it would be a must on the list of any football fans away day list.
If the football isn’t really your idea of organised fun for a day trip, then how about the beach?
Yes, as if Porto doesn’t already have enough on offer, the centre is just a stone’s throw away from some pristine coastal spots. From Praia dos Beijinhos to Matosinhos Beach, or Praia da Luz to Praia do Ourigo golden shores and a tide which brings it spectacular waves are an appeal to any beach bum who fancies a day out of the city.
If peace and quiet is on your agenda though, then why not explore a bit deeper into Porto itself. With many a well kept garden or park, a bit of head space is easily obtainable, and there is nowhere better than the Jardins do Palacio de Cristal. The oval shaped gardens which sit high upon the hill are not only relaxing, but offer some of the best views around, including a secret viewpoint both influencers and travellers alike will revel in. Either at sunrise or sunset, the gardens are equally as tranquil. An idyllic place to take some photos, sit down and just soak in the moment with someone close to your heart.
Elegance effectively epitomizes Porto; it’s clean, it’s classy, and full of style. A European city which screams homely vibes like no other, it manages to balance the old with the new almost perfectly. Like a warm kindred spirit, the friendly and open atmosphere created mirrors that of its people. With the epic valleys to the east and the windswept coast to the west nature not only surrounds Porto, but entwines right the way through it. To say the Douro River which cuts its way through the district makes the city what it is would be unfair. However, with the rising banks of the Riviera playing host to an almost postcard like setting whilst epic bridges line the way, it’s hard not to fall in love with the place. Sit in the sun and watch the world go by, savouring each moment that Porto has to offer. From its medieval streets to its unique artwork and from its exquisite wines to its culinary delights, explore a modernised city which encompasses both nature and tradition. Whether for a short break or a long one, you could be hard pushed to find a European city as good as this one.
The blue and white stamp of Porto will be permanently imprinted upon your heart…
The elegant persona which it is forever remaining in the memory, unlikely to be forgotten.