20th July 2017
I flew out from Manchester on Thursday 7th July with Donald for my first visit to Portugal. Exciting to be visiting a new country.
The flight to Porto takes about two and a half hours from Manchester. The temperature was in the low twenties when we arrived on Thursday night. It was overcast and that was not to change until the middle of the weekend. Consequently the photos for the first few days are a wee bit dull. We stayed at the Exe Almada on Rua Almada. This is centrally located and between two Metro stations. To be honest from this type of location most major sites can be visited on foot unless the heat is too severe. Except for two instances we just hoofed it.
What a city! Clean and not too crowded the architecture is amazing wherever you go. There are a lot of well preserved art deco building liberally sprinkled around the city and a wheen of ancient churches. I will list the places we went to and none of them will disappoint. Our first stop was the Cafe Majestic on Rua San Caterina. It was opened in 1921 and is a classy joint filled out with polished wood and leather upholstery. A real experience if not cheap. We had coffee and the Pastel Nata, a beautiful egg tart sometimes also called Pasta de Belem. It is everywhere in Porto but the sample in the Cafe Majestic was the best. Near to the Cafe Majestic is the Porto Market with a stunning chapel Capela das Almas just behind it.
We then walked to the Estacao de Sao Bento, which is the main railway station. In the entrance there is some amazing tiling depicting historical events. Beside the station is the large Igreja dos Congregados Church. The whole city just seemed to be packed with buildings asking for their photo to be taken. Next up was the Cathedral with a Convent attached. We paid to get into the convent cloister which has a nice courtyard and beautiful blue tiling in the corridors. This tiling is all over the city and is a major feature wherever you go. Our trip continued on to the Museum of Portuguese Photography. The building was originally a prison and has an amazing interior, now converted to a series of galleries with all the old heavy prison doors still intact. Near to the museum is the famous Lello Bookstore, one of the oldest in Portugal and rated as one of the top bookshops in the world. You need to pay to get in. It has a connection with Harry Potter, due to the author claiming the place as an inspiration; however the interior is stunning and well worth visiting in its own right. The Harry Potter connection it would seem has added massively to its popularity. Nearby two churches stand side by side. Igreja dos Carmelites has a 17th century baroque interior, whist Igreja dos Carmo is in the 18th century rococo style and has external tiled panelling carried out in 1912 by Silvesto Silverstri. All of this section of the town can be done on foot and only takes three hours or so.
In the evening we attended an organ recital by Filipe Verissimo with excerpts sung by soprano Alexandra Quinta E Costa in the Igreja Do Convento De Sao Francisco.
On the south side of the River Douro in Porto a whole area is taken up by the port wineries famous to the area. We visited the Royal Oporto Winery for sampling. When over in that area I would recommend taking a cable car up to the Mosteiro da Serra do Pilar. There is only limited access to the monastery but its position provides great views over the city.
Another highlight of the trip was a seven hour trip up the River Douro, with a two hour journey back on the train. I will let the photos do the talking but there was a great variety of landscapes and we passed up past two different dams, giving those of you who have tried barging a whole different scale of operation when going up in a lock that takes half an hour just to fill up!
Within Porto itself other places we visited include the Palacio de Cristal, which has lovely gardens and good views onto the river from the north side. Boavista was another area to explore within walking distance of the hotel, but it was so hot we had to take the metro back!
As far as eating out is concerned on the south side of the river we dined at Ar de Rio which is right on the river and serves up lovely steaks. On another evening we walked about three miles out west on the south side to Afurada which is a fisherman's district. I can't remember the name of the restaurant but the sea bass and salmon were amazing. Well worth the walk with a taxi back to town later on.
Local to the hotel was the Comme Ce Comme Ca restaurant situated in a building with stunning exterior and interiors. Check out the wild boar ribs! Our favourites close by the hotel where we made repeated visits to were the Cafe Candelabro and its next door neighbour Champanheria da Baixa, which serves great tapas and the best porto tonic in town. (Note: my travel log site doesn't let me put links up for the websites of these establishments but they can be easily found on the web)
Our final day was spent out at the coast in a trip to Matosinhos Sur. We took the metro out. Fourteen stops taking about twenty five minutes each way for a princely E3.70 return! We walked along the beach and bumped into fellow Glasgow people Gillie, Eileen and family who were on an excursion from their cruise ship. Small world!
I hope this blog will give you a flavour of the place and some ideas of what to see if you visit. Finally the trip would not have been the same without the help given by Enrique, a local to Porto now based in the Manchester area and who furnished us with all the details we needed for a great trip. I hope I have managed to pass some of his knowledge and wisdom onto you. Thanks Enrique!
Enjoy the pics.
All the best