Waking up to sunshine, especially on a Monday, is one of the best feelings. We allowed ourselves the luxury of sleeping in a little before enjoying some of the gorgeous white wine we had purchased the day before on our balcony with some pastries from a local baker. They were delicious pan au chocolat in look but instead stuffed with warm ham and cheese. After pigging out on pastry and wine we got dressed and headed to the Praca de Liberdade a short 10 minute walk from our apartment for the beginning of our free walking tour. I know I always go on about these but they really are a fantastic way to see a city on a budget. After checking in we sat in the sun for a few minutes before the groups were split and we headed off to learn more about the fabulous city of Porto!
Liberty square was a fitting start for the walking tour, with the statue of King Peter IV who fought to protect the city during the liberal wars. In 1718 the urbanisation of the area began and during the 19 Century the square became the economic, political and social centre of Porto. The square is really wide and has some of its basis on the Champs-Elysees in Paris. The wide streets are a bit of a novelty for the cramped city of Porto which is based around an old town set on a steep hill with narrow alleyways carving throughout. We got some really fabulous views of a variety of religious establishments – Portugal is a fiercely catholic country – all of which are really different in style from old and fabulously ornate to simpler. We then made our way over to the fabulously decorated Sao Bento Railway Station – a work of art with a multitude of scenes painted on approximately 20,000 azulejo tiles. Our guide explained some of the traditional farming scenes before going onto some of the bloodier battles. It was really spectacular to witness and gave us a chance to escape the midday heat for a while. We headed back outside and after a quick stop next to the original (not necessarily the best) restaurant serving Francesinha we headed up to the main shopping street.
Porto is a really lovely city for shopping with a lot of reasonably priced good quality items including filigree jewellery and a lot of leather! The city is a bustling place and it was nice to just wander around and learn more about the history with a really good guide. However, the one negative to the tour was that it ran on a considerably over the allotted time meaning by the time we arrived at the castle it was a bit of information overload for us. The castle was pretty and our guide at least took the opportunity to sit the group in shady areas to allow us to rest from his mammoth history lesson. We then visited the top of the bridge and saw the old city walls which used to keep the pesky Gaia neighbours out (or more like keep the Porto residents in) before climbing back up to the old town and into the residential area. We then wandered the backstreets of the old Porto houses which are beautifully colourful, with at certain points fantastic views out to the river and Gaia below. Because the city is built on a hill the houses are all ramshackle and sort of stacked right on the edge of the hillside creating a warren of backstreets to explore. We finally arrived at the finishing point absolutely ravenous and very much over the walking tour. It is a real shame as the guide was clearly very knowledgeable and the city has very interesting stories but sometimes keeping things short and sweet is the way to go.
Down by the river left us slap bang in the heart of tourist country meaning all of the good restaurants were full of people enjoying lunch. We tried a few places but given it was Monday most of the good places were closed and the others full. By this point I was dizzy with hunger (the tour had lasted 4 and a half hours rather than 3). We crossed over into Gaia to try our luck there where the only restaurant of the many along the riverfront that was open with space was a small café bar Sabores D’Aldeia. The food was frankly terrible – I decided not to eat the octopus after tasting a bit and it having a slightly off taste. There was a chickpea stew which the owner recommended which was pretty good but otherwise this place should only be visited for Rose Port cocktails which were out of this world. Potentially because of the Rose Port rather than the bar itself. Feeling wholly unsatisfied we made our way up to Taylors the famous port house situated in Gaia. The port houses remind me a lot of Champagne houses in their grandeur with large beautiful buildings set in stunning gardens. Tours are available here but given we had toured a port house the day before and just been on the longest walking tour ever we settled on doing a port tasting of their white, tawny and ruby ports in the sunny gardens. It was divine. Despite being mass produced we enjoyed the white and tawny port so much we purchased some before wandering back to the Porto side of the river.
Our final dinner in Porto was at Tapabento Trinidade – Tripadvisors no.1 Porto restaurant (at the time). We arrived just as they were opening and so sat out in the square out front in the sun before they welcomed us in. Everything about this restaurant wowed us from the start to the end. The staff were delightful and after seating us brought over and opened a total of 6 wines for us to try before settling on our favourite. Every single element of the meal was standout however, after a full port tasting and losing all photographic evidence of what we ate I couldn’t tell you what it was. I do however, remember every course arriving and being wowed by the presentation and blown away by the flavours. I would go as far to say this is my second favourite restaurant in the world (a bold claim indeed) and it isn’t particularly fancy or expensive just going to show that truly innovative and tasty food can be found on a budget. We enjoyed a stupendous 4 course meal (the third course was cheese) before meandering our way home and stopping for a pastel de nata and some more wine we definitely didn’t need on the way. I love this city.
After our late and very boozy night we enjoyed a leisurely morning of sleeping in our gorgeous apartment MyStay Porto Bolhao for the last time. We were flying home this evening after a fabulous weekend but we still had the rest of the day to enjoy before heading home. After packing up and heading out our first stop was for pastel de nata and coffee for breakfast. The landlady at the apartments ad recommended the oldest place to get them in the city and we set off to try and find it. However, this location was slightly tricky to pinpoint and eventually we opted for Delta Q – a modern café where you can also watch them being made. We had a few each and some coffee before heading off on a wander around the city. We did shopping and managed to find the local market with a variety of food and wine stands before checking out the Majestic Café (the oldest café in Porto) where the waiters still wear their white serving jackets and the cocktails are obscenely overpriced. We had a port cocktail anyway, and went for a look inside on the way to the bathroom to marvel at the stunning café which truly is a work of historical art. Sitting in the sun, sipping my gin cocktail and writing postcards was just perfect in every way. Our final stop of the day was back to Café Santiago for the famous Francesinha. We arrived to a queue so put our names down and waited across the road in a small café to enjoy a final port. After a short wait we got called to sit at the bar and enjoy the spectacle of the Francesinha being made as well as to eat one. There were a few variations – one with/without egg, with extra cheese etc. We each opted for a different variation of the famous sandwich which consists of; a grilled sandwich on white bread with mortadella (salami), fresh sausage, linguica (cured pork sausage), beef steak, ham and cheese which once grilled is topped with more cheese and egg and sauce and surrounded by chips. I was desperate to try the famous Porto sandwich and I have to say I was definitely not disappointed. It is very filling and hearty and one of these things I am not sure I would eat multiple times but definitely would have another if I am back in the city.
It was full and merry that we made our way back to the hotel and to the airport via the metro. It was quick, easy and cheap, pretty much the same as our weekend in Porto. The city had definitely exceeded my expectations with fantastic food and wine, great history and lots to see and do. The nearby winelands of Douro are spectacular and should be on everyone’s bucket list. With Ryanair offering decidedly cheaper flights to different European destinations all the time there really is no excuse not to indulge in a city break and Porto would definitely be at the top of my list. It was a delight.