An April 2001 trip
to Porto by Eve Carr
Quote: Relive Portugal’s might sea conquests as you wander the cobblestone streets of historic Oporto. Enjoy stylish accommodations and the hearty cuisine of the present as you stay in Oporto’s historic district at the Pestana Porto Carlton Hotel. Then reach out and discover the “undiscovered” beauty of northern Portugal.
Start in the city of Oporto, or Porto, as the locals call it. Capture the flavor of the city by sitting at an outdoor café at the popular Praça (square) da Ribeira in the historic area along the Doruo River.
Ah, to sip a glass of Port wine in Porto. Now that's traveling. Portugal is world-famous for this fortified wine, and Porto is the heart of Port activity.
The grapes for Port wine aren't grown here, but upriver along the scenic Upper Douro River near Spain, in large quintas (farms. After it is crushed (nothing is better than foot-stomping), it is transported down the Douro to Vila Nova de Gaia, across the Douro River from Porto. Here this liquid gold is stored in barrels in huge warehouses called Port wine lodges. At one time, Port was shipped downriver in the distinctive single-masted Barcos Rabelus ships. Today,these boats are a vivid reminder of a more colorful age and are more decorative than functional.
Wander Porto’s maze of cobblestone streets as you shop at its many stores and boutiques and visit cultural treasures such as the São Bento Train Station, where some 20,000 intensely blue and white azulejos, or Portuguese tiles, document the country’s colorful history. From historical treasures such as the Sé Cathedral and the Igreja (church) de Massarelos, to stylish restaurants featuring Portugal’s hearty cuisine, you’ll find plenty of things to do here.
After visiting Porto, cross the Douro River via its famous double-decker Dom Luis bridge to Villa Nova de Gaia, where you can enjoy the fruits of the vine at the Port wine warehousing district. Then head for the countryside, to discover charming smaller towns, lush farmlands, Roman ruins, and, in general, the peaceful, relaxed lifestyle of the Portuguese countryside.
On the weekends, it seems that all of Porto is at the Foz do Douro along the Avenida de Don Carlos at the mouth of the Atlantic Ocean. Here lovers of all ages stroll hand in hand, seek shade under a Pérgola, enjoy the breeze from the ocean, and play with children. This is what life should be.
Member Rating 4 out of 5 on June 25, 2001
MuseuSerralves, Museum of Contemporary Art
Rua D. João de Castro
In Portugal, there are white (blanco), red (tingo) and rose (rosado) wines, as well as a specialty of the Douro region, vinho verde or green wine. No, this is not a Portugal version of Green Eggs and Ham. Vinho verde is really a white or red wine. The "green" simply refers to the color of the young grapes when they are plucked. Although it can be served in regular wine glasses, it seems to taste better in champagne flutes, because this light and fruity has a slight effervescent. I've tasted it at home and in Portugal and must say that it's much more fun to enjoy it there.
Now in its fourth generation, Robertson’s firm of Taylor Fladgate & Yeatman is still family owned and managed and, in fact, is the last of the totally independent company of the original British Port houses.
From Porto, it's easy to tell that the Port wine industry is alive and well. Just take a look across the Douro River at night, and you'll see massive Port wine logos and signs that shimmer in the wavy water.
Like any other good wine, Port has its vintage years that connoisseurs seek. Sip dry white Port as an apéritif or savor the sweeter rich tawny reds as you nibble on dessert or, better yet, a plate of creamy Portuguese Serra cheese. Whichever Port you select, sip it slowly and let it be a pleasant reminder of Porto how some things just seem to improve with age.
One of the city’s most famous bridges lives on only in the hearts of local residents. Along the busy Casis da Riberia at the Douro waterside, a bronze plaque memorial with burning candles pays tribute to people who died on March 29, 1809, while fleeing the invading French. The wooden bridge they were using collapsed, plunging them to their deaths in the Douro River below.
Churches, of course, have had a profound influence on architecture. Visit the cloisters of the Sé Cathedral, the Casa do Cabido, and the Igreja (church) de Massarelos, which honors Portugal’s outstanding navigational discoveries, to appreciate the architecture as well as more of Portugal’s famous tiles.
Porto’s Church of São Francisco, on Rue do Infante D. Henrique is also an important city landmark and cultural center. It was built, along with an adjacent monastery, in 1383 by Franciscan monks. The monastery was burned in the early 1800’s, but the church, with its magnificent gilded sculptures, has some 450 pounds of gold guilding - that will dazzle your eyes.
Next to São Francisco, where the monastery once stood, the Plácio do Bolsa or Porto Stock Exchange offers visitors quite a surprise. Don’t think of this as a trading center, but a lavish display of wealth of the powerful commercial class, as well as one of the most extensive displays of craftsmanship that you’re likely to find in one location. Behind this neo-classical façade, you’ll be overwhelmed with elaborate ornamentation.
From the somewhat somber atmosphere of the Sala do Tribunal or Commercial Court Room to the overwhelmingly opulent Salão Arabe or Arabian Room, with its rich Moorish style modeled on the Alhambra, the Plácio do Bolsa is a treasure-trove of art and architecture that no one should miss.
São Pedro dos Clérigos, a Baroque church designed by Italian architect Nicolau Nasoni, is a famous Porto landmark because of its 246-foot tower, which was once used as a navigational aid. If you’re feeling ambitions, you can climb the tower’s seemingly unending granite steps and be rewarded with a panoramic view of the city and surrounding area.
If you want to listen to fado before your visit to Porgugal, look for recordings by Amalia Rodrigues. When Rodrigues died in 1999 at the age of 79, her obituary called her the "Ambassador of Fado," and credited her with making it world famous. Today, singers such as Argentina Santos carry on her tradition.