Keys to enjoying the city of Portugal that never disappoints

Travel

Laura pintos

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Porto does not disappoint. The Portuguese city is the perfect enclave for a getaway as a couple, with friends or family, because at your good gastronomy and wines adds the charm of your eclectic architecture, beautifully decadent, and the unique landscape of Duero with its iron bridges, its boats, its seagulls and its final winding before melting and disappearing into the Atlantic Ocean.

It is the jewel of the north of the neighboring country, and its second most populous city. Located a few kilometers from the mouth of the river, Porto – or Porto for the locals – has a history as a fishing port, the main commercial and cultural hub until 1820, a land of vineyards and an enclave of emblematic buildings that make you look up at every step .

Although it shares the nostalgic and sad air of Lisbon, Porto is not going to listen to fado, but to enjoy the view and the taste. What best known is on foot, for which you have to be prepared with comfortable shoes, because its slopes are profuse. You can save climbs with trams or buses, but it is by getting lost in its historic center, declared World Heritage, how you feel the environment and appreciate the mix of styles that characterizes its constructions. They range from modernism to baroque and neoclassicism, without neglecting some Roman and Celtic remains.

Many of its houses in the central tourist area are uninhabited, reconditioned as accommodation or company headquarters, since the people of Porto live on the outskirts, in the populous cities that surround it and which are a good alternative if you are looking to save. But still the medieval area, the so-called Ribeira neighborhood, with its 12th century cathedral, it is a continuous postcard whose cobblestone streets are worth exploring, stopping at its typical shops and cafes for homemade snacks surely cooked by whoever is behind the bar.

What key places to visit, the church of San Francisco, with its baroque interior and its carvings covered in gold, and the imposing Palace of the Stock Exchange from the 19th century. The views are superb from the Torre de los Clérigos, the San Bento station has incredible tiles that tell the story and the customs of the place and the purchases are made in the shops on the street or ‘rúa’ Santa Catarina.

The Clérigos tower, in Porto.
The Clérigos tower, in Porto. – L. Pintos.

However, the longest lines – even in times of Covid they go around the corner – are seen in a small bookstore, Lello, and the reason is unexpected for those who are not fans of Harry Potter. It is said that the writer was inspired by it JK Rowling for her famous academy of magicians, since she spent two years in Porto as an English teacher. The city is an important university and academic center, in fact it is also commented that the typical costume of its students for the ‘praxe’, in strict black and with a cape, could also have been detected by the observer eye of the English author. Also in the superb Café Majestic, currently closed for renovations, the local legend tells that he took notes and ideas from the place to create his ‘best seller’.

Characteristics of Porto are its bridges. There are six in total, although two made of iron are special, the María Pía, built by Gustave Eiffel himself in 1876, and the Don Luis, or Luis I, the most famous and symbol of the city, built in imitation of the one made by the master by his partner Theopile Seyrig ten years later to connect Porto with Gaia. This has the peculiarity that it has of the platforms, so you can cross by car and on foot both above (the subway also goes there) and below, connecting both the urban heart -in the upper part- and the coast -underneath- full of terraces, a long walk coastal and embarks departure of boats.

In ‘la invicta’ -name that describes very well the friendly but proud and somewhat rebellious character of its inhabitants- you eat well almost everywhere, at a lower cost than in Spain, although the offer is even more affordable on the Gaia side (Vila Nova de Gaia, the town that looks at Porto in a mirror). There too the views are better, because it allows you to see the entire city spread out on the hillside, with its stone buildings and earth colors and its tiled roofs and towers, and there are also the wineries, one next to the other along the coast, where you can take guided tours and tastings and have a bite to eat.

As is known, in Porto the wine of the same name is drunk, but there are more good wines and the famous green wine. To eat, cod in all its forms and you have to try the ‘francesinha’, the typical dish, a kind of hot sandwich of pork loin and sausages with a slightly spicy sauce. For dessert, their also typical cream cakes.

Visits near Porto

In summer, Porto adds to its tourist offer the proximity of good beaches. The most spacious and preferred by the locals are in the nearby town of Matosinhos (12 kilometers away), which can be reached by bus or car. They are windy, so they are also preferred by surfers (in fact, there are several surf schools on the beach, next to the beach bars and services).

A destination that without a doubt you have to know when you go to Porto is Aveiro, city to the south, about 45 minutes from the previous one. Former area of ​​salt flats, it is dotted with canals traversed by gondolas and crossed by small bridges where lovers instead of locks leave colored ribbons. For all this it is known as the ‘Venice of Portugal’. Currently, instead of salt or seaweed destined for compost, their boats, called ‘moliceiros’, carry tourists.

Aveiro
Aveiro – L. Pintos

On the way to or from Porto by road, a good idea is to make a stop at a lesser-known jewel in the north of Portugal, Amarante, crossed by the Támega river and with a beautiful old town.

The Guardian has chosen Amarante as one of the cities of essential visit in 2021. There it is opportune to get lost in its streets, and above all to enjoy its gastronomy and its great wines.

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