O Porto.... The Home of Port Wine and Historic Adventure!

O Porto.... The Home of Port Wine and Historic Adventure!

Someone on social media recently posted “I don’t drink wine so why should I go to visit Porto Portugal?  Oh my goodness, I don’t drink any alcohol including wine but wouldn’t let that stop me from visiting this beautiful city.  In 1996 Porto was designated as a UNESCO World Heritage site. You have to have more than great wine to get that designation.  The historic center is renowned for its well-preserved urban fabric, medieval streets, fabulous food, stunning architecture and welcoming people.  Notable landmarks include the Porto Cathedral and the Ribeira District.  (River District).  I was swept away with its beauty starting with the Douro river and its iconic bridges in the heart of the historic district.

Short History...

There is no way to truly appreciate and grasp how a city like Porto became so unique without a bit of understanding of the history of layers of cultures that created her over 2,000 years.

First there were the Romans with their architecture, then the Visigoths with their architecture, government structure and legal system who moved in as the Romans were in decline.  The the Moors then establised Islamic rule in 711 for about 400 years.

In the early 12th century the Reconquista, a gradual process of reclaiming territory from Islamic rule took place..  This eventually led to the formation of the modern nations of Spain and Portugal thus establishing the Portuguese monarchy’s Catholic dominance which remains today.

Porto is also the home of  the European “Age of Exploration”.  Henry the Navigator, also known as Infante Dom Henrique of Portugal, was born on March 4, 1394, in Porto.  Being the third son of King John 1 and Queen Philippa of Lancaster, he wasn´t an heir or a spare to the throne so he focused on exploration.

Under Henry's patronage, Portuguese explorers mapped the western coast of Africa, established trading posts and colonies, and expanded Portugal's influence and presence in the region. In Africa, Angola, Mozambique, Guinea Bissau, Cape Verde were colonized.  In Asia, Goa India, Timor, Macau and Malacca we brought under Portuguese rule as well as various islands in the Atlantic.  Lets not forget Brazil.   They visited many countries for trade such as Japan and brought back cultural influences from all of these places thus weaving a diverse and unique culture that makes up Portugal today.  

The Adventure...

Mei and Grape

My pal Mei said she was going to Porto with her daughter Alexandra for 3 days. Grape and I were delighted to tag along as they did most of the planning. We headed out from Caldas da Rainha on Train which was my first Portuguese train experience.  In the middle of our trek north one of the train people came to our cabin and announced we would be disembarking early due to a strike on some of the lines.  He routed us to another line and we were well on our way again.  Thank heavens for Alexandra and her phone aps .. we arrived.

It is a great idea to hang with smart and fun people like Alexandra!!

Our first stop was Sao Bento Train station:  Admire the stunning azulejo (ceramic tile) artwork inside the São Bento Train Station, depicting historical scenes that tell Portugal's history.  

Then off to our hostel in the Ribeira District. I had a preconceived vision of what a hostel was and was amazed at how wrong I was.  It was very Urban with a Portuguese medival twist.  

Mei and Alexandra entering our Hostel in Porto

This historic district is known for its charming narrow streets, colorful houses, and stunning views of the Douro River. It's a great place to explore, dine, and enjoy the local atmosphere.  

The River and bridges.....

Dom Luis I bridge

We explored back and forth across the “Dom Luis I” bridge to see the best of both sides of the river. Perhaps the most famous of Porto's bridges, the Dom Luís I Bridge was designed by Gustave Eiffel's disciple, Théophile Seyrig. Completed in 1886, the bridge is a double-deck iron structure, featuring two levels for pedestrians and trams on the top deck and road traffic on the lower deck. The bridge offers stunning views of Porto's historic district and the river.  It looks like it was built from "Erector set" from my childhood.   I now see that they should have been called  "Eiffel  sets".

The Maria Pia Bridge in the background....

Another creation of Gustave Eiffel, the Maria Pia Bridge was completed in 1877 and was one of the first major iron bridges built in Portugal.  It served as the main railway bridge connecting Porto to Lisbon.  It is no longer in use for railway traffic, but remains an important historical and architectural landmark.

The Dom Luis I at night

To really appreciate all the bridges we took a Douro river cruz to see the city scape from a different perspective and were given the full story in multiple languages. The river district takes on a whole new feeling at night with lights and street performers with singing, dancing, music, & theatre.

Guys performing

More performers at the rivers edge.  

Girls performing at the rivers edge in the evening.

The Food.....

After exploring the cobbled alley ways and medieval streets we were drawn in by the aroma of traditional portuguese cooking.  

This lovely lady greeted us with gracious Portuguese hospitality.  

Grapes new Pal in Porto

I  ordered the Salmon but there was so much more.  

Next morning we were up and Alexandra  had found the perfect breakfast spot.  I can say it was perfect now but as she headed out at full speed going up hills, I looked at Mei and said  “This better be worth it”.   Well, it was!   The eclectic decor was a fusion of urban, steam punk and old European.  The service was even better.

They customized my morning smoothie with some protien powder I brought.  That would never have happened in the states.  They brought Mei her morning drink and we all ordered exactly what we wanted.  t was perfect.  Thank you Alexandra.

On night two, we were captivated with these two guys charm as they seated us in the alley.  

More Porto pals for Grape.
I wasn´t sure what this was but yum. Mei chose it so it had to be good.

Munchies through out the day....

Frozen yogurt and a VW bus.
Custom Ice Cream made on a cold stone.
Custom smoothies


Mei and Alexandra had ordered tickets to a delightful little fado house where we heard  different types.  Porto is not the home of fado but there are two distinct styles that developed, one from Lisbon and one from Coimbra.  Besides playing music, the performers wove education and history into the experience that was spoken in both English and French.  This was just one of the many highlights of the trip.

This guy was serious and magical on stage singing and story telling. So friendly here with Grape

Walking Tour....

My daughter Ikuko had made a trip to Porto in the spring and told me about a wonderful walking tour.  We all agreed we should take one on this trip so we booked a private tour which proved to be a disappointment.  This guy was kind, but clueless.  I had done more research on the history and sites to see than he so we were finally done with him.  I do highly recommend a walking tour and plan to do a group one on my next trip to Porto.  

We headed over to see the to Crystal Palace, which he said was fabulous.  When we arrived, we realized there was no crystal or palace but rather a dome shaped sports arena.  (Go figure)  To his defense we did find beautiful gardens sprawling above the city and river.   They were worth the hike.  

Views from the gardens of the crystal palace.

Buildings, Architecture and Construction.....

Everywhere we went we saw architecture  from throughout the ages all mixed together like a great pot of soup.  We also saw  abundant signs of construction. Portugal is a country reinventing herself in real time.  

A soup pot of architecture under reconstruction
New life to old ruins

This building was a ruin from about 100 years ago wth a new building built within its facad walls.  The architect left the lines of the ruin to tell the story of its past.  I call this "construction fusion".   Coming from a real estate and construciton background, I find this so creative.    

Below is another example of a restored medieval alley street with a modern glass bridge connecting the two sides.  More "construction fusion".

So gothic

We saw these very ornate buildings peppered through the historic district.

The one above has the Portuguese influence with the adding of the azulejo tiles.  A constant blend of cultures and evolving art.  

In our adventures we stumbled upon Livraria Lello,  often considered one of the most beautiful book stores in the world.   Livraria Lello is a stunning example of Neo-Gothic architecture and is said to have inspired J.K. Rowling's description of Hogwarts in the Harry Potter series.  I think the people in the  line to buy tickets to tour the store thought maybe they would meet Harry Potter himself.

Street Art....

Contemporary Street art is also everywhere in Portugal and much of it very good.  Porto did not dissapoint us in this area either.  I was surprised when we walked around the corner in the wine district and a giant rabbit popped out at us. I had seen this rabbit in pictures but it was even more awesome in personal experience.  Bordalo ii is the artist who does these pieces and they are thoughout Portugal.  We have one of his pieces in Caldas da Rainha near the bus station.    

Bordalo ii art the rabbit

Below is an upclose of part of the Rabbit.  Yea,  it is just made of trash.  

Up close of part of the rabbit made from trash. Awsome isn´t it?

Tire art is also prolific   This piece is adjacent to the Bordalo ii Rabbit.  

Old tire art
Grape found this turtle out of tires along the river walkway.

Older street art in the form of tiles on buildings were abundant.  It inspired me to go home and tile some outside walls of the court yard of the old house we are rebuilding.

Though we are Portuguese residents, we could not resist a local t-shirt shop where the art is all from local artists.    I  picked out the Monkey shirt for Mark.  He is a musician and a monkeys uncle.  

These girls were so cool.

Alexandra with her enthusiasm had us walking up and down hills to the tune of 17,000 to 20,000 steps a day.  Some breaks were in store at the Hostel each afternoon before our evening run again.  

I am ever  so grateful to Mei and Alexandra for sharing this adventure with me.  

Alexandra, Nancie, Grape E. Good and Mei...

A short list of a few more places I plan to go on my next trip to Porto.  

Since I have not been to the following, I didn´t take personal pictures so I have included links to inspire you to consider these stops.  

1. Porto Cathedral:  Also known as Sé do Porto or Porto's Cathedral, is one of the most significant religious and architectural landmarks in the city.  Porto Cathedral stands as a testament to the city's history, combining architectural styles and influences from different periods. Its location on the site of a Visigothic citadel adds to its historical significance, showcasing the layers of history that have shaped the development of Porto over the centuries.

2.  Chapel of São Vicente:  Adjacent to the cathedral is the Chapel of São Vicente. This chapel was built in the 18th century and is known for its beautiful azulejo tiles that depict scenes from the life of Saint Vincent.

3.  Church of Sao Francisco:  See pictures and history below in link

4. Palacioda Bolsa:   The Stock Exchange Palace is an ornate 19th-century building known for its impressive Neoclassical and Moorish architecture. I hear the Arab Room, adorned with intricate designs is stunning.

5. Port Wine Cellars in Porto:      I started this blog about wine, though I don´t drink.   I plan to visit the wine cellars in Vila Nova de Gaia, just across the river, to learn about the production process.

Port wine changed Europe In the late 1600's, the English, with their many wars had fallen out with France and needed a new source of wine for the royal court. The sweet brandy like drink was perfect.   In 1703 the Methuen Treaty was established between England and Portugal for the purpose of trading it. This was the beginning of Port Wines international fame and now found around the world.

September is wine harvest month in Portugal.  Myself and Mei had the wonderful experience of visiting and volunteering at a small local farm where small batches are brewed.  We spent the day picking and experienced the joy of grape harvesting.  Stay tuned for another blog piece on that.  

O Porto...  The door to a great adventure and wine.  

"It´s Grape E. Good"