We packed our bags with a lot of enthusiasm and headed to the North of Portugal, more precisely, the Douro Valley and Oporto. We’ve already been several times in Oporto, but every time we go it’s like the first time. We park in another area and set about a different pathway.
Yet, we have to admit, we were more keen on seeing the Douro Valley.
This time we had to skip some of the highlights in this region, like the viewpoints route or the National Park of Douro or the Arquelogique Park of the Coa Valley, but we did stop in Lamego to lay our eyes on the 18th century pilgrimage shrine of Nossa Senhora dos Remedios. We shouted a big WOW as we spotted it in the far, then a second WOWOW as we got closer to the stairs, and then we just stood there speechless. You are literally before a scenic stairway to “heaven”.
The top of the St.Stephen’s mountain offers a splendid view of the city and the surrounding landscapes. It is a revitalizing mount, the road until the chapel being accompanied by the fragrance of the surrounding forest. As you climb you will come across glazed tile paintings and slowly you will be putting the puzzles together.
The pastoral Douro Valley
Edgar’s serious wake-up call: “This is where the valley begins, you may prepare the camera”. Diana clumsily took out the camera from the bag. Despite the curvy road, we stopped the car every now and then to admire the stunning valleys and vineyards: When you think we’ve seen just a tiny part of its majesty…
Welcome to Upper Douro, an area that covers more than 26000 hectare! Wine has been produced here for more than 2000 years. The region is in the country’s Northeast Interior and it spreads all the way to the border with Spain, which also has its Douro wine region.
This unique place is home to one of the most famous wine in the world – the Port Wine – which is only produced within a certain demarcated region. The Douro Valley has it own micro-climate, allowing it to be ideal for vineyard growing and wine making.
As a wine lover, you may wonder how the Port wine is made. From an aficionado perspective, what we know is that after extracting the juice from the grapes (must) and pouring it into stainless steel vats, they start fermenting. The fermentation is then stopped on its 2nd to 4th day by adding aguardente (neutral grape spirit distilled from wine) of 50-80% alcohol volume. After this process, the wine goes to the lodges in Vila Nova de Gaia to age, of which we’ll speak in a bit.
Curiosities: >When harvesting the slopes, one may think the first grapes to be plucked would be the ones from the hilltop. Yet, the ones closest to the river are the ones harvested. The reason is that the river serves as a mirror for the sunlight, thus projecting it to the vineyard at the bottom. Receiving light from two different sources means the grapes will mature sooner than the ones on the top.
>The Alto Douro Region is a Unesco World Heritage.
Stay at one idyllic villa in the Douro Valley
Once again, we found a perfect villa for us, thank you AirBnB for the help!
We arrived at night which made it difficult to see what the owners were describing: This is a large area, feel welcome to walk, pluck some fruits and make fresh orange juice in the morning...
It comes to my (Diana’s) mind the lyrics of a song: “I had a dream, stood beneath an orange tree”…or was it an “orange sky”? Doesn’t matter, all we could see in the morning when we opened the windows were…orange and tangerine trees! Aaaaaaaaaaa!!! This house is like a fairytale made in stone, in the middle of vineyards and orange trees.
Arrived in Porto. Now what?
For us, it comes without saying that you have plenty of things to do in Oporto and around. Are you up for a full day in the city? Below we list some of the most important local experiences to immerse in. You can always take things at a slower pace and split the visits in two days.
First thing first, choose a place to stay. Once again, AirBnb came in hand and we ended up staying in a central area, just few meters away from the Santa Catarina street, where you can have a coffee at the famous Majestic Café.
The city of Oporto has a fine baroque architecture which is why it has a more sober feeling than Lisbon.
Though considered the second most important city in the country, it is actually one of the first cities of the current Portugal. After the Moorish invasion in 716 A.D., Oporto was one of the first territories to be reconquest by the Christians, in 999 A.D..
The name of Portugal comes from this city, deriving from Portuscale in Gaelic ( Portus + Cale ) which means Port of Gaia.
Throughout the centuries, the people of Oporto played an important role in several of the most relevant moments of Portugal’s history. Moreover, they always showed a strong national sentiment and had a more liberal approach, bringing the country forward. A great example of this is the Liberal Revolution of 1820 that started in Oporto, and which later on led to the Portuguese civil war (1828-34) opposing Liberals and Absolutists.
Curiosity: >The Oporto’s historic centre is a Unesco World Heritage.
São Bento Train Station
This station was built on an ex-convent (where the name derives from) in the early 20th century and inaugurated in 1913. We must tell you that it is an outstanding construction from the floor to the ceiling. It is here where the train from Pocinho that crosses the picturesque Douro line stops.
Spoiler: the tile panels will take your breath away.
Curiosity: >There are around 20 000 painted glazed tiles depicting scenes of Portugal’s history.
Praça da Liberdade and Avenida dos Aliados
This avenue is a scenic backdrop of the city with impressive architecture reminding of other European countries. Paços do Concelho (The City Townhall) is the highlight of this big boulevard, which constructions was started in 1920, but only finished in 1957. The tower of the building resembles one of the city symbols, Torre dos Clérigos.
Sé do Porto
Built between XII and XIII, it combines various styles: romanesque, gothic and baroque. Sé do Porto is an emblematic cathedral of the historical centre and stays on a hilltop where all the Oporto’s horizons gather.
Walk in the famous Ribeira neighborhood
From Sé do Porto (the city’s Cathedral) you can initiate your walk until Ribeira, as you will get the chance to see a little bit of neighbors’ intimacy and romantic narrow streets.
Ribeira is indefinably charming, not only because it is one of the most historical and picturesque areas of the city, but also because it is crawled with riverside bars and taverns (tascas). What you can do is walk by the river, sit on a café terrace, enjoy a sangria, listen to the seagulls and watch the Douro river where the traditional boats (Barco Rabelo*) are moored.
*Curiosity: >These boats used to transport the wine barrels from Upper Douro where the vineyards are grown up until Vila Gaia de Nova where the wine is still produced, stored, commercialised and placed on the markets.
Tall houses, pastel buildings, friendly faces, balconies for two, asymmetric facades, blue pattern glazed tiles, these are some of the elements that picture Oporto’s streets.
Lello & Irmão Bookstore
For out of the ordinary sights, go to Lello & Irmão Bookstore, one of the oldest libraries and often ranked as the most beautiful library in the world, featuring decorations in the Art Nouveau style with Neo-Gothic elements. The author J.K. Rowling used to frequent it while she lived in Oporto in the ’90’s, where they say she got her inspiration for writing Harry Potter.
A great initiative: the price of the ticket that you pay is reimbursed in the buy of a book.
And good news: now you can take pictures inside! 🙂
Torre dos Clérigos
From the bookstore, right across the road, you can find Torre dos Clérigos, an extraordinary architectural masterpiece and also a national and local symbol. You may have to wait in line to enter, but it is worthwhile because once you’re up in the tower, you can enjoy some beautiful views over the city and the river.
Walk by the sea in Foz Velha at sunset
As we reached this neighbour we could see the British influences in the mansions’ architecture. It is an aristocratic area, emblematic due to Pérgola da Foz on the Brasil Avenue, a beautiful arbour with railing dating from 1930, right next to Praia do Molhe.
It is also in this area (Foz) that Douro says goodbye and fades away into the ocean.
And top the day with this view of Oporto at night 🙂
Choose a wine tasting tour in Vila Nova de Gaia, home to all Port Wine lodges
So you’re a wine lover? Vila Nova de Gaia is the city for you – right across the bridge where the wine used to be and still is brought from the Upper Douro, matured in the warehouses and bottled before it is exported.
British companies found themselves obliged to find alternatives sources after the importation of French wine was banned in the late 17th century. This is how British companies came to settle in Vila Nova de Gaia in 18th century.
Here we recommend a tour at Graham’s lodge, established in 1820, where “one can experience the best of three centuries of craftsmanship and heritage”. The end of the tour will open up the doors to a wonderful terrace, with breathtaking scenery.
Curiosities: >From our tour guide we learned that there are around 4 milion liters stored, without counting the ones bottled on the market.
>Vila Nova de Gaia is the place with the highest concentration of alcohol per square meter in the world.
On your way out of the city
– Stop at Monastery of Serra do Pilar with stunning views over the river and the two-tier bridge connecting the Vila Nova de Gaia with Oporto.
– Make another stop at Praia da Miramar, considered one of the most beautiful beaches in Europe.
– have lunch at the Casa Guedes tavern for the most fantastic sliced pork tenderloin sandwiches, and then dinner at Café Santiago na Rua de Passos Manuel for the yummiest Francesinha = Little French girl (uhhh sensitive topic, the recall of that sauce and the melting cheese just got us nostalgic…).
– for a taste of the nightlife, go to Rua da Galeria de Paris which is similar to Bairro Alto in Lisbon.
We just realized we’ve had you invaded with information about viewpoints and sceneries, but we’re also pretty romantic when it comes to travelling. Find the best spots for another kiss! 🙂
About the Douro Valley, we intend to see yet the best of it so we will be back. And as for you, our dear Oporto, we plan to make an upgrade to this post soon as we left behind many sites worth visiting. Stay tuned!
We’d be happy to hear from you so drop us a comment below. 🙂