Porto, Portugal Part II

If you plan accordingly, you can definitely do Porto in a couple of days, and a must-do is to  dedicate at least a few hours to visiting the port wine caves across the river.  You should also take the time to visit a few of the churches as well, each costing only a few euros to enter.  Here’s what we covered on our second day:

Torre Dos Clerigos is the highest point in Porto and on a nice day, for great picture opportunities, take the 225 steps to the top for a fantastic panoramic view of the city.  Once again, if you’re injured, I would avoid this attraction.  The stairs get very, very narrow as you get to the top, and people coming up and down have to negotiate their way awkwardly by each other.

– Just down the hill from Clerigos is the Igreja de Sao Francisco.  On the outside, the church looks like an austere, boring fortress; don’t let that fool you.  Once inside, the church interior is made up of intricate gold columns and altars.   Don’t miss the catacombs if you’re looking to really freak yourself out.  If you go in the catacombs, it’s doesn’t like like anything totally crazy at first, but find your way to the back and you’ll see a part of the floor that’s clear plastic.  If you look down – look closely and you’ll see that the entire level below is FULL of bones.

– The port wine cellars are the highlight of any trip to Porto.  With over a dozen port wine cellars in the city, you have plenty of places to choose from.  They’re all easily accessible from the river, where their mock 18th-century port wine boats stay docked (for decoration, not actual usage).  Along the river are several maps of where each company is located and there are tourist booths with guides to tell you where to go.

Now I’ll be the first to tell you, you only really need to do a few of the wine cellars because they’re all very similar.  Each guide book will tell you different must-do places, but you’ll get to a certain degree the same thing.  All the port wine caves offer tours and tastings; some are free and some require a small fee (Truth be told though, the more expensive the tour, the better the quality of the tour), and you do need to look ahead for the hours because the times they give tours vary.

The first port wine company we went to was Ramos Pinto, but they were under construction so they weren’t offering tours.  Apparently, Ramos Pinto is the port wine company that many of the native Portuguese drink, so if you’re in Porto give this place a try.  So instead, we walked over to Taylor’s.  Just FYI, Taylor’s is located probably the furthest from the water, and it is a little bit of an uphill to get there.  But they do offer a free tour which offered probably the most bare boned info of all the tours we did that day with a free tasting at the end.  It was also an hour wait before the next English speaking tour when we arrived, so we had to eat lunch in their dining room, which was “okay”.  Their ruby port sangria was very good though.

Our second port wine cellar was Offley, which was 2.50 Euros.  The tour was longer than Taylor’s and the guide spoke far better English, making the tour much more interesting.  It was a little longer too, with a little more information on the history of port in general and not just about the company.

Our final port wine stop was Sandeman, probably the world’s most recognizable port wine brand due in part from their recognizable ads.  This tour and tasting costs 4.50 Euros.  Sandeman’s wine cave is easily the most modern looking, and the tour guides are dressed like their signature Don from the advertisements.  The tour winds through their barrels like all the other port wine caves , except in this cave you can see the bottles that have been aging since the early 1900’s.  Another addition to this tour is that it finishes up with a 10 minute movie showing where the grapes grow and the actual fermenting process in the area of Portugal that’s about an hour away from Porto.  If you want, Sandeman also offers more expensive, individualized tours with more tastings.

– If you’re looking for a nice afternoon tea, take a stop by Cafe Majestic (which was right down the street from our hotel).  It can get pretty crowded, but the the service is fast and efficient.  The food is so-so, but they offer all that you could want from a cafe including sandwiches, milkshakes, pastries, and all kinds of teas, coffees, and libations.  But most don’t go just for the food; the atmosphere and architecture has an old-school, late 19th/early 20th century feel that makes it worth a visit. Grade: B

Real Indiana.  We had a craving for Indian food and Lonely Planet suggested this place, but it really wasn’t that good.  It was a little overpriced, and we were all pretty sure that what we were eating probably couldn’t even be considered Indian food in the U.S. or India.   The one thing they did get right was the naan, which was actually pretty good.  If we had known that though, that’s all we would have ordered.  Unless you have a HUGE craving for Indian, give one of the other restaurants in the city a try.  Grade: C

La Ricotta Ristorante.  Like the Indian craving, this place you should probably only go to if you’re really, really in the mood for Italian food.  While the food here was better than at Real Indiana, it wasn’t really anything special either.  The menu consisted of the typical pizzas and pastas and they were well prepared and tasty.  But certainly nothing special to write about.  Grade: B-

Recap:

What I saw:

Torre Dos Clerigos
Rua dos Clerigos

Igreja de Sao Francisco
Praca Infante Dom Henrique
Rua de Ferreira Borges, 4050 Porto

Ramos Pinto Port Wine
Avenida Ramos Pinto 400
4400 Vila Nova de Gaia

Taylor’s Port Wine
Rua do Choupelo 250
4400 Vila Nova de Gaia

Offley Port Wine
Rua do Choupelo, 54
4400 Vila Nova de Gaia

Sandeman Port Wine
Largo Miguel Bombarda 3
4400 Vila Nova de Gaia

Where I ate:

Cafe Majestic
Rua Santa Catarina 112
4000-442 Porto

Real Indiana
R. Particular do Castelo do Queijo, 395 – Lj. 23
4100-429 Porto

La Ricotta
Rua Passos Manuel 18
4000-381 Porto

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Porto, Portugal

After Lisbon, we took the CP train up to Porto, in the northwest section of the country.  The train ride took about 3 hours and was around 30 Euros (Note: Getting your train tickets online in advance is recommended.  You can print out your tickets in advance and you won’t have to be concerned about not having a train ride.  Be sure to sit in your assigned seat though – the conductors do come around to check and will make you move if you’re in the wrong place).  The ride up was comfortable and fast, like most European train services.

When we first arrived in Porto, it was like landing in a fairytale.  Porto is much quieter than Lisbon and has a more romantic feel to it. The city is on the side of a valley going down towards the Rio Douro below.  Porto is definitely the home of port wine, as evidenced by what we could see; on the other bank of the river – the port companies line up like sentries and you can watch the heavy river traffic going back and forth between the banks.

Here are the highlights from the first afternoon:

The Grande Hotel do Porto was the hotel we stayed at during our time in Porto.  After staying in a bare-bones apartment, it was certainly a flip of the switch to this classy, Victorian style hotel.  With a tea parlor, library, and study on the ground floor, each with old-school furniture, artwork and books, it makes one feel like they just warped back to the mid-1800’s.  Reasonably priced at around 103 Euros ($150) a night for a very solid, clean three bed room, it’s actually a pretty cool place to stay win a good location without burning a hole in your wallet.  The complimentary breakfast in the morning is served in a highly ornamented dining/ballroom and was one of the more extensive free breakfast buffets offerings that I’ve seen.  (Note: This hotel is at the top of the hill and while it’s a very easy 15 minute walk to get down to the main sights, the walk back up the hill to get back to the hotel can be a bit of a challenge after a long day.)

-We grabbed lunch at O Escondidinho Restaurante which was a short walk from our hotel.  The walls of this relatively homey feeling restaurant are covered with the famous azulejos and each table is almost regal in manner with each chair feeling more like a throne than a seat.  The menu offers an extensive menu and I had probably one of the best fish dishes of the trip here (Grilled sea bass).  The apple pie/strudel that I had for desert looked better than it tasted however, having the right flaky crust, but not nearly enough apple filling.  The service was solid, but there was no A/C so it got a little warm in there.  Regardless, all in all it’s a good, solid place to grab a meal.  Grade: B+

-If you are like us, you probably don’t know that much about port wine, which makes going to Vinologia as one of your first stops a must-do.  Located near the river, this rustic, oak barrel looking venue provided us with a great crash course on port wine because the menu offers several different tasting samplers at different prices along with a lesson from the waitress.  With hundreds of different types of port wine to choose from, the lesson helped us understand the differences between each type of port and what to pair it with (the tastings include different types of fruits, nuts, and chocolates that match best with the different types of port we tried).   Collectively, our favorite combo was the white tawny port with apricots.  Aside from the tastings, we ended up being there for a few hours just because we enjoyed the relaxing atmosphere (and admittedly, we all were sort of in love with our waitress).

Recap

Where I stayed:

Grande Hotel do Porto
Rua de Santa Catarina 197
4000-450 Porto

Where I ate:

O Escondidinho Restaurante
Rua Passos Manuel 144
4000-382 Porto

What I saw:

Vinologia
Rua de Sao Joao 46
4050 Porto

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