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).
Where I stayed:
Grande Hotel do Porto
Rua de Santa Catarina 197
Where I ate:
O Escondidinho Restaurante
Rua Passos Manuel 144
What I saw:
Rua de Sao Joao 46