Portugal, the birth place of famous sailors and explorers, great food, amicable people and the land that gave the world a famous fortified wine call Port. This country, which has the oldest border of Europe, with a mild climate (they claim to have 3,000 hours of sunshine per year), 850km of wonderful beaches bathed by the Atlantic Ocean and one of the finest cuisines in the world, featuring delicious and fresh seafood is a perfect vacation/holiday destination all year round.
This is the third and final part of my series “Chronicles about Portugal”. In this part we take a look at Portugal’s second largest city after Lisbon: Porto.
After Sintra, we drove to Porto, also known as Oporto. That was the only time during the entire trip where we encountered traffic. Apparently there was an accident and we had a 40 minute delay, which actually wasn’t too bad.
Until not too long ago Porto was considered to be an undiscovered city in Europe, but now with direct flights from New York and many other major cities I’m sure that will change very soon. Surrounded by the Douro River, which provides wonderful landscapes and countless opportunities for photographers to snap a great picture or two, this picturesque and charismatic city has made it to the list of one of my favorite destinations.
Port is a city rich in history and tradition but is also very modern. Nowadays Porto is a major industrial hub and the contrast between old and new is present. The city is surrounded by medieval relics, historic churches, amazing restaurants and lots of tourists. It is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Chances are you have heard of certain fortified wine called Porto which takes the name after this city. We didn’t plan much for our visit to Porto, in fact, all we wanted to do was eat, walk in the old town and drink Porto… lots of it. But the more we walked and kept discovering new sights and places the more we wanted to stay, maybe forever!
Our first stop was the hotel Castelo Santa Catarina. This is where we decided to “splurge” a little bit and by “splurging” I mean 80 EUR for one night. When I tell you we travel in budget, we travel in budget!! You are probably acquainted by now with my fascination for castles and when I read about this hotel I told Alexis we had to stay there. I’m so happy we did! This hotel is rated #13 of 80 hotels in Porto by Trip Advisor. Everything was perfect, the check in was a breeze and the guy in the front desk was very helpful. He gave us tips about where to eat and go for Porto tasting. He told us “when you see the room you would want to stay longer” and he was right. I felt like royalty.
Every room is decorated in the style of the early 20th century and it reminded me of the books I read in fourth grade about kings and queens. Breakfast was also good and it was included in the price (a plus). The hotel also had good internet connection and the WIFI worked in every corner of the hotel. Castelo Santa Catarina also has parking facilities which is great for those traveling by car. The only downsize of this accommodation I would say is the location. It’s actually not too far from the center, but depending on where you want to go it can take you 40 minutes walking, so in many instances the front desk recommended us to take a taxi. A little bit more centrally located and it would have been absolutely perfect.
We were starving so after leaving the bags in the the room we headed to Abadía do Porto where we indulged with clams, tripas (pork guts) and goat stew and drank vino verde and Porto wine. For dessert we had pao de lo , a Portuguese sponge cake with lots of egg yolks. We were so full it was hard to walk back to the hotel.
The next morning after breakfast we headed to the historic center for some sightseeing and ended the day tasting Porto. Walking over the bridge was a great experience because it gave us the opportunity to see the Douro from a hight point and take amazing shots of the city. We then headed to the oldest Porto wine company in Portugal, Real Companhia Velha. This wine house was founded in 1756 by Marqués de Pombal and King José I. It is also known as Royal Oporto Wine Company and has te most ancient Portuguese cellars in the world.
They take pride on being the only company 100% Portuguese since there are many other famous companies but they are owned by foreign families, from the UK or China. The visitor center and tasting room is a little bit far from the center. Also, the area is not as nice as the other tasting rooms that are surrounded by the Douro, but it really deserves to be visited.
We arrived with no previous reservation but it was not a problem. We waited only for a few minutes before we were directed to a room where we watched a movie about the history of Porto and the company. An interesting fact I learned there is that the men that pick up the grapes are called “borracheros” a word similar to “borrachos” which in Spanish means drunk. For 5 EUR we got a tour of the facilities and tasting of 2 Ports and olive oil. I will not say that Alexis helped himself with more Porto after they left the bottle on the table and left us alone.
After Real Companhia Velha we took the funicular down to the center in order to visit Sandeman tasting room. It was 1:30 and they opened at 2:00pm, so we had a few tapas and a beer at the bar next door. At 2:00pm we were ready to start the tour in English but there were 30 other people on the same tour. Alexis, being as brilliant as he is, asked if there was a tour in Spanish and there was one in 30 minutes. Alexis asked how many people they were expecting and when they said only 3 we decided to have another beer, walk along the Douro’s riviera and then return. Upon our return we discovered there were only 4 of us doing the tour in Spanish! That gave us the amazing opportunity of enjoying a more personalized tour. The advantages of speaking 2 of the most spoken languages in the world!
We really enjoyed the tour at Sandeman. The guide was dressed in Sandeman’s costume and she spoke about the history of the company. We saw oak barrels dating 300 years old and a barrel of a Vintage Porto over 100 years old… that’s a gold mine. We decided to go for the “Old Tawnies” tour, which is a bit more expensive but totally worth it. It was not tasting size, they actually poured 5 generous glasses of their best wine. We were very happy by the time we left as you can imagine.
After our old Tawnies tasting we headed to Wine Quay Bar , because why not? we could still had more wine. After all, we were in Porto! This bar offers amazing tapas with a priceless view of the Douro. We went during sunset, highly recommended. There we had refreshing Vino Verde with sardines and cheese. I don’t remember clearly what we did after that, but I know we did not forget to head to our last stop, Capa Negra, for dinner. This restaurant was recommended to us by our host in Lisbon, Nuno.
Capa Negra’s popular dish is the Francesinha which literally translated means “little French lady”. Francesinha is a Portuguese sandwich made of toasted bread, melted cheese with pork or beef, a secret sauce and topped with french fries and an egg. It is like the Portuguese version of the croque-madame and is delicious.
After dinner we took a taxi ride to the hotel. We had an early flight to catch the next day so we thought it was better to stay in a hotel next to the airport, in order to have time to get gas, return the rental car and not miss the flight. The plan worked perfect and the hotel was nice and convenient.
We were sad to leave because we had a great time in Portugal. We enjoyed everything, from the beautiful Algarve region, the history of Lisbon, the magic of Sintra to the culinary experience in Porto. We had an unforgettable experience and hope to return soon.
We learned about the different types of Porto wine (white, ruby, tawny and vintage). Whites are characterized for its sweetness. For the reds, we have 3 basic types: Ruby, Tawny and Vintage. Ruby is the youngest with up to 3 years of aging and then we have the Tawny with up to 40 years of aging. But the Vintage Port, OHHHH, that is in a different league. First of all not every Port wine can be classified as “Vintage”. The ones made only in the very finest years are known as ‘declared’ vintages . Ports are blended, so for example, to get to a 3o year Port they could mix a 40 year and a 20 year port go average 3o years Port. Vintage Ports are made entirely from the grapes of a declared vintage year and they are the most expensive and prestigious member of the Port family.
Vintage Port’s usually have a long life before consumption. According to what we learned no other wine requires as much time in bottle to balance itself as Vintage Port: the minimum bottle-aging period is considered to be 10 years but 12 is more recommended. It is one of the few liquors that only gets better with time. A Vintage Port can stay in the bottle aging for years and until today they still don’t know how long it can last as there are records of Vintage port being drinkable even after several hundred years.
It is important to note that once decanted, a Vintage Port must be enjoyed within 24 hours, whereas other Ports can still be enjoyed for a few months before the wine gets spoiled.
One of the reasons for this Port’s bottle-aging requirement is that it spends a relatively short length of time in barrel and is bottled unfiltered. Between two and three years is an average time for vintage Port to remain in oak, meaning that once it is bottled it is still very dense and full of sediment. Decanting Vintage Port prior to serving is considered mandatory, since the sediment can take on crusty characteristics over time.
Apparently 2011 is considered to be the best year in the history of Vintage Porto of the century. The price of a Vintage Porto from 2011 is expected to only go up with the years. Right now a bottle from 2011 should be kept in a temperature controlled room until 2021. We saw this as an opportunity of investment and bought a couple of them.
1 day in Porto Itinerary
* Stay at Castelo Castelo Santa Catarina
* Breakfast at the hotel
* Visit Sao Francisco Church. Enter in any other church you stumble upon to. There are plenty of them all over the city!
* Get lost in the narrow streets of Amarante, a historical town founded around 360 BC. The streets are filled with colorful, balconied mansions from the 17th century.
* Porto Tasting at Real Companhia Velha
* Take the funicular for a great view of the city
* If you feel like tasting more Porto head to Sandeman if not skip that and take a boat ride instead
* Have coffee at Majestic Cafe, founded over 90 years ago and located in the heart of Porto
go for Tapas at Wine Quay Bar
* Dinner at Capa Negra