With the onset of cold, grey and bone-chilling bicycle trips around Amsterdam, our only option was to jump on a plane (on a budget of course) and go as close to the sun and beach as we possibly could.
So off we went, around 2 and a half weeks searching for sun in Portugal, and ending with our favourite Spain.
Porto greeted us with an immediate warm smile on arrival, warmer we were told then it usually is in November. The welcomed warmth was the perfect signal that our holiday had started, and it’s still amazing to me, as an Australian that after just a few hours I can be in a totally different climate with a different language and different food.
The first impression that hit us was the hills. Coming from flat Amsterdam, the rolling steepness rising from the river banks made the city seem taller and much grander than it was. Standing at the foot of the hills looking up, you would see a million different faces starting down at you, piled on top of each other in unorganised layers of tiles and sunset tops. Similarly, from the top of the hills (where we stayed), there were sweeping views of the steeped city, the sun and moon and the miniature boats sitting on the rivers edge.
Tip number 1: Wear your joggers and pack light! The views are beautiful but are literally breathtaking, as walking up and down had us gasping for air and stopping for breaks all the time!
Once we had worked out our surroundings, we wasted no time searching for things to see, do and most importantly EAT. We’ve all heard and probably tasted the famous Portuguese tarts (pasties de nata) before, but being in Portugal for the first time, this was something that we really wanted to fill our bellies with.
One of the best things about Porto is that on every corner you can get one of these cinnamon-ny and custardy treats. Every cafe has them sitting in the window, invitingly facing you as you walk by…it also helps that they are cheap and go amazingly with an espresso :).
We must have honestly had about 2 tarts a day during our stay in Porto, the best one we had being here, and we never got sick of them. We found this place by googling the best pasteis de nata in Porto and it didn’t disappoint. I found most tarts to be similar in taste but Sharmi assured me that these were definitely the best so I suggest you try it out!
Tip number 2: Eat as much Pasteis de Nata as you possibly can…because once you are back home, you will miss them!
Doors and Tiles
After our animalistic need for food and Nata were satisfied, we explored the city by walking everywhere – we wondered down strange lanes, around old churches, past steep cobblestone staircases and across the Dom Luís I Bridge (this leads to the area where all the Port Wine is!). In between the huffing and puffing walking around the city, I was able to really appreciate the different colours and facades of the Porto houses. It seemed like every door in Porto was different in style and colour, each of them unique and weathered with their own ancient charm. I’m not sure if the country is low on paint, but whatever the case, the peeling, ageing paint on each door really gave the city a unique character.
The tiled houses, churches and in general buildings were also something to really admire. Due to the influence of empires of the past (The Moors?), a lot of the ancient houses used tiles on the external walls of their buildings, both as a decorative touch and to ward off the extreme heat. This influence also found its way inside, case-in-point the beautifully detailed tiles inside the Sao Bento station (see pictures!). We walked past many structures that shone brilliant blue and whites from their tiles, each telling a different story or showing a different scene. I had never seen structures like this before, and compared to any other city I’ve lived or travelled, it really mad the buildings look like works of art. Absolutely awesome.
We couldn’t leave Porto without experiencing the sweet and strong wine made famous by the city. Along the banks of the Rio Douro sits the cellars from yesteryear, still in use and now modernised for travellers to walk through and learn (most importantly taste) about the production and history of Port Wine.
We were advised by our hotel to check out Sandeman Cellars, although to be honest they all looked the same and probably are. Following their advice, we made our way down there one late afternoon and after sitting in the warmth, watching the boats bob up and down in the summer sun, we did a tour of the Sandeman cellars. Port I now know, is wine that is interrupted during its fermentation by the addition of Brandy, which produces a super strong and sweet drink. I initially thought that the tour might be boring but it was really interesting to walk through the cellars and to see how everything was and still is made. Of course the taste test at the end was great too 😀
Last Tip: Go easy on the Port Wine. It does down way too easily and I think one could get surprisingly very drunk without knowing… 🙂 Or don’t go easy, if you want to get drunk!
As usual a selection of pictures below!