Porto | City of Icons
What I first noticed when I arrived in Porto, is how everything seems to lead up, then cascades down in colourful tiers to the banks of the Rio Douro in which it is intimately connected. Charming and highly photogenic, Porto is awash with colourful tiled buildings, swaying laundry, Azulejo adorned landmarks and famous bridges designed by Gustave Eiffel. Best known for its name-sake beverage, Porto is a city with a profusion of visual icons and edible treasures.
Arrive in Porto hungry, and you’ll be staggered by the range and quality of cafes and restaurants, sweet treats and tasting venues, both traditional and on-trend.
C. N. Kopke
From Porto make your way to Vila Nova de Gaia along the top deck of the Dom Luís bridge where you can enjoy stunning views up and down the Douro river. You’ll find all of the well known port producers from Sandeman to Crofts along the Gaia river bank offering tours and tastings. I opted solely for the tasting at one the oldest producers in the Douro valley, the German owned House of Kopke established in 1692. Tastings start at around 20 Euros per flight accompanied by a selection of chocolates and an in-depth history of each wine given by your host.
A fairly new addition to Porto’s tasting venues, specialising in the Duoro valley’s small and boutique wine producers. There’s an abundant selection of wines ready for tasting, the knowledgable sommeliers will help guide your preferences to create a very personalised and exceptional tasting flight. The short food menu, from tapas boards to pizzas, is designed to soak up the alcohol and not interfer with the business of tasting. An absolute must for anyone remotely interested in Portugese wines.
I have been looking forward to visiting this iconic book store for the longest time. Established in 1881 by brothers José and António Lello, the Hogworts-esque interior–a fusion of Neo-Gothic, Art Nouveau and Art-Decor styles– will leave book and art lovers gasping with delight. If you are hoping for a little whimsical photographic inspiration you will need to arrive early to beat the crowds. Purchase your ticket in the office next door, the value of which can be redeemed against any purchases.
Who knew a can of fish could be jazzed up this much! Sardines, of course, are synonymous with Portugal, and a few Portuguese concept stores in Porto have an enticing selection of merchandise geared towards the tourist. This stores’ decor– think Charlie and the Chocolate Factory meets Cirque du Soleil–is probably not what you’d expect from a canned fish shop. But it’s a lot of fun and well worth a visit.
Another of Porto’s jaw-dropping icons is the Palacio da Bolsa. Designed in the Neo-classic and Neo-palladian architectural styles, the former stock exchange consists of a Tribunal Room, Assembly Room and Golden Room, each of which is impressively furnished, but it’s the Arab Room that impresses the most. Designed in the stunning Moorish revival style which was highly fasionable in the 1800’s, the beautiful reception room sparkles like a jewel.
If for whatever reason I were short on time in Porto, then this restaurant would be the only one on my list. It may look a little unloved from the outside, but don’t be deterred. Entering the lobby, you are met with 1970’s Las Vegas vibe decor: carpeted wall coverings and turquoise faux leather lift doors are just the beginning. Up in the dizzying heights of the 14th floor, you’ll find an equally retro bar and restaurant with dazzling views across Porto and the Rio Douro. The menu might begin with a mix of Petiscos (Portuguese style tapas), then either iberian pork in red wine, or traditionally baked Bachalau drizzled with thyme oil, followed by a traditional sweet pumpkin dessert, doce de abóbora. Each dish is served up old-style from the waiters trolley, which only adds to this restaurants charm and sophistication.
After enjoying the views of Porto from the banks of Vila Nova de Gaia, a meal at this restaurant would be a perfect addition to any travel itinerary. Set in the House of Taylor port wine cellars, the restaurant’s offerings are as tasteful as the views across the Rio Douro. The menu might include, pork cheek with crumbled Serra cheese, asparagus and chervil purée or, sea bass and mussels with scallop aioli and seaweed, followed by a stunning fresh raspberry mouse infused with port wine.
This bistro style restaurant uses traditional Portuguese slow cooking methods, and farm to table concepts, fused together with contemporary flare. The á la carte menu might include Black Angus beef in Port wine reduction with black pudding and sweet potato fritas, or traditional oven baked octopus followed by a dessert of sweet potato pudding with Mandarine ice cream, or a plater of Portuguese cheese covered in walnuts and chocolate.
When dinning in Porto you can expect stellar portion sizes, and going where the locals graze guarantees you’ll be full to the brim after your appetite inducing sightseeing. This very traditional, down to earth restaurant serves up excellent Portuguese dishes highly recommended by locals. You might like to try their bacalhau à Braga or polvo à dagareiro washed down with bottle of Douro valley wine. Great food, great wine all at really, really good prices.
Pure unadulterated indulgence in every sense of the word. The aroma alone as you walk into this store is sure to make any chocoholic weak at the knees. In the centre of the store are large bins containing everything chocolate from bonbons and brittles, while at the parameter oversized bars of exquisite high quality chocolate in handprinted wrapping can be found. And just when you thought it couldn’t get any better, port wine and chocolate tastings are regularly held to help you pair up your favourite flavours.
Yet another iconic Porto landmark which needs very little introduction. Established in 1921 the intensely charming decor and delicate coffee-house menu is an indulgence for the eyes as well as the taste buds. Open from breakfast time through to 11:00 pm Monday to Saturday, this is a must see for Art Nouveau and traditional coffee-house enthusiasts.
Set in the historic Papelaria Araújo e Sobrinho, this traditional stationery shop and printers is now home to A. S. 1829 Hotel. Spacious, comfortable rooms, excellent breakfast buffet and a short walk to most of Porto’s main attractions, this hotel is a perfectly positioned starting point for your sensory odyssey through Porto.