Sunday 16 August 2015

Love affair with Porto

I'm a Lisboa girl myself - give me the most spurious or flimsy of excuses to go there and it will rapidly become an urgent necessity - but re-acquainting myself with Portugal's second largest city, Porto, after many years of absence has turned my head.

This is the end point of the journey for the casks of port wine brought down along the Douro river for centuries, to be taken up by the big Port wine lodges for bottling and export. 

These views are all from the terrace of the Yeatman hotel with its fabulous location high up on the hillside of Vila Nova de Gaia. 

On this side of the Douro is the half of the city called Vila Nova de Gaia

On the other side of the river is the city of Porto itself 
(please don't call it Oporto, which is a linguistic misinterpretation originating with English speakers who misheard the definite article o ('the') as being part of the city's name!). 

The big port wine houses are all located on the Vila Nova de Gaia side. Fonseca, Ferreira, Graham's, Taylor's, Sandeman, Cockburn's, Ramos Pinto ...

Walking down the hill from the Yeatman terrace you negotiate narrow cobbled alleys that wind between the Port lodges ...

to the river, whose winding path we'd followed through the valleys and vineyards.

Looking across here to the colourful Ribeira, riverfront, of Porto on the other side, where Henry the Navigator, patron of explorers and discoverers, was born.

These are the old barcos rabelos, the surprisingly insubstantial looking (but sturdy enough to withstand rapids) flat-bottomed boats that transported the port along its river journey to this dockside at Vila Nova de Gaia - from the 13th century until as recently as 1964.

It's possible to swing through the sky to cross the river here, in dinky little cable cars, but we elected to walk across the Dom Luis bridge (in the very top photograph), a grand construction designed by M Gustave Eiffel shortly before he built the famous Paris tower.

Porto has undergone a massive urban renewal in the last 10-15 years, and this was new to me. I was struck by how well new modern centres and construction worked alongside Porto's historical architecture.

In the centre of the city is a grand railway station like no other: the São Bento station  with floor to ceiling tile (20 thousand tiles to be exact) murals showing scenes from Portuguese history - battles and conquests going back to the 11th century.

When it's time for a break, there's no better place than the Majestic Cafe, a landmark in the city and rated in the world's top 10 most beautiful cafes. The interior is all mirrors, cherubs, chandeliers, carved wood and leather chairs ...

and of course good coffee and pasteis de nata .

 There's more Art Nouveau at another unique institution in the city: the Livraria Lello, where visitors stop dead in amazement (and to whip out their cameras) at the entrance. Lello's interior is all stained glass, elaborately carved wood and copper, and an amazing spiral staircase (said to have inspired the Hogwarts staircase - JK Rowling lived close by here in pre-Potter days, teaching English).

The sheer numbers of people crowding into Lello on a summer's day made it difficult to take pictures that would do it justice, but see here (the most beautiful bookstore in the world) for much better pics taken minus crowds).

In total contrast, the modernist Casa da Musica concert hall designed by Dutch architect Rem Koolhaus looks like an angular white spaceship from the exterior, with cool glass and concrete interior spaces.

Dinner at DOP, one of chef Rui Paula's restaurants, totally lived up to its reputation for fantastic food and Douro wines, and came complete with a musical performance in the square, through the open doors. A perfect ending to the day.

Porto, Portugal June 2015
Day 6, Iberian road trip

1 comment:

  1. Obrigada for the looks a bit industrial...ahem..except foryourfavorites. Taking note. Wonder if I can day-trip to Lisboa...?


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