The pleasures of Porto: Portugal’s second city
Written by: Julia Hammond
Portugal’s second city is justifiably famous for its port wine production. Whether you’re looking for an add-on to a Lisbon trip or an off the beaten track city break, here are Mundana’s recommendations for Porto.
Watch the rabelo boats
Rabelo boats plied their trade along the River Douro for centuries, their flat bottomed hulls and shallow draughts enabling them to cope with the shallow but fast-flowing river. These wooden cargo boats shuttled up and down, packed with crates of port wine. Before the railway came, were the quickest means for businesses to move their valuable goods. These days, you can take a river cruise in one of these iconic vessels. Better still, time your visit for June 24th. That date marks St John’s Day. It’s an important festival in the city’s calendar when locals and visitors alike crowd the river banks to catch a glimpse of the rabelo boat race.
Enjoy a port tasting
Port might be produced in the Douro Valley, but it’s here in the city that the precious commodity is aged before it’s shipped around the world. The main wine cellars are conveniently located just across the river from the Old Town. Most offer guided tours and tastings. Try Caves Ferreira, founded in 1751 and still Portuguese-owned. If you’re keen to hear the mournful sound of fado music, then plan to visit Caves Cálem, who combine a concert with a cellar tour. Rare vintage ports can be found at Caves Churchill, where visitors can tailor a wine tasting in a room overlooking the Douro River. The museum attached to Caves Taylor’s ensures you’ll have the opportunity to learn about the history of port wine.
Wander the alleyways of the Old Town
Aside from port, this is an ancient city packed with lots of historic buildings. Colourful merchants’ houses characterise the atmospheric Ribeira district, now a UNESCO World Heritage site. Climb the stone steps leading up from the Praça da Ribeira. Follow a maze of narrow alleyways which open out, occasionally, to charming squares dominated by Baroque churches. The higher you get, the better the view. The neighbouring Clérigos district is equally impressive. Don’t miss the Clérigos Tower. From the top of this 76m high bell tower, the panoramas are something else. Finally, the Bombarda district around Miguel Bombarda Street offers cool street art, galleries, vintage shops and cafés.
Visit the station
Whether you plan to catch a train or not, a visit to São Bento railway station is a must. This is one of the prettiest stations in the world. Its tiles depict scenes of battles and the history of transportation. Jorge Colaço was the local painter responsible for the design of these dazzling azulejos over a hundred years ago. Something like 20000 line the walls of the station. If you do plan on catching a train, make sure you build in plenty of time to admire the artwork or you’re guaranteed to miss your connection.