PORTO: WHEN CREATIVITY AND TRADITION OPENS TO THE SEA
On a brief visit to Porto, there are some places that cannot be missed. This city has something mystical that is difficult to describe and which varies according to the place, time of day and light.
Whatever it is, it certainly has to do with its people, known to be generous and easy-going, as well as the River Douro and its heritage on both banks, with its bridges and monuments, the tiles, the flowering balconies and the shopping streets. The historic centre of Porto and the River Douro on the Gaia side, where the Port Wine lodges are located, are classified as World Heritage.
S. Bento Station, with its atrium lined with tiles, is an ideal starting point. Just ahead is the Cathedral, not to be missed, whose precinct offers the first view of the river, the cascading houses and the opposite bank. From there you descend by steps and mediaeval streets to Ribeira, with its café terraces and picturesque corners. It’s worth staying a little to get a flavour of the atmosphere and take in the river with the D. Luís Bridge and the opposite bank, before going on a cruise under Porto’s six bridges. Once you’ve seen the outline of the cascading houses and church towers, you will want to see the gilt interior of the Church of S. Francisco. Nearby, you can see more tile-fronted churches and monuments, and visit the Palácio da Bolsa (former Stock Exchange palace). The tram leaves from next to the river for a trip that goes to Foz (the mouth of the Douro), where you can take a stroll and fill your lungs with the sea air. Avenida da Boavista starts here, and not far away is Serralves, with its gardens to stroll or rest in and its contemporary art exhibitions. The museum is the work of Álvaro Siza Vieira, one of the foremost architects of the Porto School of Architecture, and winner of the Pritzker Prize.
The architecturally imposing Casa da Música, with its full programme of cultural events, is on Rotunda da Boavista, an area that is good for shopping. There are also good shops to be found around Avenida dos Aliados. In between are the Crystal Palace gardens, with another panoramic view of the river, and the Soares dos Reis Museum. Another garden, full of sculptures, is Cordoaria, surrounded by churches and other monuments. It’s worth climbing the Clérigos Tower for a different view of Porto. Immediately nearby is the Lello bookshop that inspired some of the Harry Potter stories. Continue walking towards Aliados, past the shops and art nouveau buildings. After exploring this broad avenue, it’s worth strolling along the pedestrians-only Rua de Santa Catarina for more shopping. Then pop in to the Café Majestic for a break.
There‘s still a visit to be made to the south bank of the river to go to a Port Wine lodge and taste some Port in its unique setting. From Ribeira, cross the D. Luís foot bridge and you’ll see them. One of the most beautiful views over Porto can be had from Gaia. And you can also take the chairlift, which follows this side of the river. In terms of gastronomy, this side of the river is a good option, but Ribeira also teems with restaurants and café terraces, as does Foz, which also has beautiful views over the sea. Portugal’s cuisine is always a winner with tourists, but this is even more true in Porto and Northern Portugal. You can be sure of a good meal, accompanied by fine wines from the Douro or the fresh Vinho Verde typical of the region, in any restaurant, from the finest to the most popular.
CASA DA MUSICA
The Casa da Musica has become an iconof the city of Oporto since the very beginning. It is a new symbol that looks towards the future while also managing to fit its singularity and the space it occupies into its surrounding urban environment. This unique building is a concert hall that’s home to three different orchestras: the Orquesta Nacional do Porto, the Orquestra Barroca and the Remix Ensemble. It was awarded a prize by RIBA for being “intriguing, disquieting and dynamic”. Externally it captures the eye thanks to its cubic and irregular form; its slanted walls and the way it opens towards the city made its construction an engineering challenge. Its emphatic form has an open dialogue with its surroundings through stairways and walkways, underlining its intention of being and open and flexible space.
WHERE TO STAY
In February this year, the Torel Group opened the doors to its latest hotel venture. A boutique hotel with a history and a design that are worth discovering before paying it a visit. Located right in the centre of Porto, a few metres away from renowned Avenida dos Aliados and the riverside quarter of the Ribeira. Torel 1884 is comprised of two buildings—a magnificent 19th-century palace where the hotel is and a nearby building where the apartments are found. Read More
WHERE TO EAT
It is one of the restaurants of the of the famous Portuguese chef Rui Paul, right in the centre of Porto. It has an elegant but informal atmosphere, and Rui Paula will provide great gastronomic experiences with classics of Portuguese cuisine; combining this tradition with a modern, up to date presentation. The restaurant is a space divided in two and an intimate atmosphere. An ideal place for special moments and for lovers of excellent Portuguese gastronomy. www.ruipaula.com