My friend and I left rainy Munich on a Friday morning for the sunnier skies in Porto, Portugal. I’ve been wanting to visit Portugal for ages now and was very excited to finally make a trip there. We touched down and were welcomed by blue skies and warmer temperature- just what one looks for on vacation. Our first stop, after checking into our hotel, was to see the riverfront. It did not disappoint! There are beautiful brightly colored buildings lining the pedestrian area along the water. While lots of people were also out enjoying the weather, it didn’t feel crowded. After walking along the main section, we settled on the terrace of Wine Quay Bar and enjoyed some red wines and snacks. Watching the sunset over the water was a perfect way to start our vacation. It was also entertaining watching out for the seagulls that try to swoop in on your food! The bar actually hands out water guns to scare them away, which we found amusing.
After finishing our drinks we stopped by a small bar offering Port wine tastings, so we got our first sample of the local sweet drink. Then it was off to dinner at a highly recommended restaurant, Camafeu, which we really enjoyed. I got the veal, which was delicious, and also really enjoyed their white port tonic, which is white Port combined with tonic water and orange peel. We wandered around the city a little more before heading back to the hotel.
Our first full day in Porto started off slightly overcast, but thankfully the weather ended up being beautiful. We made a quick round of Mercado do Bolhao, which is worth a brief stop. Then we made our way to Clerigos Tower and climbed to the top. The view was quite impressive, and the climb wasn’t bad at all. After that we just spent time walking around the city, and ended up finding some beautiful streets to explore. Then we stopped for a beer and to try a local dish called francesinha, which is “ ham, linguiça, fresh sausage like chipolata, steak or roast meat and covered with melted cheese and a hot thick tomato and beer sauce served with french fries” (thanks Wikipedia). It was a very heavy dish, but tasty! Since that apparently wasn’t enough of a snack for me, I also got a cup of delicious drinking chocolate at Chocolataria das Flores.
Next we took Portos public transport (an interesting blend between a tram and train), across this striking bridge to Gaia, which is a small village across the river from Porto. It offers a wonderful full view of the city, especially if you start at the high vantage point the top of the bridge offers. Then we headed down towards the water and booked a tour at Sandemans, a famous Port cellar. The tour was short and sweet- especially as it ends with a sample of two Port wines. We took our time crossing back to the Porto side, enjoying the view as the sun went down. Then we sampled even more Port at this cozy bar.
We had reservations at a great tapas place, which we really enjoyed. I got a tuna dish and a roastbeef angus toast, which were both delectable. The prices for high-quality food (and service) is very reasonable in Porto, especially when compared to what I can get in Munich. We each got two large tapas dishes, some oysters and several drinks for around €50. By the end of the meal we were stuffed, and our next day started early, so we headed back to the hotel.
Our second full day we booked a private tour to see Portugal’s only National Park, Peneda-Geres. It’s about an hour and half drive from the city, but you get to see a lot along the way. The tour was led by a young biologist, who was clearly passionate about what he was doing.
We started the day in a tiny village inside the park, where you could see a fascinating mix of old and modern ways. We drove some of the narrowest streets I have ever seen a car fit through, and all the while watching out for dogs, cats, chickens and more. The communities still wash their laundry in communal outdoor areas, and store corn in Portuguese granaries known as ‘canastros’ or ‘espigueiros’ above the ground, where they are protected from hungry rodents. But there are also satellite dishes dotting the old houses and the local pub advertises their big screens for watching football games. Sadly these villages are facing a large population problem, as younger generations move to cities for work.
After going through the village we did a short hike down a steep hill to a beautiful waterfall. Because it was February, there was no one there with us, and it was incredibly relaxing. Apparently in the summer it becomes so crowded that the tour doesn’t even bother stopping there, so doing the tour in late February had its advantages! Then we did a bit more off-roading in our Land Rover before stopping for lunch in another small village. The food and the service were great, we got to try a large variety of dishes, including goat and a sweet pasta dish for dessert- called aletria.
Throughout the meal we drank sweet wine from the region and ended lunch with a shot of local liquor and some espresso to wake us from our food coma. And if you’re looking for an affordable place to spend the night, many of the local restaurants like these also offer rooms or small cabins to rent, starting at around €25 (per person) a night.
Then it was on to another waterfall! After that we stopped high atop one of the mountains to get some pictures of the amazing view before driving through one of the oldest parts of the forest. We ended the day by planting a tree in an area of the park that had been burned years before, as part of the company’s mission to help the environment. There we also got to see remnants of an old Roman road- the Roman Geira, some of which is quite well preserved. Then as we drove the curvy roads back to Porto, we were treated to a colorful sunset over the hills. All in all it was an amazing day, and a great way to burn off all the calories we had consumed earlier on the trip!
Porto and the surrounding area is a really beautiful place to visit and perfect for a short weekend trip. There is definitely enough to do in the city to fill two days at a relaxed pace, and if you also incorporate some trips to areas outside the city, you should stay even longer. My only regret is not being able to bring back some Port Wine- next time I’ll have to stop at the duty-free section.