From the moment I arrived in Porto, I was delighted with the city’s colorful old buildings, sparkling river, steep streets, and possession of a lively, but peaceful charm. I knew I made the right call for a quick overnight trip. Situated along the Douro River in northern Portugal, Porto is one of Europe’s oldest cities. You can feel this while chugging up and down the seriously hilly streets, and you can spot Moorish influences, like the beautiful tile patterned on many of the old (sometimes crumbling) buildings.
My friends and I arrived on a (very cheap Ryan Air) morning flight from Madrid and set quickly to our mission: Try lots of port wine. Port is a sweet, fortified wine is produced exclusively in the Douro Valley. I’m a fan of Port and was surprised to find, given Portugal and Spain’s cozy proximity on the Iberian Peninsula, that it’s never on the menu here in Spain. The main Port Wine houses (including big names like Taylor’s and Sandemans) are actually not in Porto at all, but a quick walk over the beautiful Luís I bridge to the other side of the river in a town called Vila Nova de Gaia.
We did a tasting at the Kopke House that paired wines and port with handmade chocolate, and then did a tour and tasting in the very cool cellars at Cálem. We burned off some sugar calories hiking up a major hill to Taylor’s, but then I overindulged in a feta-like Portuguese cheese called palhais. And then more port. By the end of the day, all the ports sort of blended together for me, however, I had learned the different between a bright and fruity ruby port and a rich and oaky tawny port, so that’s something. We decided if you’re only in Porto for a night, you can’t stop at three paltry port tastings, so we did yet another tasting at the port store/tasting room Vinologia, where the staff know everything about port and make sure you leave knowing which is your favorite.
The following day we did a food tour, which sadly did not include any pastéis de nata, a traditional custard tart. (Luckily, I had one the day before). We visited the Balhão Market, an old market that doesn’t appear to have seen much updating in the past century, which completely adds to its authentic charm. This place sells everything from produce, to wine, to live chickens, to garden supplies, and most of the stands are run by older women. Throughout the food tour, I was surprised to learn of all the spices in Portuguese food, particularly in contrast to the lack of spices in Spanish food. I asked our guide if Porto’s food was influenced by ingredients being traded in the port, and he said it was more that the Portuguese borrowed culinary traditions from its colonies, which is why you can find African and South American flavors. “Spain, however, is Spanish,” our guide told me. “Always Spanish and nothing else.”
We’re departing the Iberian peninsula in a matter of weeks, so another Porto visit could be years down the road. Next time, I’ll stay longer and tour the Douro Valley wine region.
To being totally smitten with Porto,
The Dame in Spain