I recently had the pleasure of vacationing in Europe with my baby brother, Richard, and what an experience that was! To say the least, I would call it more ofa culinary adventure as his chef intuition lead us to so many yummy eats in the cities we visited!
Our first stop was Porto.....A is a historic city three hours north of Lisbon and nestled at the base of the Douro River. The historical port town with Roman ruins beneath it's medieval streets will definitely win you you over! It's the second largest city in Portugal but still has a sense of authenticity with it's somewhat Mediterranean weather and modern lifestyle hand in hand. This is Porto and I fell in absolute love!!
Porto was charming with it's gorgeous tiled buildings, new and ancient, altogether sitting beside rundown structures ready to collapse. As a city built beside the ocean, the humidity puts its unforgiving print all over the city. The narrow cobblestone streets lined with little stores, restaurants, and neighborhood cafés were so quaint and safe to explore even late at night. The people were friendly and welcoming making you feel less of a stranger.
Outside the twists and turns of the city’s interior streets lies the flat waterfront area of the Riberia. A hub for commercial activity since the Middle Ages, the main plaza of the Ribeira District remains a popular gathering spot with scores of tables encircling its flowing fountain. Bustling restaurants and cafes line the area; however, as u wander further down the river allows for the same waterside views while offering a respite from the overwhelming throng of tourists.
We found a restaurant with a beautiful outdoor patio over-looking the Douro River and sampled the famous and delicious Bacalhau and watched the boats drift by while sipping on a crisp and cool Minho Rosé.
Ponte Dom Luís I is the best place to take pictures, the view from the top of the bridge is fantastic! There are pedestrian walkways on the top and the bottom of the bridge – if you are afraid of heights, you should think about walking the top twice. It is the best way to get from Ribeira to Vila Nova de Gaia, where all the Port wine cellars are located.
Porto is a walking city......Sort of. Ok, ok there may be the slight risk of death-by-stairs. Or maimed by car coming around the corner. Or the less dramatic twisted ankle courtesy of all that cobblestone. Sure every corner may hide yet another staircase, hills may magically sprout up at every bend, and your shins may take on human characteristics as they scream and curse at you for the unintended torture inflicted upon them. (My legs were in absolute pain after our second day of walking up and down many hills and streets!!)
But whether it’s finding yourself completely alone amongst the conflicting beauty of dilapidated neighborhoods, stumbling upon hidden food stalls and authentic Portuguese restaurants, resting on the steps alongside stray cats while watching local women sell candy to passerby school children, or appreciating relative silence accompanied only by laundry lines ruffling in the river winds – these nuances are something even Porto’s efficient public transportation system can’t show you.
Port wine is perhaps the best known export to hail from Porto but is peculiarly enough, drenched in English culture – for it was the English who are credited with its booming trade success. Britain turned to Portuguese lands for wine production during the 1600’s when French wars led to a boycott on the importation of wines from France. Thus Port was born and the influence of the English can still be seen in the monikers of producers such as Cockburn, Dow, and Craft.
My brother and I had the privilege of touring Graham's Port and it was an experience to remember! Stay tuned for a compete blog post on that experience! To say the least, the history of Graham's and how it was evolved is a story of true love for port win by the Portuguese.
Graham’s 6 Grapes Reserve pairs perfectly with the melt-in-your-mouth 6 Grapes dark chocolate bar and is a not-to-be-missed combination come tasting time. Should you wish to stay overnight, beautiful accommodation can be found directly next door at The Vintage House where the sight of the setting sun is best savored from the solitude of your river-facing private balcony.
Which leads us to the day after a wine tasting at Graham's.....(check my Instagram for the story on how that night ended!) ...... Porto may have conceived the best hangover food ever devised – the infamous Francesinha.
This messy lump of salty goodness is a meat trifecta of ham, sausage, and steak framed between two slices of bread and smothered beneath broiled cheese topped with a beer-based sauce. The sauce recipe remains a secret and marginally differs from bistro to bistro as no one truly knows which is the original. The above hails from Café Santiago and tastes like a heart attack on a plate.
A bit of a murky history surrounds the name as rumors pertaining to its christening tend to exaggerate from local to local. The common gist of it is it loosely translates to “French girl” and has less to do with the fact that it was inspired by France’s delectable croque monsieur and more to do with the datum that its creator was a philanderer who preferred French mini-skirt fashion over the more conservative leanings of Portuguese dress.
The Francesinha is the dish to try when in Porto – even though it‘s like a heart attack (one of these sandwiches has more than 1000 calories) it has been considered as one of the 10 best sandwiches in the world!
The day after the wine tasting at Graham's and the Franceschina, we embarked on a Food Tour with Taste Porto Food Tours. This is something that I recommend you do as early in your trip as possible. I say this because the tour has a tremendous amount of information on where the locals eat in Porto. We had the best time during this food tour and met a group of German guys vacationing in Porto. The group was about 10 people and it was perfect. This blog post will be published tomorrow so stay tuned!
On our last day in Portugal, we ventured out of Porto to experience the delicious of FRESH FISH! My absolute fav food! So, when Oporto residents want to eat fresh fish, they drive to the nearby Matosinhos beach. The town’s main street (Rua Herois de França) and its side alleys are lined up with restaurants. We were fortunate enough to get a recommendation from our lovely tour guide and new friend, Gustavo, on one of the best fresh fish restaurants in Matosinhos. The food was just perfect. Our last meal in Portugal was perfect.
Grilling fish is easy, unless you want to do it perfectly, in which case it takes years of experience. It is this perfection that keeps fish lovers coming back to Matosinhos.
The day we visited Matosinhos was gloomy and over cast. We walked on the beach but the fog was so thick, we could not see the beauty of the Mediterranean Sea. Here is what the beach would have looked like on a clear and beautiful day from our view...
Our trip to Portugal was just perfect. The people. The food. The incredible history that lined the streets. Porto is now one of my top cities in the world to visit and I am excited to return for longer that the three days we had to enjoy the city.
Have you visited Porto? What are some of the things you enjoyed doing while visiting there and what would you recommend?
With Love | Nikki xo