Somewhere For The Weekend: Pulsating Porto On The Douro
Gateway to Ribiera: the iconic Dom Luis 1 bridge.
Images by Steve Hare.
The latest article in our Time for Life section - designed to inspire our readers to make time to follow their passion and dreams - puts the spotlight on heart stopping Porto, Portugal’s second largest city.
As our Time for Life Correspondent Sharon Cain reports, the strikingly stylish destination on the banks of the river Douro, known as ‘river of gold’, serves up an architectural, cultural and gastronomic feast to whet every appetite.
River panoramic Enchanting: The Duoro runs 560 miles from Porto to Spain.
“Where in Porto you want go?” asked our affable taxi driver cursing the notoriously atrocious driving of his fellow Portuguese as we raced from our seaside camp site with our moulting golden retriever Bracken ensconced on the floor of the cab.
Having a blanket (my jacket), was a pre-requisite to enabling the travelholic canine to explore this underrated gem which plays second fiddle to Lisbon, the country’s capital city.
“Ribiera por favor” I replied, struggling with the substantial difference in pronunciation between Portuguese and Spanish despite the similarities with many words.
Bag a bargain at Porto’s bustling and charming waterfront.
Deposited among the swathes of Sunday visitors and locals, our adventure began by crossing the imposing Dom Luis 1 bridge to downtown Ribiera, a Unesco World Heritage Site pulsating with energy.
By midday the waterfront, glistening with sunshine, was alive with the buzz of crowds browsing through sourvenir stalls or enjoying drinks, brunches, early lunches and Portuguese pastries.
The latter includes the famous and highly addictive Pastel de Nata custard tarts from which there is no escape. The ubiquitious goodies are found in pastilerias (bakeries), cafes, bars, restaurants, garages, supermarkets and corner shops. Hoping to elude them on crossing to Spain, they taunted me when prominently displayed in the first supermarket we stocked up at.
Arresting Art Deco
São Bento Railway Station Halting visitors in their tracks: São Bento Railway Station.
No matter how strapped you are for time, taking in the 20,000 decorative tiles at São Bento Railway Station depicting Portugal’s past history and present way of life is a must.
Built on the site of a former Benedictine monastery, the stunning station has been open since 1916 and legends abound that a ghost still haunts the halls. The landmark attraction acknowledges the painstaking work of their creator Jorge Colaço who laboured on the project for 11 years.
Porto fountain Making a splash: Fountain of the Lions.
Porto’s eclectic culture takes in a raft of statues and monuments including a 19th century Fountain of the Lions which look Romanesque. Disappointingly (sometimes it’s better not to know the real story), it is more mundane and apparently emulates the fountain in Leicester’s Town Hall Square.
Outstanding Art Nouveau
Patiently queuing to be enraptured by the magnificent Livraria Lello bookstore in Porto is also un-missable - irrespective of whether you count yourself among the literati.
Livraria Lello Livraria Lello’s sensational staircase.
The piece de résistance of the sensational art nouveau décor is the jaw-dropping red staircase said to have inspired the one in Hogwarts.
It was well worth the 30 minute wait and the fascinating people I met along the way including the mother of a Hollywood actor who checked out when I googled him.
Both the Guardian and Lonely Planet voted Livraria Lello the world’s third most beautiful bookstore.
Baroque beauty: the Carmo church.
An abundance of Harry Potter books - author JK Rowling used to live and teach English in Porto - can be purchased here.
The entrance fee - highly unusual but understandable given the bookstore’s popularity - is 5€ if you order your ticket online and 6€ if you pay on the door. The cost is deducted from anything you buy.
The Clerigos Tower offers breathtaking city views.
Many of Porto’s buildings have a propensity for stopping visitors in their tracks. Just a few minutes’ walk from the railway station is the Carmo Church with its beautiful baroque architecture.
Built in second half of the 18th Century, its exterior displays a multitude of the now familiar blue tiles whose scenes depict the origins of the nuns of the Carmelite Order.
Commanding presence: Prince Henry the Navigator.
A narrow house separating the Carmo church from the Carmelitas church to its left was designed to prevent contact between the monks and nuns.
The grandeur of the Baroque style is also evidenced in the 75-metre Clerigos bell tower. Dating back to 1763, its 225 steps can be ascended and rewarded with remarkable views across the city.
The statue of maritime hero Prince Henry the Navigator, a 14th century Prince, is a reminder of Portugal’s role as a global economic player.
His string of achievements includes despatching expeditions around the Africa’s Ivory Coast, opening up opportunities for Portugal to tap into Africa’s vast riches.
Rooftop view Awe-inspiring: city view taking in Porto’s cathedral
Among the joys of exploring Porto are an abundance of lookout points from which to relish the amazing backdrops.
The views are equally mesmerising from Vila Nova de Gaia on the opposite bank of the Duoro which is accessible by a five minute ferry ride.
Porto sunset Exquisite sunsets heighten the magic of Porto
Festooned with bars, wineries and vineyards, our photographer Steve partook in Port tasting and, surprisingly for him, was particularly taken with the rose.
I savoured a glass of the local vino verhe wine as we watched dancing couples swept up in the city’s infectious romance and the palpable excitement of passengers embarking on river boat cruises which set sail up the Douro at sunset with the promise of spectacular scenery.