Go Back  Fodor's Travel Talk Forums > Destinations > Europe
Reload this Page >

Loving Northern Portugal – and living to report about it

Loving Northern Portugal – and living to report about it

Old Mar 17th, 2024, 02:55 PM
  #1  
Original Poster
 
Join Date: Jan 2004
Posts: 3,416
Likes: 0
Received 0 Likes on 0 Posts
Loving Northern Portugal – and living to report about it

A few years back, we planned a 10-night trip to Northern Portugal. We did our research and amassed a ton of notes about sites, visiting hours, hikes and walks, driving routes, wine and port, food and restaurants, you name it. We were well-prepared for our departure on March 28, 2020. Well, you don’t have to guess how that turned out!

Not wanting all that work to go to waste, we kept the idea on the back burner as travel resumed. A few months ago, we had to pivot some of our plans – and this trip to Northern Portugal seemed to fit right into a hole in our schedule.

We rebooked essentially the same trip, but switched up the order of destinations and revisited our accommodation selections. Our new itinerary:
· Porto, 4 nights
· Braga, 3 nights
· Douro Valley, 3 nights (an evening flight out of Porto meant we had all day to get to the airport after checking out)
· Zurich airport hotel, 1 night (positioning for a morning flight home)

We knew this would be a little early in the season – good for crowds but maybe not so much for the weather. As hardy Midwesterners, we’re used to a little weather and were willing to take the risk. And the weather, indeed, turned out to be a mixed bag.


The good - please excuse the seagull photobomb


The bad - yes, it looks great, but that's snow on the top of the hills in the distance, and that was big news in the area


The ugly

Weather aside, this short trip had it all: Historic and UNESCO sites. Great food, wine and port. Lovely views. And one very scary incident involving moving vehicles.
ms_go is online now  
Old Mar 17th, 2024, 02:56 PM
  #2  
Original Poster
 
Join Date: Jan 2004
Posts: 3,416
Likes: 0
Received 0 Likes on 0 Posts
February 27: The night before
We were packed and ready and winding down on work in anticipation of a 2:30 pm flight to Frankfurt the next day. As we were fixing dinner, my phone started lighting up with notifications from United Airlines. It seems the union for Lufthansa ground workers across Germany had just announced a strike for the next few days. This has been an ongoing dispute, and a strike the previous week had resulted in about 1,000 flight cancellations. No one really knew what would happen the next day, but United was offering the chance to change flights pending availability. Spending part of our trip in Frankfurt rather than Portugal – in February – was not especially appealing. I did some quick research as I wolfed down dinner and saw that a flight to Zurich (connecting to SWISS rather than Lufthansa) was not full and maybe an option. Ten minutes on the phone with United, and that was a done deal. It was a better itinerary (2.5-hour connection vs. 4-hour connection), arrived in Porto just 30 minutes later, and preserved our Polaris upgrades across the Atlantic. Ultimately, our original flights did go as planned, but we didn’t have to spend hours worrying about it.
ms_go is online now  
Old Mar 17th, 2024, 03:02 PM
  #3  
Original Poster
 
Join Date: Jan 2004
Posts: 3,416
Likes: 0
Received 0 Likes on 0 Posts
Porto: February 29 – March 3 (four nights)

The connection in Zurich was easy. We even had time for showers at the SWISS Senator Lounge, so we arrived somewhat refreshed and ready to hit the ground for a full half day in Porto.

Our home for four nights was a fantastic rooftop apartment overlooking Parque des Virtudes and the river beyond it. As luck would have it, no one occupied the apartment the previous night, so were able to have early access. The very helpful proprietor met us, showed us around, and left us with lots of recommendations – for our time and appetites. If only the weather had been conducive for relaxing on that wonderful terrace!

Virtudes Terrace


If only we could have enjoyed this terrace every day during our stay!


On nice evenings (of which there was only one during our stay in Porto) people gather in the park below to watch the sunset

ms_go is online now  
Old Mar 17th, 2024, 04:01 PM
  #4  
 
Join Date: Jan 2003
Posts: 19,919
Received 83 Likes on 5 Posts
Along for the ride!
Melnq8 is online now  
Old Mar 17th, 2024, 05:29 PM
  #5  
Original Poster
 
Join Date: Jan 2004
Posts: 3,416
Likes: 0
Received 0 Likes on 0 Posts
Thanks, Melnq8! It might be a bit of a slow ride depending on how work goes this week, but I'll try to get to the good parts.

Our arrival day was one of the best weather days of the trip. We knew that might be the case, so we were motivated to get out and walk - and we did, 12K steps.


We loved the architecture around Porto, including the building in which we were staying - the yellow one. Our apartment was on the very top floor.


Porto is quite hilly, so chances are you'll be going up and down some stairs.


We made a beeline for the riverfront.


You can walk across the Dom Luis I Bridge on either the bottom level or the top level. We did both - the bottom level on our first day and the top level on the second, in the rain. I'm not good with heights, and the top level was not for me!


The city on the other side of the river, Vila Nova de Gaia, has a classic view of Porto. It's also home to tasting rooms for a lot of wine and port houses. Rabelo boats (historic boats used to transport wine/port barrels) line the Gaia side of the river.


We actually got to sit outside for a drink on the river bank (it was maybe 55 degrees F).


Our neighborhood was very close to the Clerigos church and tower (we'd visit on another day).


We wanted dinner on the first night to be close by. Porta 4 is a tiny place that seats, I think, 12 people. One server and one chef. It hit the spot as jet lag started to set in, including this delicious gnocchi dish.

Next up: digging into the food and culture of Porto with Culinary Backstreets.
ms_go is online now  
Old Mar 17th, 2024, 09:41 PM
  #6  
 
Join Date: Sep 2006
Posts: 2,860
Likes: 0
Received 0 Likes on 0 Posts
Great timing since we are heading there soon.
cafegoddess is offline  
Old Mar 18th, 2024, 04:53 AM
  #7  
 
Join Date: Mar 2014
Posts: 4,498
Likes: 0
Received 0 Likes on 0 Posts
Really enjoying your report and photos. We have been to Lisbon but not Porto. Hope to see more of Portugal some day and will definitely include Porto.
KarenWoo is offline  
Old Mar 18th, 2024, 11:20 AM
  #8  
 
Join Date: Mar 2003
Posts: 10,299
Likes: 0
Received 21 Likes on 2 Posts
Every Portugal post wants me to return. Looking forward to more.
maitaitom is offline  
Old Mar 18th, 2024, 11:49 AM
  #9  
 
Join Date: Jan 2003
Posts: 7,965
Likes: 0
Received 0 Likes on 0 Posts
Looking forward to more, ms_go. So glad you were able finally to make this northern Portugal trip happen! You do have a special talent for finding inviting airbnbs.
Maribel is online now  
Old Mar 18th, 2024, 03:37 PM
  #10  
 
Join Date: Oct 2010
Posts: 2,341
Likes: 0
Received 0 Likes on 0 Posts
Great report so far! I am along for the report and pictures!
willowjane is offline  
Old Mar 18th, 2024, 04:01 PM
  #11  
Original Poster
 
Join Date: Jan 2004
Posts: 3,416
Likes: 0
Received 0 Likes on 0 Posts
Thank you all: cafegoddess, KarenWoo, willowjane, maitaitom (we, of course, read your report before leaving), and Maribel (your recommendation of Casa do Visconde de Chanceleiros was a winner – more on that later).

I should note that we’ve been to Portugal once before – a brief surprise birthday trip to Lisbon in 2013: Sunshine, Ginjinha and an Angry Peacock. Some here may remember the peacock story from the lounge.

FYI, some of the links in that report may no longer work, including the one to our Bairro Alto apartment, which is no longer available.

Back to the current trip.

It rained all night, but we awoke to our first full day with a rainbow and some dry weather – at least for a few hours.



The only major thing we pre-planned for this trip was a tour with Culinary Backstreets. We were attracted to this particular tour because it wasn’t just about tasting food; it was about the stories behind the food. This organization started in Istanbul and has grown to other cities over the past decade-plus. The groups are small – max of seven people.

We were very lucky to be the only people on our tour. It was just the two of us and Marta, our guide. She was born and raised in Porto, has lived and studied in other countries in Europe, and has a Ph.D. in linguistics. She’s also an excellent storyteller. We spent six hours, mostly in the Bolhaõ and Bomfim neighborhoods, just outside the oldest part of the city, talking about food, history, culture, architecture, economics, politics, and more. We very much enjoyed this experience and have already signed up for the Culinary Backstreets market tour in Palermo later this year.


Our tour started at Confeitaria Império for coffee and “second breakfast.”


We then moved a few doors down to A Favorita do Bolhão, a traditional grocery store that opened in 1934 and has been in the same family since – and probably has not changed much. Some of those bottles of port on the top rows may be about as old as the store.


Next up was the Mercado do Bolhaõ, which reopened in 2022 after a long renovation.


Some of the family fish vendors have been operating here for decades.


Serra da Estrela - sheep’s cheese. In the north, they cut off the top of the casing and use a spoon.


We learned that most restaurants get their kale for the soup at the market, where the vendors have industrial slicing machines.


Some of the fabulous architecture in Bolhão


Along the way, we passed by some notable sites, such as the Church of Saint Ildefonso.


Porto is known for its famous Francesinha sandwich, an egg/cheese/meat affair that made our cholesterol levels go up just thinking about. We never did try it, but we did share a Cachorrinho sandwich, AKA “little hotdog.” I don’t feel like we missed out.


“Home” to the Cachorrinho is Gazela, which has maybe 10 stools at the counter – and a long line out the door if you don’t get there at opening time. Enjoy your sandwich with a super cold Super Bock.


Next, a stop in a true Porto FC sports bar for some traditional snacks, including salpicão with brown bread.


We did a little walking to digest in between all the food so far and a traditional lunch, which was coming next. This included a vantage point over the river that’s a little beyond the typical tourist zone.


A walk through Jardim Marques de Oliveira, where the trees and flowers were starting to bloom.


Lunch was at Casa Padrão. It included multiple dishes – starting with a traditional caldo verde (soup), then some fried sardines (you eat the whole thing).


Alheira, a Portuguese sausage made with garlic and filler rather than pork - originating hundreds of years ago in the Jewish communities. BBC article: The Unlikely Sausage that Saved Lives


Finally, a walk through Bomfim – once one of the more affluent neighborhoods – to a coffee house run by a Brazilian musician - Dona Mira Cafe. This, by the way, is not the cafe (I didn't take any photos there but the cakes are excellent).

Last edited by ms_go; Mar 18th, 2024 at 04:41 PM.
ms_go is online now  
Old Mar 18th, 2024, 05:20 PM
  #12  
Original Poster
 
Join Date: Jan 2004
Posts: 3,416
Likes: 0
Received 0 Likes on 0 Posts
Our stomachs and minds were full as we parted ways with Marta somewhere in Bomfim. We headed toward the remaining portion of the old city walls near the river.


Along the old city walls

Marta advised that if we visited any church in Porto, it should be the Igreja de Santa Clara.We had a bit of a hard time finding the discreet entrance, through an archway in a parking lot. Dating to the early 1400s, the church has one of the largest examples of gilded woodcarving in Portugal. It’s a national monument. It closed in 2016 for a lengthy restoration due to termite damage and reopened in 2021. It is not the largest church we’d see on this trip – but, oh my, the amount of gold and detail in one space!


The entrance to Igreja de Santa Clara is not especially obvious.


Once inside...the gold!


A little closer view. We found faces interesting.


Close up on the restoration detail.

The church is close to the upper level of the Dom Luis I Bridge, so afterwards we took a walk across. I have issues with heights, and this was not much to my liking. I pretty much fixed my view on the other side and kept going. Once we got to the other side, the rain and wind picked up, so getting back across was even less enjoyable.


If you'd like to see what the view from the upper level of the bridge is like, here it is. Photo credit to mr_go, because I wasn't about to look over the edge.

After a big food day, dinner was not on the agenda. We found a nice, low-key wine bar near our apartment, called Prova. The staff gave us a bit of a primer on port, including an introduction to white port. Who knew? We came back here on one other evening while in Porto.


Small dinner snack of tuna/capers on toast.


Our intro to port tasting.

ms_go is online now  
Old Mar 18th, 2024, 06:57 PM
  #13  
 
Join Date: Oct 2012
Posts: 1,332
Likes: 0
Received 0 Likes on 0 Posts
For me this is a wonderful intro to Porto. Your words and text are sublime. I really feel like I'm there, whether it is looking up at those crumbling steps or reading about the food and the woodcarving in the church.
shelemm is offline  
Old Mar 18th, 2024, 09:52 PM
  #14  
 
Join Date: Jan 2007
Posts: 3,153
Likes: 0
Received 0 Likes on 0 Posts
I don't know much about Portuguese art history but I too was fascinated by all the little faces on the church decorations. I once had the privilege of seeing the painting the Burial of Count Orgaz in Toledo with a similar constellation of faces, and the guide told us that if it looked like it was the same face repeated many times, it was; because models were hard to come by (no-one had time to sit there unpaid, because an artist sure didn't have that money), artists used to use mental patients as models, and often they just repeated the same face. But there seems to be a bit more variation in your faces. Maybe this was different for cherubs / children (which might have been in more supply?????)?

Lavandula
lavandula is offline  
Old Mar 19th, 2024, 05:50 AM
  #15  
Original Poster
 
Join Date: Jan 2004
Posts: 3,416
Likes: 0
Received 0 Likes on 0 Posts
Thanks, shelemm. In this case, the subject matter makes this very easy!

Lavendula - agree about those faces. There is definitely variation, and this was only one panel. We didn't have a guide or anyone to ask, so not sure how these figures came to be.

We woke up to real rain (see photo above, “the ugly”), so we took our time with breakfast and getting ready. At one point, it seemed the rain was dissipating and the sky was getting lighter. We donned our rain gear, took the elevator down seven floors and walked out of the building, headed for the Palacio da Bolsa (19th Century center of commerce) about 10 minutes away. We got maybe 200 feet before the rain blew up again, and we were drenched. Back to the apartment.

About 30 minutes later, we tried again. At this point, it was just “spitting” rain. We got to the Bolsa and found a line wrapped around the building. To see the inside, you have to take the 30-minute tour. But there isn’t really a way to buy tickets online. So, we joined the line and eventually arrived at the sole ticket seller 40 minutes later (remember, this isn’t even high tourism season yet). There are tours in Portuguese, English, French, and Spanish. The next English tour was about 2 hours later. We opted for even later in the day, around 4:40 pm. The Italian women who spent 40 minutes in line in front of us bailed without buying tickets at all once they got to the head of the line. I guess nothing suited them. There must be a better way.

With tickets in hand for later in the day, we headed for the Se de Porto (cathedral). Apple Maps said it was only about a third of a mile – uphill I should note. But when the rain hit again, we had to do something. It happened to be about 12:30. The first restaurant we passed had no space, but we were welcomed into the one across the street, Porto A Noite, with a big smile. We enjoyed some warm caldo verde and salads. Cash only – mr_go had to go find the ATM around the corner before we could leave.

Finally, the skies began to clear and we could get on with our day.


Warm caldo verde on a cold, rainy day


The Camino Portugues runs from north Porto to Santiago in Spain. We saw markers for it in multiple stops on our trip, including around Porto.


The Sé do Porto stands at a high point in the city. The structure dates to the 11th Century and has seen various modifications over time.


The inner courtyard and cloister is just as interesting as the interior. You can explore it on both levels.


Getting up close with the painted tile in the courtyard.


View over the city from one of the towers.


Cloister of the cathedral


After the cathedral, we walked toward the train station, Sao Bento - noted for the tile work in the front lobby. What was cropped from this photo is some of the massive amount of construction in central Porto in conjunction with building a new metro line (you can see a large backhoe).


Sao Bento train station


One small section of the art


You can tell this is a train station!


The historic Imperial Cafe is now a McDonald's - which has preserved the Art Deco murals and other details. We visited for the structure, not the food, as I'm sure many do.


Porto's town hall (do a 180-degree turn, and it's all construction)


Back at the Palacio da Bolsa for our 4:40 pm tour


Close up detail in one of the Bolsa chambers


This was Gustave Eiffel's office, with some of its furnishings. He designed one of the iron bridges in Porto, but not the famous Dom Luis I bridge.


The finale of the Bolsa tour is in the elaborate drawing room with Arabic detail. It is used today for welcoming dignitaries from around the world.


The historic trams run along the waterfront, out to the beach (we didn't ride).

The Porto suburb of Matosinhos is known for restaurants that serve fresh grilled fish. There are many. Our Airbnb host left some recommendations, and I had others from reading. We went with one that was easy to book online the day before – Taberna Lusitana. We used Uber to get there and back (about a 15-minute drive each way).


More fried sardines - these were out of this world!


Our dinner, selected from the day's catch and grilled

Last edited by ms_go; Mar 19th, 2024 at 05:58 AM.
ms_go is online now  
Old Mar 19th, 2024, 06:06 AM
  #16  
 
Join Date: Mar 2014
Posts: 4,498
Likes: 0
Received 0 Likes on 0 Posts
Your photos and commentary are wonderful! Love the street scenes, the food, the churches, the tiles. We love fish so I know we would enjoy visiting Matosinhos.

After visiting Lisbon and Porto, do you have a preference for one city over the other?
KarenWoo is offline  
Old Mar 19th, 2024, 02:01 PM
  #17  
 
Join Date: Jan 2003
Posts: 19,919
Received 83 Likes on 5 Posts
Yeah, that massive construction work was underway when we visited a few years ago. Looks like they're making progress.
Melnq8 is online now  
Old Mar 19th, 2024, 04:47 PM
  #18  
Original Poster
 
Join Date: Jan 2004
Posts: 3,416
Likes: 0
Received 0 Likes on 0 Posts
Originally Posted by KarenWoo
After visiting Lisbon and Porto, do you have a preference for one city over the other?
I don't know if I can call a favorite. Our visits were a decade apart, and both cities have unique experiences. I did learn that there is quite a rivalry between north and south - in terms of food, sports, etc.

Originally Posted by Melnq8
Yeah, that massive construction work was underway when we visited a few years ago. Looks like they're making progress.
Progress is positive. I don't know much about the route, but I expect this will probably be good for the residents who need to get to/from the center city.

Our last full day in Porto was a Sunday. Sunday lunch is a big thing. We had reservations just around the corner at Taberna Santo Antonio. This came highly recommended by our Airbnb proprietor. Culinary Backstreets also has a blog post about this popular neighborhood restaurant.
https://culinarybackstreets.com/citi...nto-antonio-2/

But first, we had a few more sites to see.

One of Porto’s most noted sites is the Clérigos church and tower, which just happened to be about five minutes uphill from our apartment. The Baroque church is young compared to many, finished around 1750. The tower is the tallest in Portugal, and you can see it from all over the city.

I’ve mentioned my issues with heights. I also don’t like steep, narrow towers with two-way traffic – especially coming down such towers. Taking one look at this tower from the outside, I couldn’t see how it would be anything other than steep and narrow, with two-way traffic.



Still feeling a little off from a migraine (first in 5-6 years) the day before, I decided to let mr_go climb this by himself while I explored the exhibits in the church. Good decision. About 10 minutes later, I get a text message: “Yeah, this is a ***** nightmare.” Turns out a large, adolescent-aged school group was in the tower at the same time. He declared the view nice enough, but the “juice wasn’t worth the squeeze.”


View from the tower


Meanwhile, inside the church

Livraria Lello is a couple blocks from the church. We love a good bookstore – but not standing in line to go inside. Yes, you can reserve your entrance time online. Even so, there were several hundred people outside waiting to get in. Hard pass.



A few blocks further are the twin Baroque churches, Igreja do Carmo and Igreja dos Carmelitas – the former known for the tiles on one side. Connecting the two churches is the 1.5-meter-wide Casa Escondida (1760s). The story has it that the house prevents the two churches from sharing a wall to so as to ensure separation of the nuns of Carmelitas and the monks of Carmo.


Great Art Deco architecture


Fonte dos Leões


Tiled facade of Igreja do Carmo


Look closely - the narrow building between the two churches is Casa Escondida


Inside Igreja dos Carmelitas


Jolly fellows in Jardim da Cordoaria

The Jardins do Palacio de Cristal wraps around the Super Bock Arena. The gardens range from landscaped to wooded, with a few fountains and grottoes, and even some roaming birds – roosters and chickens, ducks, and peacocks (yes, we were especially wary of the peacocks). There are nice viewpoints of Porto, Gaia and the river. It was a lovely place to stroll on a Sunday, with local families out enjoying the fleeting bit of sun.








Last edited by ms_go; Mar 19th, 2024 at 04:50 PM.
ms_go is online now  
Old Mar 19th, 2024, 06:15 PM
  #19  
Original Poster
 
Join Date: Jan 2004
Posts: 3,416
Likes: 0
Received 0 Likes on 0 Posts
The rest of our time in Porto...


There's a great view over Porto from Miradouro da Vitória


Sunday lunch was at Taberna Santo Antonio, on our neighborhood corner (it's a little livelier than this when open)


One of the classic Portuguese dishes of the north is breaded, baked bacalhau (salt cod). We had it several times. Check out the SIX potatoes for scale.


Mr_go's meal, veal stew.


It looks like your average chocolate mousse, but apparently it is award-winning - and is, indeed, excellent. Perhaps the second most decadent thing we tasted on this trip (stay tuned).


After lunch, we took a walk back across the bridge to Gaia.


There are numerous port/wine houses in Gaia that offer tastings. The big ones are on the river front, but there are smaller shops a block or two off of it.


We stopped for a tasting at Quevedo.


In Gaia.

Tomorrow, we'll pick up a car and hit the road.

Last edited by ms_go; Mar 19th, 2024 at 06:18 PM.
ms_go is online now  
Old Mar 19th, 2024, 07:10 PM
  #20  
 
Join Date: Jul 2006
Posts: 18,124
Received 22 Likes on 4 Posts
We were in Portugal years ago when we visited the Bolsa. We were the only visitors and our Portuguese guide commented we must be French as we have blue eyes. She also said I was very tall(5’5”!!)

HappyTrvlr is online now  

Thread Tools
Search this Thread

Contact Us - Manage Preferences - Archive - Advertising - Cookie Policy - Privacy Statement - Your Privacy Choices -