Porto, Palaces and Port Wine

ps: Pre-Lockdown Travels

One can never get enough of Portugal. We should know, because we have been visiting this beautiful country for the last six years already. This is where we escape to from the bleary winters up north, where we spend a lot of time when we’re here hiking along the cliffs of the Algarve, or exploring the vast countryside. This is where we have friends and where we feel at home. One of us always had one foot in southern Europe, had already set plans in motion to move when, !BOOM!, love happened. We met, we kissed, and then discovered that we both have the same dream, braaivleis, sunny skies and sea bouquets! Go figure! So when we left the snow-covered airport and set foot in Portugal for the first time so many years ago, it was love at first warm sea breeze for both of us, even though it was quite dark due to a horribly delayed flight. Bem-vinda!!

This year we needed to see the other coasts of Portugal, for personal reasons, so decided on a two week road-trip, starting from the city of Porto in the north, then closing off in our favourite area, the Algarve. What an amazing journey it was! So much to do, so little time!! 🤪 Oh, and we were still alive, just.

Our plane landed in Porto tilting from wing to wing. We all screamed in terror 😱 as we were thrown from left to right, right to left. Those plane wings were literally mowing the grass patches on both sides of the runway! Then it suddenly screeched to a jittering halt. Hallelujah! Amen! Breathe out. Breathe in. Woo! Woo! Woo! Clap! Clap! Clap! Happy cry. Laugh. Kiss-Kiss. Hug. OMG! We were safe!  😰 Apparently Porto is a very windy city, but personally??? Methinks that the pilot made a boo-boo…

The Hotel (an 18th-Century former Palace)

Okay, so we get our rental car and make our way to the hotel. Easy peasy despite heavy traffic and rain. We were met by a very friendly car valet and a dashing doorman. Bags and parking sorted. Service at its best! We were escorted to reception and could not stop oohing-aahing and omg-ing at the amazing interior surrrounding us. We had just stepped into a two hundred and seventy year old former palace and national monument, and it seriously felt like being whizzed back to very posh times gone by. Mirrors everywhere! Oh no! Quick! The wild hairs on two tired heads were discreetly patted down, or tamed, and a bit of lippy applied before we sat ourselves down to check in. YAY! What a lovely surprise! We were upgraded to a fancier top floor suite facing the Douro river. The view from our window was absolutely amazing! Birds and boats by day, and sparkling lights at night (see photos below)

The interior, as mentioned, was jaw-dropping! Everything was tastefully decorated and it oozed eighteenth century feel in every nook and cranny. We spent both nights of our stay sitting on elegant and comfy couches eating delicious bar food and slurping one or three of the best port wines on offer. The bar food was more like that found in a fancy restaurant and cooked to perfection. One of us had the traditional Bacalhau (codfish) and the other one had grilled salmon. Important though, was the sweet and tingly port wine. Hic! There was also a beautiful young singer who sang some soulful and jazzy melodies in her soft yet powerful voice. Obrigada Carol, you are amazing!

Below are some photos of the exterior and gardens of the hotel. There is so much to see and admire! Unfortunately we did not have much time to sit down and relax at the pool or use the spa facilities, but there will be a next time for sure, God willing.

Porto – City of Surprises and older than JC (300BC)

It was raining. Again. We decided to explore the city anyway. Our hotel had a free shuttle service into town, so we used that instead of bothering with a bus. At first look you think, dab and grey. Then you look closer and all the walls start staring back at you. Walls filled with blue and white mosaic tiles, telling you stories of the past. Walls colourfully painted or sprayed with graffiti. Walls coated with oddities to create an artful mural. Walls lined with freshly washed clothes hanging out to dry. Wonderful walls that say: Hi, look at me!

Porto is also a city with a lot of steps and stairs and is quite hilly. Up, down, down, up through tunnels, interesting passages and narrow alleyways. To explore it is to have no knee problems or heavy lungs hahaha! We are grateful to be fit but…phew!…it was quite challenging at times. At least there are a lot of places all over the city to sit down and catch your breath. We spent at least eight hours exploring, so yeah, we deserved all that sweet-tasting port wine. Shhh! Oops!

Porto is also called the city of bridges, Cidade das Pontes. We ambled across the lower part of the busy double-decker Dom Luis 1 metal bridge over to the other side of the Douro river, and back over the upper part, over the arch. Going was not as adventurous as walking back, OMG! By then it was raining cats and dogs, with a wind velocity so scary that the acrophobic one thought we were going to be blasted off the bridge. See how high it is?? And this just after getting off a swaying cable car! So yeah! There was a lot of scary African screaming going on, especially every time a metro train came rolling by! Why oh why did we not use the tuk-tuk or a boat! 😝🤣

There are also a lot of interesting buildings, churches and statues all over, especially in the older part of the city. The higher you climb, the better the view!

The Douro river divides Porto City and Vila Nova de Gaia. There is a lot to see and do on both sides of its banks. There are also a lot of eateries and wine cellars here. Hic!

As we mentioned before, it was mostly a rainy day, but even through a camera lens filled with raindrops, the beauty of Porto could still be seen.

If you don’t like getting wet, there are also a lot of interesting buildings to escape into and explore from the inside, like one of the many wine cellars, sip-slurp-slurp-numm-hic. Or there’s a modern, made to look like an old traditional Portuguese restaurant serving freshly made Bacalhau balls with a glass of wine. Some say it’s a tourist trap and way too expensive, but hey, it’s your choice if you want to spend the money or not. It was full so we walked around the upper gallery, admired and left when the rain eased up a bit. The chandalier was spectacular though!

After many hours spent on our feet enjoying the sights and sounds of Porto, and after hanging ourselves out to dry for a few minutes heh-heh, we would relax in the lounge downstairs and enjoy the ambience, talk to fellow guests, and always holding a glass in our hands. Shhh! A well deserved end of day after being blown away by the life and uhm…wind of Porto. Live, learn and enjoy! Bottoms up! Cheers! Prost! Saúde!