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Porto, Portugal, "a Cidade Invicta", The Invincible City - but One You Can Easily Fall for!

City of Porto or Opporto

Porto, Portugal is known foremost for its unique wine, Port. The Douro valley, about 200 miles east of Porto, produces the most well-known and popular brands of Port, a sweetish wine that is high in alcoholic content (between 18% and 22%).

WHERE IS IT?

Situated in the NW section of Portugal, Porto is 200 miles from Lisbon, and 350 miles from Madrid. Also easy to get to by air from London and Paris.

Porto, Portugal is known foremost for its unique wine, Port but there are other products and cuisine it has become famous for, as you will read. The Douro valley, about 200 miles east of Porto, produces the most well-known and popular brands of Port, a sweetish wine that is high in alcoholic content (between 18% and 22%).

HISTORY OF PORTO

Founded in the 4th Century BC, Oporto or Porto has had a rich and colorful history as a pre-Roman trading port (called Portus Calle),  Roman occupation, conquests by Visigoths, Moors and Vikings, medieval royal territorial fights and of course it’s close affinity to wine, which its inhabitants were drinking 2,000 years ago. Because of its strategic location as one of the cities in the Iberian Peninsula and a busy port from ancient times, it always commanded attention from sailors, explorers and royals looking for a base with natural waterway and defenses. In 15th century, it was not only one of the busiest ports in Europe, it was also known for its ship building prowess. Porto and its surrounding Douro valley, deservedly, feature 4 UNESCO World Heritage sites.

THINGS TO DO AND SEE IN PORTO

Not an exhaustive list, but some key sites to visit in Porto.

  1. Of course the four UNESCO sites are worth a visit. They are:
  • Historic Centre of Oporto, Luiz I Bridge and Monastery of Serra do Pilar (1996), known for its gastronomy and the lively Ribeira Square
  • City of Guimaraes, featuring the Castle of Afonso Henriques, Portugal’s first monarch, and several structures dating from the 10th century
  • Douro valley vineyards, world’s oldest regulated winemaking region
  • Coa Valley, with its Paleolithic rock art dating back from 22,000 years
  1. Visit one of the most beautiful bookstore in the world-Livraria Lello Bookstore

Opened by the Lello brothers in 1906, and it’s one of the oldest in Portugal. Its outside façade features the popular and distinctive “blue azulejos” tiles that decorate many structures like churches, government offices and elegant bungalows in that country. Inside, there is wood paneling, stained glass skylight and a beautifully carved and curved staircase—and of course floor to ceiling books. It is said that J.K. Rowling wrote the first Harry Potter book inside the bookstore. 

  1. Waking Tour 

Porto is arguably a “Shabby Chic” city. It looks beautiful, with colorful buildings, quaint alleys and tunnels and up and down terrain. A 4-5 hour walk takes you through some of the most striking streets and structures of Porto. Among these: Clerigos Tower, Ribeira Square (a truly magnificent center of town surrounded by statuesque building and lots of activity)  Jewish Quarter, Stock Market building (Palicio de Bolsa), and of course the walk along the Douro river. You never know what you will encounter in the city. Once, we were regaled by graduating students, all just out from their convocation, who danced and played guitar and sang—just a happy, young, vivacious crowd with not a care in the world!

                   

Porto Cathedral

  1. Porto Cathedral

Also known as the Sé, is as old as the city itself—built in the 12th century AD.. It is within the oldest areas of Porto, Morro de Sé. It was originally built by one of Porto’s first clergyman, Bishop Hugo and built in the Romansque style—with fortifications, a rose window; however, subsequent additions feature other styles—a Gothic cloister etc. For a 900 year old structure (of course, restored many times) it is in a remarkably sturdy shape.

  1. Beaches

Porto is a beach town—though not in the same class as Waikiki and South Beach.  It boasts handful of beautiful, but rocky beaches like Praia do Molhe and Praia de Gondarém. You can still sun-soak to your heart’s desire.

Douro river

  1. Douro Valley

Of course one of the top reasons you want to visit Porto is for the wine that is synonymous with Porto—the fortified, intense wine that is known the world over. First, a bit of history of the valley and its wine. However, the valley is also known for cork and cork products. In fact, we saw several wine storage facilities with exterior insulation of cork tiles, which acts as natural air conditioning medium.

Douro Valley is about 200 miles NE of Porto. Although wine has been produced in Douro Valley for about 3,000 years (carbonized grape pulp of that era has been found during excavations).

Following the establishment of the Kingdom of Portugal with the birth of its first King in October 1143 AD, the country became an important producer and exporter of wine; however it was not until the mid-17th Century that the valley became the source of what is today known and branded as Port wine.

 

  1. Cuisine

Porto is famous for certain Portuguese dishes—among them (and starting with the finest gut-buster),  

  • francesinha, an open sandwich made with aged and smoked pork sausage, roast meat and ham, topped with cheese and a fried egg and drenched in rich beer sauce.
  • Caldo Verde, akin to the English Kale soup, but fortified with potato puree, chourico and
  •  
  • Almost anything cooked with Bakalhau (Salt Cod)—our favorite is salted cod, egg and potato based casserole

WAIT, WAIT, DON’T START EATING YET……………………..

                                                                                                

                                                How about that Special Wine!

So what is Port wine?

It is a fortified wine produced (not necessarily bottled) in the Douro Demarcated Region in the Douro Valley. It also now includes Oporto city and the city of Gaia. It is fortified with a distilled spirit like Aguardiente (grape based distilled spirit), which contains alcohol of about 30-60%. However, typical Port wine contains alcohol level of 19-20%. Other fortified wines include Sherry and Madeira, fortified with other distilled spirits. There are two primary types of Port wine: Ruby (Red) Port: a deeply-colored red Port which includes Vintage, Late-bottled Vintage (LBV), Crusted and Ruby Port and Tawny Port: a very sweet barrel-aged port with oxidative nut and caramel flavors.

Now they even make a lighter wine you can have as an aperitif, similar to Rose called Rose Port.

Douro is home to many fine Port wineries; it also is host to Croft, a winery started in and continuously running since 1588—Croft. Douro has contributed to several new techniques for not only harvesting grapes but also storing and aging wine. Among them—casing the storage area with cork, lighter wines, late ageing (sometimes up to 40 years) and improving the quality of grapes as well as in developing organic nutrients.

Yes, you will do well to engage with Porto at least for 3 or 4 days. Lots to see and do.

 

 

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