There’s a dreamlike
quality to Porto – a tumbledown, romantic city of medieval relics, soaring bell
towers and stately beaux-arts buildings. Further afield, the wine country of
Alto Douro contains some of Portugal’s most appealing countryside.
Porto’s Unesco-protected riverfront district, the Ribeiria, is a remarkable
tangle of historic streets and alleys. The traditional barcos rabelos
(flat-bottomed boats) bob at the foot of the pretty hillside, down which medieval
buildings, Rococo façades and Gothic churches cascade.
Alto Douro is a place
of dramatic landscapes, terraced vineyards, whitewashed estates and quintas
(country homes). Numerous vintners offer tasting sessions – try the Quinta Nova
vineyard, which has its own restaurant and accommodation (quintanova.com; Largo da Estação 14;
tours Tue–Sun, rooms from £95).
The neighbouring city
of Vila Nova de Gaia has more than 60 port-making ‘lodges’ on its river banks,
many dating from the mid- 18th century. The grand Ramos Pinto offers tours of
its ageing cellars (ramospinto.pt; Av
Ramos Pinto 30; tours and tastings £1.60).
Porto is home to some
of the country’s most impressive azulejo – intricately decorated tiles. The
magnificent panels made by Silvestre Silvestri in 1912 cover much of the Igreja
do Carmo church (00 351 222 078 400; Praça Gomes Teixeira Cordoaria; Mon–Sat;
Each weekend, Porto
residents make the short trip north to Vila do Conde. The gorgeous beaches are
the real attraction – the Praia do Forno and Praia de Nossa Senhora da Guia are
as white and wide as you’ll find anywhere on this coast.
Eat and drink
Vintage wallpaper, gilded
mirrors, polka-dot ceilings and walls of books give a discrete charm to the
perfectly lit Casa do Livro bar. There’s a good beer selection, plus local
wines and fine spirits. DJs play funk, soul and jazz in the back room (00 351
222 025 101; Rua Galeria de Paris 85; Mon–Sat; drinks from £3).
The best restaurant in
Vila do Conde, Adega Gavina is renowned for its seafood. Watch the chef grill a
catch of the day on the streetside barbecue before you add the delicious
housemade vinaigrette dressing, then munch it down (00 351 917 834 517; Rua
Cais das Lavandeiras 56; seafood from £4).
Taberna São Pedro in Vila Nova de Gaia, the nostalgic sounds of traditional
fado music fill the air, fish is roasted on pavement grills, and the heady
smell of vinho verde (young wine) fills the air (00 351 916 585 046; Rua
Agostinho Al Bano 84; plates of sea bass £7).
A Grade in Porto’s
Ribeira district keeps the feel of a family-run taverna while serving masterful
traditional Portuguese cuisine. Octopus baked in butter and wine, grilled
seafood casseroles and sardine stews are specialities (00 351 223 321 130; Rua
da São Nicolau; mains from £9).
If you know where to
look, you can find sushi to rival Tokyo’s in Portugal’s big cities – which is
exactly what the KyoDai Sushi Bar in Porto provides. It’s tiny, so you’ll need
to reserve (00 351 936 335 483; Rua dos Mercadores; closed Mon; sushi plates
Set in one of Porto’s
beaux-arts Neoclassical buildings, the Hotel Aliados is great value, offering
smart rooms with wooden floors, dark-stained furnishings and views overlooking
the plaza of the Avenida dos Aliados (residencialaliados.com;
Rua Elísio de Melo 27; from £35).
The whimsical, faux-Gothic
Santa Caterina Castle in Porto is a fabulously over-the-top hideaway set in a
palm-shaded garden decorated with azulejo. Rooms are split between elegant,
period-furnished doubles in the castle, and smaller rooms in the more modern
annexe. It even has its own chapel (castelosantacatarina.com.pt; Rua
Santa Catarina 1347; from £45).
A fine boutique hotel
set on a hill above Vila do Conde, the Villa C Hotel has stylishly minimal
rooms, with strippedback design and marble bathtubs. Rooms on one side of the
building have superb views, while those on the other afford the chance for
people-watching below (villachotel.com;
Av Mouzinho de Albuquerque; from £90).
Set in a restored
relic that overlooks the Douro, the eight rooms at Guest House Douro have
gorgeous wooden floors, queen beds and marble baths. Rooms are split between
those with riverside views and ones overlooking the romantic alleys (guesthousedouro.com; Rua Fonte Torina
99–101; from £110).
Named after one of the
founders of Vila Nova de Gaia’s most famous port lodges, Taylor’s, The Yeatman
was the first top-end hotel in town. Tucked into the Gaia hillside, it has
magnificent views, as well as a Michelin-starred restaurant (the-yeatman-hotel.com; Rua do
Choupelo; from £170).
When to go
Spring and early summer are
great times to visit – the weather is routinely warm, but the river breeze
means that it never reaches the baking temperatures of high summer. Porto’s
biggest festival is the Festa de São João, held on 23 and 24 June – expect
music, medieval folk plays and fireworks all night (visitportugal.com).
How to go
Francisco de Sá Carneiro, just
outside of Porto, is the main international airport. Flights from Gatwick are
available with easyJet (from £95; easyjet.com)
and TAP (from £125; flytap.com), while Ryanair flies
there from Stansted (from £140; ryanair.com).
The article 'Mini guide to Porto and the Douro, Portugal' was published in partnership with Lonely Planet Magazine.