When it comes to Europe’s dreamiest destinations, we’ll always have Tuscany and Provence. However, I discovered that the Northern Portuguese city of Porto has the history, the scenery, as well as the wine and the food, to give Florence a run for its money. Dollar for dollar, this UNESCO World Heritage Site is a sweet deal.
Hotel Teatro has an ideal location and spacious rooms all in a designer package. On the other side of the river, The Yeatman suits those looking for luxurious pampering and privacy. Each room opens onto a large private balcony for a dramatic and unobstructed view of Porto. Their Caudalie Vinothérapie Spa offers unique treatments like a purifying Merlot Wrap. Sounds like an oxymoron, but sign us up!
SEE & DO
Culture vultures will want to start the day with an early morning trip to Mercado do Bolhão (Rua Sá da Bandeira, close to Bolhão metro station), which is especially vibrant on a Saturday morning. After the market, drop in to Cafe Majestic and fuel up before exploring the city centre’s shops, churches and museums. JK Rowling fans will get a literary kick out of Livraria Lello (144 Rua das Carmelitas, near Praça dos Leões) – the neo-gothic bookstore that is said to have inspired the Harry Potter series. Pick up a few inventive cork products (think pens, jewellery and even umbrellas) at Galo Louco (57 Rua Ferreira Borges) before hopping on a riverboat to cruise the Douro and see the six historic bridges.
EAT & DRINK
The quintessential aperitif is a glass of port, and we loved the casual lodge setting at Quevedo Port Wines (77 Rua de Santa Marinha) where we sipped a variety of vintages while nibbling on the freshest olives and prosciutto. For the oenophile, Wines of Portugal have a tasting of three regional wines daily from 11 – 7pm at Palacio da Bolsa (Rua Ferreira Borges).
Be sure to reserve a dinner table at Rui Paula’s DOP (18 Palacio das Artes Largo de S. Domingos) to sample the celebrated chef’s modern Portuguese fare.
Another must is Gosho (1277 Avenida da Boavista, inside the Hotel Porto Palacio) for a tasting menu of mouth-watering Japanese fusion. The Grilled Beef Barrosã DOP with salt grass is worth every euro!
For late night, stroll over to Rua da Galeria de Paris and into Plan B. This club sets the right scene with good tunes and well-priced cocktails.
2 CITY ESCAPES
Douro Valley: No trip to Northern Portugal would be complete without a road (or train) trip to another World Heritage Site – the Douro Valley. The scenery is full-stop stunning! Book a gorgeous room at Solar da Rede and spend a day or two touring and tasting what the region’s winemakers have to offer. Relax by the river’s edge and have one of those three-hour lunches at Rui Paula’s DOC.
Medieval Marialva: There are eight historic villages that are considered Portugal’s best-kept secrets. As an important military fortress in the Middle Ages, the village of Marialva in the Beiras region (about two and a half hours drive from Porto) is being lovingly restored to meld the past with the present. Walk through the ancient streets flanked by stone walls and Gothic doorways. Visitors will find a small square that was the site for the tribunal and a former prison. A 15th century granite pillory (photo op!) remains. There is also a 16th century parish church nearby, as well as one of the largest castles in the region.