This was our first visit to Portugal so we thought it deserved our full attention – nearly 4 weeks and most of the month of October. We left Salamanca, Spain on 5 October and drove through the mountains of Portugal. As we approached the Spanish border, the flat high plains landscape abruptly changed to mountains and it was all downhill from there. Seriously, the drive from the border was a freeway full of downhill twists and turns until we reached the Atlantic Ocean where our Airbnb apartment for the week was located. The apartment had outstanding views of the mouth of the Douro River as it met the Atlantic Ocean, and proved to be the perfect place to spend our week in Porto.
The land of port wine and second largest city in Portugal. Porto is located in the northwest corner of the country. On our visits 3 miles into town from our apartment, we were somewhat reminded of downtowns in the USA when shopping malls started up outside of town during the 1960s/1970s and left many businesses closed and boarded up. Even so, we walked about town following a self-guided tour to see what Porto had to offer. It was enjoyable seeing the buildings that were covered in azulejo tiles and topped our list of the best of Porto. As with most of this part of Portugal, you are either walking up or down, and there are plenty of cafes and bars serving affordable meals. Case in point, we walked into one tiny family establishment, and had our choice of 5 different dishes that day. We sat down, placed our order, and then they brought out – bread and soup, meat or fish entrée which included salad greens, rice, and sliced lightly deep-fried potato – plus a pudding of choice, and inexpensive wine = €16 (that’s for 2 meals)! We should also note that inexpensive sandwiches of all kinds are available everywhere, are obviously quite popular, and we can attest to how good they are. We wandered around the ups and downs of Porto and decided we liked our neighborhood outside of town for becoming a local in - as it was much less touristy.
While I do enjoy wine and an occasional port, I didn’t feel it was necessary to devote my limited time this trip to the joys of port tasting across the river where the massive port lodges (warehouses) store and age the barrels of port wine. Now days there’s a whole port tasting culture descending on the tasting venues across the Douro River from Porto in an area known as Vila Nova de Gaia. As a matter of fact, it’s the number one tourist attraction. Our Uncle Jerry would have loved the joys of port tasting here – sorry I didn’t imbibe for you!
We took a 1.5 hour drive up into the Douro River Valley. The river starts in Spain, but runs 350 miles east to west in Portugal. This is the valley known for port wine, and as a steeply terraced grape, olive, and almond growing region. It was absolutely beautiful! This is a region where grapes are mostly harvested by hand and they still stomp them (yes, with feet or special shoes) so as not to over-crush them for port. While other valleys were full of smoke from recent fires, we were fortunate to have a clear day when we visited. The Douro Valley is full of what is known as quintas (port and wine producing vineyards), and there are some 4,000 vintners! Many quintas are private but there are a good number offering tastings, meals, and various accommodations. On this outing, we stopped at Quinta De La Rosa in Pinhão, and enjoyed a fine view, lovely wine, and a great meal. The small towns in this valley are very rustic and low keyed - and they seem to want to keep it that way even if the tourist trade is growing. This was a great day for us here and we would definitely visit again if we were in the area.
D’s Photo Experience
Our stay in Porto happened to coincide with the 10th annual Scott Kelby Worldwide Photo Walk. This photo walk each year is billed as 'The Worlds Largest Photowalk'. The idea is simple: On the 1st Saturday of October for the last ten years, photographers all over the world get together and join in a local walk and take pictures. Some locations will have several walks that day and others will have only the one walk depending on location size and signups. Each location has a local guide/organizer that will decide on the route and coordinate the logistics of the walk. This was my first chance to participate in one of these walks and I found it to be a rewarding experience here in Portugal. Our Porto walk was led by Porto local, Sergio Miranda. He planned a wonderful route through some of the more interesting parts of old Porto. While I take a lot of pictures in a lot of different towns, I don't consider myself a street photographer. People shots are not usually my thing. While a photo walk is not about any one type of photography, it was interesting for me to observe the group as they roamed the streets and shot things I would have never even seen! This was certainly a talented bunch of photographers! I did branch out during the walk for some candid shots of passersby, and as far as I could tell was not yelled at in Portuguese to knock it off. All in all this was a terrific way to connect with some local photographers and see their city through their eyes. I will look forward to finding a walk next year in whatever city we happen to be in. A small sample of some of my photowalk pictures are below. And now back to Michelle...
In recent years, we understand joining the EU has helped Portugal update their infrastructure and transportation systems which has brought in a surge of tourist interest. While I mentioned the state of the downtown area, we can see Porto slowly embracing tourism which should help with improvements and growth in small business to fill the empty shop fronts. We enjoyed our stopover in Porto and would not hesitate in visiting this area again – if only to drive into the Douro Valley and for downtime along the lovely river and Atlantic Coast. Maybe next time I will work in a port wine tasting for Uncle Jerry. Or better yet, perhaps he and his wife Ann could meet us there!
Thanks for joining our journey.