In a week’s time Mr Fletche and I will be saying “Bom dia” to mainland Portugal for the first time as we celebrate our 8th wedding anniversary in the higgledy-piggledy hillside city of Porto. But what’s in Porto?
Lots and lots of hills. The city itself is built on the steep northern bank of the River Duoro, and between the centre and the riverside there is nothing but a tangle of tiny cobbled alleyways and daunting stairways. It’s telling that Porto’s iconic Dom Luis 1 Bridge crosses the river on two levels, with the upper level some 44.6 metres above the water. But all that walking should give me thighs of steel…and will go some way to working off those petiscos e pastéis de nata…
Trams (and other unusual forms of transport)
Of course, if when I get tired of walking up and down those hills, there are other modes of transport available to us. The Funicular dos Guindais railway will gently take us down the steep hillside from Batalha down to the quayside at Ribeira in three minutes. More importantly, it will take us back up. And across the river in Vila Nova de Gaia, there’s a cable car to help us up and down the inclines. And who doesn’t love a cable car?
And then there’s the historic trams. Both city sightseeing tour and practical over ground transport all rolled up in one yellow package with a red vinyl and wooden interior. I’m particularly looking forward to getting the #1 tram along the riverfront and out to the ocean at Foz do Douro. And we all remember how much Mr Fletche enjoyed his last tram ride in San Francisco…
Big ones, small ones, patterned and plain. There’s more tiles in Porto than the Birmingham tile store made famous by that annoying radio jingle. The interior and exterior of many buildings are covered in eyecatching ceramic tiles, some depicting images, others more abstract. Igreja do Carmo, Igreja De Santo Ildefonso and Sao Bento railway station are just a few of the buildings famed for their facades of azulejos – named for the Arabic word for ‘polished stone’
Porto has one of the world’s most beautiful bookshops, Livrario Lello. It’s marvellous staircase and stained glass ceiling are rumoured to have been the inspiration for a certain author to create a series of books about a certain boy wizard… In fact, J.K Rowling lived and worked in Porto for 10 years in the early 90s, and even used the local university students garb as inspiration for the Hogwarts uniform.
There are strict rules about photography inside the bookstore, after all, this is also a place where people come to study and to reflect, but there’s no doubt that this has become one of Porto’s best loved tourist attractions. And as a book-lover, this is an opportunity I can’t miss, especially as the 3e entrance fee is discounted from any purchase.
You can’t go to Porto without sampling the port, a fortified wine which is produced exclusively in the local Duoro Valley and was historically exported downriver on flat-bottomed rabelo boats from the city. There are lots of port cellars which offer tours and tastings; we’ve booked a tasting at Graham’s 1890 Lodge, which is a bit of a trek up the steep hills of Vila Nova de Gaia but will hopefully be worth it for its incredible views over Porto. And hopefully I’ll come home being able to tell the difference between a ruby, a tawny and a vintage port. Depends on how much I imbibe.
So that’s 5 things I’m looking forward to in Porto… except the hills. I’m definitely not looking forward to the hills. Have you been to Porto? Is there anything else we should put on our must-see list?