My husband is an avid hiker who has now walked the Camino Francés (French Way) from St Jean-Pied-du-Port to Santiago de Compostela twice. It is the most popular route of all and there are approximately 38 different Caminos according to the Museum of Pilgrimage and Santiago in Santiago de Compostela. The second most popular route is Camino Portugués, which begins in either Lisbon or Porto. John wanted me to come along to take in the sights but I am not a walker so although I could have cycled, I chose to take public transport, check in to the hotel and tour the daily destination. We would usually meet up at the hotel in the late afternoon or early evening. All our accommodation was pre-booked with bed & breakfast and we had daily luggage transfers hotel to hotel with Camino Ways.
Day 1-2 Porto.
After an overnight flight from Canada with a connection in Lisbon that was unfortunately delayed, we arrived in Porto late afternoon at the beginning of May 2019. We were booked into the Hotel Carris Porto Ribeira, which is located on Rua do Infante D. Henrique in the city center just one block from the River Douro. John had also booked taxis for airport transfer arriving and departing, although if you want to save some money, the Porto Metro service is easy and very efficient and the least expensive way into Porto’s city center. It takes about 30 minutes on the purple line and is less than E2.
The weather had been calling for rain but as it was dry upon arrived, we decided to explore the area. Ribeira’s historic area is narrow; with cobblestoned streets that have an abundance of small bars and restaurants. (Do make sure you have flat footwear to protect yourself from falling or worse). From the main entrance of the hotel, we turned right and right again walking down to the Douro River, through Praça da Ribeira square, which still has the colorful 18th-century townhouses. We had a much- needed coffee at a local café, a walk by the river before we set out to find a restaurant with tapas and new wines (to us) at Porto 4.
Day 2 The Twin Cities
It may be Portugal but practically everyone speaks English in Porto, so much so that it felt like a suburb of Britain! We had an excellent breakfast at Hotel Carris Porto Ribeira, complete with a glass of sparkling wine, we walked over the Ponte de D. Luís Bridge, which is an impressive two hinged double deck arched bridge from Porto to Gaia to stroll along the riverside on the Avenue de Diogo Leite and visit some of the Port wine cellars, some of which I had never heard of before, known here as caves. These are major tourist attractions offering tours and tastings. Most of the bars and restaurants will offer flights of port usually around 5 different ones too. Here down a side street, you will find the “Half-Rabbit” This large piece of street art has been created entirely out of garbage complete with a municipal road sign. Everyone takes a photo!
Another way to view the Port wine area in Vila Nova de Gaia is to take the cable car from the top located in The Jardim do Morro Park. It is near to the Mosteiro da Serra do Pilar that offers great views of Porto and is at the top of the cliffs on the southern side of the Douro River. Take the cable car down to Cais de Gaia, on the river bank or vice versa. You can also use the funicular to save walking up or down the hill before crossing over the Ponte de Dom Luis Bridge to Gaia or on your return. These both have fees although it may be worth it for anyone with mobility issues. You can also take a jaunt on the Douro on a Rabelo boat; these were the charming cargo boats traditionally used to transport Port wine from the vineyards to Vila Nova de Gaia. Today, they offer cruises for tourists.
Still, in Gaia, we visited the Monastery of St. Domingos das Donas, there was no charge to tour. There is the church itself entered through a long courtyard, with a well-lit alter, and seating which contrasts with the darker upper floor of choir-high seating set on two levels, in a “U” shape. The ceiling, decorated by 49 oil paintings, represents church themes.
Strolling back, we stopped at the Pink Market for lunch, so called for the reddish pink brick, which is like a big food court with many local specialties to indulge in. For beer drinkers, Super Bock is the Portuguese brand and it is good, also sold in flights, especially on a hot day. We also had the best pink sparkling wine by Mateus, not the original distinctive pink bottle sold everywhere, this Mateus, came in a champagne style bottle, kept in the Sandeman bar and patio. Sandeman appropriately serves a large selection of Port wine cocktails for lighter drinking. On a side note, many of the wines served in the bars, restaurants, and café are Vino Verdi or younger wines, which I do not see in Canada, they are light, refreshing, and very easy to drink. Surprisingly, they are less expensive, even in Euros.
Back in Porto, we walked up to towards ‘Estação de São Bento’ the railway station where our friend was staying, literally at the station at Passengers hostel. The station entrance hall is well worth a visit as it features over 20,000 tiles commemorating historical events. Another way to see Porto is by Tram, at this time, there are roughly a dozen vintage trams that track the last three tram lines. This is a fun way to see Porto’s cobbled streets in the city center.
In search of dinner, we found a restaurant populated by locals. JB was hungry and had the “Francesiha”, an enormous toasted sandwich made with an assortment of ham, veal, steak, sausage, chorizo, cheese, and an egg. It was set in a bowl of a rich sauce made with beer and peri-peri and came with chips/French fries. He ate it all and pronounced it very good. We had lighter, but tasty fare. The pastries are delicious and there is an abundance of them in all the bakeries. Pastel de Nata is Porto’s version of the Pastel de Belem from Lisbon.