I fell in love with Portugal the moment I set foot in Lisbon and traveled to the Algarve in 2016. The fado music, the smells of food, the humble smiles on the locals’ faces, the passionate conversation that seems like a heated argument but isn’t. The natural beauty that at time reminded me of Cape Town, but also blew me away with cliffs and ocean that we definitely don’t have back home. Portugal, land of my ancestors, and this time around we went to Oporto for the first time. Where my roots truly lie.
After an active few days in Lisbon, a weekend filled with partying and lack of sleep at Hellfest in France, it was time to participate in some serious R & R. We flew to Porto from Nantes on Monday without having any sleep the night before, and arrived to a welcoming party I always longed for secretly every time we travel. My grandparents and relatives I am yet to meet were patiently waiting for us at the airport. The expression on their faces were priceless when they spotted me and it will be stuck in my memory forever as one of those moments where I was overcome with extreme gratitude and love for these people that have helped raised me and contributed majorly to many aspects of my ethics of beliefs.
Day 1: Monday, 24 June 2019
After the warm welcome, we were transported to Esmoriz, a smallish city 25km from Porto. My grandparents made us feel extremely welcome in their apartment and treated us to a proper Portuguese lunch with vegetables soup, vegetable and beef stew, and of course sweet treats afterward. My gran insisted that after almost 5 days of partying it was time to eat all the vegetables and so we did. And as they say in my mother tongue “Magies vol, ogies toe”. The beauty about most places in Europe is the shutters. The sun only sets between 21:00 and 22:00 during summer time and those shutters are a bonus for afternoon naps.
The evening we took a relaxing stroll along the beach as the sun was setting, grabbed ice cream from a local café and met up with my grandparents for a late night coffee and draft.
Day 2: Tuesday, 25 June 2019
After some well needed rest the day before, we were ready to explore Porto. And to our biggest relief, most of the places I had bookmarked was in close proximity of each other and the hills were minimal compared to Lisbon. We took the train from Esmoriz to São Bento railway station, a must see attraction by itself. The station is probably one of the most beautiful stations I have set foot it with it’s traditional blue and white azulejo tiles.
And the impressive tiles do not stop there, as we ventured through Liberdade Square we walked straight into a view of Igreja do Carmo. A beautiful baroque-rococo style church with an interior of opulence. Although churches make me feel uncomfortable in general, the grandeur and exquisite sculptures are truly a sight to behold. The church also had an extremely detailed history of each of its priests and the actual bones of saints (I stand under correction) boxed in glass.
After visiting the church, we had to indulge in debauchery of the culinary kind by having a taste of the infamous Portuguese junk food dish, the Francesinha at Café Santiago . While the boys was certainly distinguished from the men! Well the men remained men and us girls chose something with less impact on our waistlines. What is a Francesinha you may ask? A Portuguese sandwich originally from Porto, made with bread, wet-cured ham, linguiça, fresh sausage like chipolata, steak or roast meat, and covered with melted cheese and a hot thick tomato and beer sauce. It is typically served with french fries. Thanks Wikipedia! My grandmother had her Caldo Verde ready when we got home that evening because she knew they would need a good dose of veg and detox after that meal.
We certainly had to walk off that meal and headed towards the Clérigos Tower and Igreja de Santo Ildefonso, another beguiling church with more tile and absolutely no tourists. We ventured passed stalls were locals sell pastries, biscuits, textiles and other home made goodies. The Portuguese are entrepreneurs by nature and not afraid to get their hands dirty and work hard, with smiles on their faces. It is truly humbling to walk among the people of this city and see the contentment as they live a simpler life than we do back home.
Walking through the streets and simply taking in the colourful apartments, we ended up at a lookout point aka miradouro with the most magnificent view of the entire old city. Later on I made sure to note that it was Miradouro da Vitoria that offered this view. We also started to notice that Porto, similar to Lisbon, has an art or more specifically, graffiti scene. The fusion of the old charming azulejo tiles and modern graffiti can be somewhat uncomfortable at times but perhaps it shows signs of rebellion.
We then decided to visited the well known Lello Livrario, a bookstore that according to pop culture, inspired JK Rowling to write the Harry Potter book series. You have to buy a ticket at the merchandise store next door so don’t queue at the entrance before you bought your ticket. They have completely monetized on merchandise for this attraction and this was the first and only queue we experienced in Porto for anything remotely touristic. As much as I wanted to appreciate the delicate interior of this store, it was ruined by the amount of people in the store taking photos.
For bookworm’s like myself, it’s appalling to squeeze past selfie taking, duck faced individuals that only came there for the sake of their Instagram feed. Nevertheless, I spent a good few minutes in there shopping for a book because there was no way I was leaving without one for my book shelf back home.
Next up we headed off towards the Ribeira district which you definitely have seen in many photos online. The picturesque, colourful buildings are packed like sardines along the Douro River, with many eateries, bars and Port Wine Tasting cellars. This was probably the busiest area during our visit to Porto but yet it did not feel overcrowded and there was still space to move.
As we strolled along the river, taking in the fresh breeze, listening to buskers or watching break dancers perform, we decided we will book a 6 bridges river cruise for the next day. For €15 each we booked it from the closest tourism office and it included two Port Wine Tastings as well.
Feeling satisfied with our first day’s adventure and explorations, we headed back to Esmoriz via train. At around 10pm, in the evening my grandfather insisted that we try the locals’ favourite late snack from Nicolau Bifanas. A bifana is a steak sandwich with thing slivers of pork, cooked in its own juices, some spices and garlic. Served on a traditional Portuguese roll, this sandwich is what I would think the perfect hangover cure.
Day 3: Wednesday, 26 June 2019
After having yet another night of proper sleep, we only got to the Porto CBD rounabout brunch time which was ideal as we got to experience a foodie place that was on my list of must visits – Zenith Brunch Café, infamous for their boozy brunches. There was a quick wait for a table and as waitrons were carrying out dishes to be served to other tables, we already started drooling. Everything looked amazing. Our table settled on Zenith Breakfast of avocado toast, crispy ham and crumbed, poached eggs; and Oreo French Toast. I washed mine town with a spiked sweet tea. Absolute bliss and a must try for any foodie visiting Porto.
We then ventured in the opposite direction most tourist were going and head to a tea house called Rota Do Chá. Their tea menu comes in a rather thick booklet and it boasts more than 100 teas from around the world. The interior is quaint and pretty small as you walk through but at the back it has a beautiful garden with places to sit. I can totally imagine doing some yoga here and finding zen if I had to live in Porto permanently.
The tea house episode had us venturing through Porto’s art district with many walls covered in impressive drawings and paintings. The Portuguese are extremely creative and creators by nature. We even saw a bicycle made of cork (another one of Portugal’s big exports) and a scooter entirely covered in buttons.
We headed back towards the Douro River for our 6 bridges cruise. I’m always fond of seeing a city from a different perspective and viewing Porto from a boat was a highlight. Perhaps my grandfather’s love for Tetris was inspired by the colorful stacks of buildings on the hills of the city on either side of the river.
After cruise we decide to hit the booze! We headed to Porto Cruz on the opposite side of the river for our first tasting which was a Tawny. I will not pretend to be a wine connoisseur, I was just there to for the alcohol to be honest. The second tasting at Pocas Wine Cellars was a trek up a dreaded hill (we spotted the famous graffiti bunny along the way!) but worth it as it included a full tour and explanation of the cellar’s different Port Wines, it’s history and a tasting of 3 different types of Port Wines.
Mellowed out, we headed back to Esmoriz and had a late afternoon espresso and pastries at a local bakery my grandparents loved. Yet another day of productive adventure coming to a close.
Day 4: Thursday, 27 June 2019
We took this day off from exploring and instead took a long stroll on the beach and walked through the Esmoriz Lagoon. My grandparents organized a proper Portuguese seafood feast with crab. I knew this was going to be a challenge for the fussy eater that is me. But I did dig up some courage and tried a few bites. It was definitely not for me but our guests enjoyed it thoroughly. An afternoon nap was in order and before we could blink it was dinner time. It seems like life evolves around food over here and my holiday self really did not mind.
We headed to a street food festival down the road from where we stayed. It felt like the entire neighbourhood came out to drink, eat and be merry in the streets. Granny, grandpa, cousins and kids. On a Thursday! Everyone knows everyone and the sense of community is something we do not have at home. It made me feel sad in a way so I decided to eat my feeling and indulge in a Kinder waffle from one of the stands. Bringing a contemplative close to the end of our trip.
One thing I can note about Porto, it’s a yet to be discovered gem by the masses. Perhaps a double edged sword because Portugal is still haunted by poverty judging by the amount of homeless beggars on their streets so tourism is vital for the stimulation of its economy. In saying that though, I want to remain selfish until I get to explore each and every street of this enchanting city.