For no particular reason, Bill is wondering where in the U.S. the latitude is the same as in Porto, Portugal. So of course we look it up. Porto is at the 41st latitude, and we’re surprised to learn that the 41st latitude also marks the official boundary between Colorado and Wyoming. Less than 40 miles from home and truly a world away.
During our first visit to Porto just a few short days ago, we had a relaxing stay at the beach (see Chillin’ at the Beach in Porto). Now we’re looking forward to the downtown Porto experience, although technically our Airbnb is in Vila Nova de Gaia (known simply as Gaia to the locals), which is directly across the river and a happening place of its own.
We spend most of our time in Porto just walking around, taking in the sights and sounds. It’s a picturesque, lively and vibrant city, difficult to capture in photos (for me, at least), but here are a few that I hope you enjoy.
Port Wine Cellars
Port is wine that has been fortified with distilled grape spirits during the fermentation process, and “true” port originates only from the Douro River Valley in northern Portugal. Contrary to popular belief, port wine can be red, white, or rosé, and can range from sweet to dry. For hundreds of years, port wines only a few months old have been transported from the vineyards of the Douro Valley to Gaia for additional blending, aging, and storage in dozens of port wine cellars, also referred to as lodges.
We visit four cellars to learn more, and along the way we increase our appreciation for the history, the process, the people (producers, workers, and volunteers), and yes, the taste of port wine.
Quinta Santa Eufemia
Quinta Santa Eufemia was founded in 1864 and is now a fourth generation family operation, with a vineyard of just over 100 acres. We tried to visit the winery last week when we were in the Douro Valley (Wine Tasting in the Douro Valley) but arrived during the two-hour lunch window when they are closed to visitors. Not wanting to a) wait 1.5 hours until they reopen, or b) go elsewhere and come back to repeat the harrowing drive up to the vineyard, we reluctantly passed on a visit to this highly rated winery. Much easier to visit the tasting room in Gaia!
No formal tour, but we peruse the informational displays along the walls about the history of the winery and the production process while we sample the products.
Taylor’s is a first class operation from top to bottom – the excellent reviews are well-deserved. After a short and steep trek up to the cellar and tasting room from our apartment, we check in with the receptionist and embark on a self-guided walking and audio tour of the facility.
The tour is outstanding – lots of interesting information presented with the right amount of detail. Visual and video displays located throughout complement the audio narrative and offer additional enlightenment. We spend close to two hours making our way through the lodge and exhibits.
With our newly acquired knowledge about port wine, we head to the tasting room for a few samples, then onward to the gift shop. We consider purchasing small bottles as gifts and mementos but pass when we realize how heavy they are and remember that we don’t actually have room in our luggage anyway. Taylor port wine is surely widely available in the U.S. . . .
Our third port wine cellar is Croft, which celebrated its 430rd anniversary last year. Mind-boggling. The timing of our visit doesn’t mesh with their tour schedule, so we settle for a tasting. It’s a lovely day, perfect for sitting outside and soaking up some rays (protected by expensive sunscreen that we purchased earlier on our trip) while sampling a white port and a 20-year tawny.
Our final cellar visit is to Graham’s, which requires an advance reservation that we luckily are able to secure with only a few hours notice. Graham’s is one of four port brands under the Symington umbrella – the others are Dow’s, Warre’s, and Cockburn’s. Symington Family Estates is one of the largest producers of port and table wines from the Douro Valley.
Our visit includes a live guided tour paired with one of several options for the tasting experience. The tour is fine, not on par with Taylor’s, but our guide is friendly and engaging. We end with the tasting – three ruby’s and three tawny’s, which is more than we really need, but the glasses are empty when we leave.
Before concluding this post, I want to share information and photos from two other visitor attractions in Porto – Casa da Música and Palácio da Bolsa.
Casa da Música
Inaugurated amidst rave reviews in 2005, Casa da Música is Porto’s crown jewel for all things music-related – performances, rehearsals, workshops, and music education. We show up just in time for one of the daily one-hour tours in English.
From the outside, the venue looks like “a huge box . . . from outer space. . . . Even the stairs that give access to the main lobby look like they were pulled out from a space ship. . . . The guided tours show an endless display of pointy corners, wavy glass walls and stainless steel walls.” There are two performance halls plus numerous other multi-use spaces, “and the rest of the building seems to present itself as a spectacular labyrinth of stairs, corridors and pierced walls.” (Quotes from http://www.learningportugueseinportugal.com)
The Star Wars architectural design – inside and outside – is bold and not particularly to our liking, but there’s no doubt that every square inch was created with great attention to meeting both functional goals and high acoustical standards. After early skepticism, the community has embraced the facility, and it’s a source of pride for Porto.
I take photos during the tour, and they are awful. So here’s a link to a website where you can get a glimpse of some of the interior spaces of Casa da Música. We would love to attend a classical music performance during our stay, but not enough to listen to a Gustav Mahler symphony, which is the only concert on the schedule.
Palácio da Bolsa
Known in English as the Stock Exchange Palace, this is one of Porto’s “must see” attractions. Tour tickets cannot be purchased in advance, so plan to arrive shortly after the office opens in the morning to secure same day tickets in your preferred language.
No one has ever lived in this unique palace. Built in the mid-1800s, it serves as headquarters for the Porto Commercial Association, which is somewhat analogous to a U.S. Chamber of Commerce. With 4.5 stars, it’s one of the top five visitor attractions in Porto, according to Trip Advisor.
From the outside, it looks like a well-constructed but nondescript government building. The inside, however, is a different story – it’s dripping with opulence. To say that no expense was spared in the construction of this palace would be an understatement. It’s elegant, it’s tasteful, and it’s over the top – we thoroughly enjoy the 45 minute tour.
Here are a few photos from the tour. For better visuals, as well as information about the history, function, and décor of each room, click on this link – it’s well worth the effort, and you won’t be disappointed!
Our final tourist activity in Porto is a rabelo boat tour of Porto’s six bridges over the Douro River. We don’t see anything new, and we don’t care. It’s a beautiful evening, and we’re content to just be.
Tomorrow morning we say goodbye to Porto, as we start making our way down the coast toward Lisbon. It’s been terrific!