2 March 2014
A bit of sunshine to escape this incessant rain… Buom dia! …or: Welcome to Porto! the 2nd largest city in Portugal. This magnificent city is divided by the Douro River, which terminates its flow in the Atlantic Ocean. Just a short flight away from UK airports, Porto is the ideal city to visit for a break.
A friend and I were exploring cheap holiday escapes in September, and after many days of research, we came across Porto. In total I’ve spent £150 for 8 days (incl. plane tickets etc…).
Even though Portugal is a developed country, you can feel the impact the crisis had on the country. And the discount for tourists is unbelievable. So Ladies and Gentlemen, if you need to escape the Bubble, Porto is the solution.
Porto is a relatively small city and everything is accessible by feet; however, being in a peninsula, Porto is really steep and after a full day of walking, visiting (being a tourist), you’ll have been glad to have let the tourism lady at the airport convince you to buy a travelling pass (35€ but it is definitely worth).
O’Porto City Hostel – 6€ a night: This hostel had recently opened when I was there: really nice and friendly staff (owned by two young Portuguese brothers who speak Portuguese and English). I chose to stay in an 8-bedroom dormitory, and it was really clean. The hostel has a kitchen, living room and even a parking lot and outdoor dining area with a BBQ. The stay in this hostel has been the best so far; I was lucky and got AWESOME roommates from Croatia, Canada, Hong Kong and Germany. I am still in touch with all of them.
Porto is overflowing with culture and things to see. I most recommend going and seeing the Jardim do Moro, which are situated on top of the Ribeira, better known as the Port cellars area. I visited Calem Port cellar where they explain the entire process of Port wine and offer a tasting at the end (if you go just before they close, you can get more glasses of port to try). Then, you can come back via the Eiffel bridge (Yes, like the Eiffel Tower) and cross the Douro to go and visit all the attractions within the city centre : Se Do Porto and its typical Portuguese religious charms, The Clerigos Tower to have an overview of the entire city (stairs only), The Palacio da Bolsa (the equivalent of the UK stock exchange) which has nothing to do with the stock exchange even though people still work there but it is a magnificent peace of art and The Parque de Sao Roque and its particular geometric gardens. Then, I highly recommend to go at night in the University area where all the students hang out with a glass of Sangria in their hand and a cigarette in the other (Portuguese people are incredibly nice, sociable and helped us a lot).
Gastronomy: Calamar, fish, Superbock and Francesinha.
Being from France, I am used to nice food. Portugal is not reputed for its food, so only having the options of eating deep fried fish or calamari was a bit challenging. I must admit it was delicious but not every day. Porto is famous for its Francesinha, and we decided to try it (it will feed your appetite for a day): toast, ham, cheese, sausage, meat, cheese, ham again, bread, melted cheese on top covered by a strange red sauce topped with an egg. I will let your imagination run, but the best part of their gastronomy are the cheap drinks and the national beer Superbock (1 glass= 1€) and later in the night Sangria (1 glass = 1€); drinks that you can get anywhere in town but walking around the Douro pier at night is really refreshing. Tip: There is a bar just at the beginning of the Eiffel Bridge that has a view over the Douro – really nice to have a drink there.
I have to admit that 8 days in Porto can be too much, as it is a really small city. Therefore, I went around the region to explore the Northern Portuguese culture and OMG: what a wonderful country.
I highly recommend going and visiting Guimaraes, Braga and Povoa de Varzim.
Guimaraes: 2012 European Capital of Culture
Guimaraes is a typical little Portuguese city that is really nice for a day visit and full of colourful and contemporary art. Fortunately, I was there the year it was deemed European capital of culture and many festivities were going on. Definitely a must see.
381 feet to climb… (The picture represents only 1/3 of the staircase)
My Croatian roommate from the hostel advised me to go and visit Braga first for shopping (Tip: Portugal is really cheap in terms of clothing, even for general stores such as Zara, Mango etc… At least 25% cheaper than in the UK) and for a certain Bom Jesus Do Monte, a church built in 1373 – MAGNIFIQUE- but what an ascent. I think it took us 30 minutes to reach the top (there is a lift for the laziest), but it is worth the hike. At each landing, there is a representation of episodes of Jesus Christ’s life, and the closer you get to the top, the closer you get to its crucifixion. And finally, when you reach the top, you face elegant and charming gardens that surround the Church Bom Jesus Do Monte.
Povoa de Varzim:
Povoa de Varzim is more like a sea resort city. Really new, surrounded by buildings and inhabited by its tourists or locals that come for the weekend, Povoa de Varzim is not interesting in terms of culture; however, the coast is as beautiful as you can see in the picture. It is the perfect place to relax, tan and (for the most courageous) take a bath (As the East Coast of Portugal is on the Atlantic Ocean, the temperature of the water is not that high, and if you manage not to be absorbed by the impressive waves, it is actually nice to swim in for a bit). After a lazy day at the beach, you can walk back to the train station through the coastal path.