Portugal’s second city, Porto, is compact enough to visit its main sights in a day, but to savor the city it is best to spend a few days. The city center is a UNESCO site, and everywhere you turn imbibes you in its history and grandeur of a time that yet survives in cathedrals, medieval townhouses, and in steep and narrow stone streets that wind down to the Ribeira district, where the Douro river splits the city in two but does not divide it. Six bridges connect the old city to the Nova de Gaia on the other side, where port wine is stored and aged. Some wine cellars offer tours complete with Fado music, the very soul of Portugal.
There are many highlights not to miss—many of them are well documented in any google search. Stand outs are a visit to the Sao Porto train station to admire the elaborate azulejos, the blue tile works that tell the story of Portugal, and the Church of Santo Idlefonso, with its façade sheathed in similar azulejos. Other tile works are evident throughout the city: on building walls, on streets, and ceilings. Don’t miss a tour of the fortress-like Porto Cathedral (Sé do Porto). Its interior cloister is lined with impressive floor-to-ceiling azulejos. Before going in, walk around the cathedral’s terrace to admire the view of red-tiled roofs over this UNESCO World Heritage city.
Wine lovers should rent a car to explore the towns and vineyards that surround Porto. The Douro region is known for its porto and vinho verde wines, which literally translates to green wine, so named for the green valley that produces it rather than its color. Every little town has its own history, art and cuisine, and everywhere are signs of a country recovering from a deep depression. American tourists are everywhere in the city but scarce outside of it. I expect this to change as the popularity of Portugal as a tourist destination keeps growing.
A trip to Porto isn’t complete without a tour of the Rota do Romanico. This consists of three different courses through the Sousa Valley that total fifty-eight Roman monuments through scenic byways, charming towns, rivers, and history. Our short visit allowed for only one route. We chose the Tamega Valley, because of its proximity to our hotel. This course includes twenty-five monuments with Amarante city and the Tamega River at its center. Terrace restaurants cling over the banks of the river and offer excellent local cuisine. We found this to be an excellent starting point for taking in the many aspects of Porto’s regional identity of traditional cuisine, wines, and local handicrafts. There are also trails and footpaths for hikers and cyclists.
The Rota do Romanico (Romanesque Route) consists of three different courses through Douro valley and Tamega Valley that totals fifty-eight monuments stippling scenic byways, charming towns, rivers and history. Our short visit allowed for only one route. We chose the Tamega Valley, because of its proximity to our hotel. This course includes twenty-five monuments with Amarante city and the Tamega River at its center. Terrace restaurants cling over the banks of the river and offer excellent local cuisine. This is an excellent starting point for enjoying a comprehensive visit to the region and taking in other aspects of its regional identity such as the traditional cuisine, the local wines, and the markets where local handicrafts can be found. There are also trails and footpaths for hikers and cyclists. Whether you’re an art or history lover, a gourmand, adventurer, or just want to soak in the sun, Porto has something for everyone.