Porto! The Final Frontier.
After quite a busy day visiting the stripy houses of Costa Nova (taking in some good ol’ refreshing sea air) and whizzing around the melting pot that is São João da Madeira (in very fetching lab coats, might I add) we arrived at Cidade Invicta; or the Unvanquished City. That’s a nickname for Porto don’t you know, as during the 19th century Civil War, the city survived the Miguelist siege (that lasted over a year!) and was never conquered. Tough as nails, those fortified wine producers slash drinkers.
Should I start all future posts with a little smattering of history? Could be fun, right? Guys? Are you still with me? HELLO?!
Mmkay. Perhaps not. Let’s keep going with the food and the fun.
Porto is only about 30 minutes by car from São João da Madeira, so were there in no time at all. We checked into our hotel, Sea Porto Hotel, a lovely little place in Matosinhos, just 12 minutes from the centre. I thought this was really well chosen by the team – a new and modern hotel, not too far from the hustle and bustle of the centre, located in a quiet and pretty little neighbourhood. On top of all that, the staff couldn’t be more welcoming. The rooms were cosy with a great shower and nice amenities, and the breakfast was great. My favourite coffee of the trip! On our final morning there, I had so many for the road I was shaking like a leaf. Those 3-4 espressos ingested within 20 minutes were so worth it. You don’t often come by coffee that great.
The hotel’s website is experiencing issues at the moment but here’s a Booking.com link if you’re looking for somewhere in Porto but not in-in Porto, but at the same time, well connected. It’s by the Matosinhos metro stop and just a 15-minute walk from the beach.
Showered and refreshed (a pattern in all my posts here, personal hygiene is no jokie) we met in the lobby ready to hit the town. We had dinner at La Bohéme Entre Amis, because we fancy. Turns out it was in a very hip area of the city, a party hardy street if you will. Only the best from SimplyB! Lookin’ after us while making us look all cool and local.
We started with more fried tripe and stewed gizzards, I believe. But sure look. In that dark moody place, it all looked like chicken. We then had ‘Francesinha à Moda do Porto’ which was very satisfying and interesting indeed. I loved it! Real comfort food. It was essentially a cheese toastie stuffed with all kinds of tender meats – chunks of steak, sausage, cooked ham, covered in more cheese, swimming in a spicy beer sauce. Yep. You best believe.
We toasted to this might bounty with Porto tonic; a refreshing mix of white port and tonic water (who knew?!) and finished our meal with a selection of desserts. Flans, chocolate cake…all the good stuff that tops off a heartwarming meal.
My only gripe…you can smoke indoors in restaurants in Porto. Which I found completely jarring. While they have a filtering system, it doesn’t quite cut it, unfortunately. There was quite a haze over the place and your clothes get all stinky.
Just after midnight, we went back to the hotel for some much-needed sleep. The SimplyB team did a magical job of guiding us through the beauty that is the centre of Portugal, and the following morning, they would do their thing – take us all on a walking tour of Porto.
I realise this is meant to be a photo diary. I’ll let the photos do most of the talking (photos talk?! LOL) or at least I’ll try.
We started our tour at the Maia Welcome Centre, a bright, sparklingly clean and relatively new spot with all the information on Porto you could possibly need, along with plenty of interactive stuff. We then made our way to the São Bento Railway Station, where Marcus from the SimplyB team dazzled us with all kinds of stories; each tile tells you something. As does the roof, the walls, all of it! This isn’t just a station. It’s a plethora of history and secrets. We also had a look inside the fancy McDonald’s (sure you’d have to) and stopped by this beautiful jewellery shop, specialising in filigree pieces. Every street we walked on, Marcus had a story to tell. Everything from customs, local events and music all the way to renting prices (higher than I thought!)
As we were walking around, I couldn’t help but notice the cloaks over the school uniforms, everyone looked like a Hogwarts student. WELL. Didn’t I feel foolish when Marcus proceeded to tell us how J.K. Rowling had lived in Porto for a few years in the early ’90s and taught English? How did I not know that? Anyway, she taught at the school right next to the Lello Bookshop, pictured above. The reason for the daily queues is because this bookshop was a source of inspiration for the Harry Potter books, and many tourists love to visit and take pictures on the fancy staircase inside. The funny thing is, once you’re in the know, you see Rowling’s inspirations everywhere.
There are so many sites citing (lol) her inspirations, and you can do walking tours based on all this stuff too. The square nearby has a fountain (Fonte dos Leões – Fountain of the Lions) features lions with wings, which aren’t really lions at all really, are they? Nope. They’re griffins. Griffins…griff…Gryffindor! Superfans, take note of this revelation. Who am I kidding, superfans have probably already paid several visits.
Molly Bracken?! Never heard of her until I saw this poster. Also reppin’.
Porto Porto Porto, colours colours colours! We visited a furniture and homeware store (very beautifully laid out) where we tried all the different variations of Terras Dazibo olive oil, which is delicious stuff. This brand of oil featured heavily throughout the meals of this trip. It really is good. I interchange between it and Picual regularly in my kitchen. I wanted to buy a bottle in the store and the lovely lady told me not to worry, that tomorrow at lunch she would be coming along and I’d get a bottle then as a gift. So kind.
More local products – the squeezy tubes pictured above are from a very unique store we visited called Meia Dúzia, a peculiar little store that sells jams in all kinds of flavours and combinations which at first glance look like paint. You can enjoy them with cheese, fruit, waffles, pancakes, all those kinds of things. The nice people there gave us a tube each to take home. I got apple and port wine. I got one of the best. If not the best.*Maniacal laugh* Perhaps something different to take home from Porto than port? Throw ’em a curveball! Or take both. Blow their minds. You are welcome.
The views from the port (amazing at night time as you can see all the Port companies lit up across the river) a shot crossing the Maria Pia bridge and a view from Porto on the other side. It’s sunnier over this side!
On to our wonderful afternoon surprise! A dreamy boat ride along the Douro with Sailing 360. Our boat was the best, good old Mathilda. We were ushered on board, left our stuff down below and sat up on deck, experiencing Porto from a new perspective. The legend that is Vitor cooked for us again (he was the chef for the night at No Tacho if you remember from an earlier post). We had sparkling rosé to toast our new life at sea (am I Ariel yet? Jack Sparrow?) followed by meat stewed with rice and plenty of fresh pillowy bread with our beloved Terras Dazibo. We docked at golden hour. Of course, we did. This SimplyB crowd, eh?
Shortly after we were back at the hotel for a little rest (a tasty nap after all that sea air) before meeting in the lobby for (you guessed it) dinner! More eating! Yay! Writing about this is bringing back such good memories. And making me painfully hungry.
Dinner was at Restaurante Pátio do Ló, super close to our hotel. We had sharing plates which were perfect after our meal on the boat a couple of hours earlier. We started with bread with flavoured butters and fritters, enjoyed smoked trout with olive oil, mango and chilli chutney, tuna salad, stuffed cheesy mushrooms with balsamic and rosemary, deep fried brie with bittersweet coulis, mini prego sandwiches with crisps and finished with baked cheesecake.
We had more of the sparkling rosé espumante and a red wine from Quinta do Poço do Lobo. Winning.
The next morning (our last day, sadness) after breakfast we walked around the Igreja Matriz Matosinhos, very close to our hotel. It was lovely to stretch our legs and enjoy the crisp winter air and the tranquillity of it all. The church is beautiful and the grounds are well taken care of; this is certainly the pride of Matosinhos. We then hopped into the SimplyB mobile, the boot stuffed to the brim with all our suitcases, and headed to Mercado Municipal de Matosinhos where everything seemed to be happening!
Stalls were bursting with fruits and vegetables, all the colours of the rainbow. Pots were lined up neatly side by side with an impressive collection of fresh, aromatic herbs. Bottles of local olive oils and preserves were laid out with care (the fan shape is very popular in this market, I noticed) and the odd branch of a very forward and handsy plant would graze my shoulder or the top of my head.
Fuzzy rabbits twitched their sweet little noses (they’re there for people who want a new pet, right?!) chickens clucked (one stared at me right in the eyes) and all sorts of yelling and chopping sounds were coming from the bottom floor. Down below there’s a giant fish market full of very hard working women gutting fish with a special kind of speed and accuracy I have never witnessed before. The floor is pretty wet down there, so while I was teetering along checking out all the stalls (avoiding getting my converse wet as best I could) I was hit by several flecks of something silver and shiny.
Told you these women were speedy. At least I ended up with a SILVERNIR! Ha! Don’t even pretend you didn’t enjoy that.
With the sights and sounds of the market ticked off, we paid a visit to Casa da Arquitectura, “Where Jazz and Architecture Live Happily Together.” Yes, that’s the tagline. It’s a brand new creative space for architects (and non-architects too, of course) and also happens to be the headquarters of Matosinho’s Jazz Orchestra. Plenty of events and free activities take place there (mostly in their sunny courtyard) so if you’re in the area, keep up to date here. There’s loads of stuff on this month.
It was almost time to fly home, but the Simply B team had one more surprise for us. They took us to the beach in Angeiras, a nice little seaside village not far from the centre of Porto (about 8km) and brought us along the boardwalk to a very special place for our goodbye lunch.
This, my friends, is Restaurante Tony. I don’t know this Tony guy, or if there even is a Tony, but he sure does put on quite the show. Look at that table! The ham, by the way, wasn’t ours. We walked through the restaurant and I saw it being plated up and I couldn’t resist a picture. Then we were led to the room at the back laid out nice and pretty overlooking the sea and I quickly forgot about the ham. The aromas of seafood flooded my senses. The pork got the chop.
We were treated to plates full of the freshest prawns, goose barnacles and stuffed Santola crab. Giant hunks of the freshest (still warm, my kryptonite) bread was served with (you guessed it) Terras Dazibo olive oil, and we each received a bottle to take home.
There were so many glasses of booze in front of me I could barely keep track. Espumante, white port, white wine (Douro Granbeira) red wine (Manue Correia Reserva 2012). They just kept filling them up. While we chatted away (while pinching ourselves occasionally to make sure we weren’t dreaming) one of the servers was carefully filleting one of the biggest seabass I have ever seen. Just as well, a big group needs a big fish. I couldn’t wait to get my paws on some. With a side of steaming buttery potatoes and rice, we were all set.
Dessert was a passionfruit cheesecake. Two people in our group celebrated their birthday that day, so SimplyB very thoughtfully arranged the cheesecake with ‘congratulations’ in Portugeuse and birthday candles.
With bellies (and hearts) full we said our goodbyes, our little family that spent an entire week together, morning noon and night.
My very last picture, as the sun set on a wonderful trip.
The SimplyB team are amazing people. Kind, warm, generous, charismatic, professional, knowledgeable, fluent in several languages (yep!) and they are great fun to be around. It takes a lot of energy to do what they do, and you can tell they love every moment. Take one of their free tours around Porto (or check out some of their other tailor made options) and you won’t regret it. You’ll have a wonderful time, learn plenty and really let loose and enjoy yourself. All in very capable hands.
Lisbon and Porto are incredibly popular, it’s true. But there are so many treasures to discover in between and it’s less than three hours from one city to the other. Consider taking the scenic route! Why not go off the beaten track? Live a little! There are so many villages and towns to discover, bursting with vibrant culture, history, food, museums…each one home to so many warm and hospitable people just waiting to meet you. Food for thought when considering your next Portuguese adventure.
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