Porto has been on our list for quite some time, but we never managed to get over there until now … and it was really worth it!
Porto is a great town with lots to see, do, drink and eat. We spent 3.5 days there and would have happily stayed several more. The fact that it was hot and sunny definitely helped ;).
One of the first things we did was a walking tour with Porto Walkers
to get some insight into the history of Portugal, Porto, and Gaia. Here are some fun facts according to our guide:
- As soon as we arrived we noticed that the bread and pastries in Porto are really yellow. Apparently the reason for this is because the churches used egg whites for laundry and plaster (and there are a lot of churches here!). They needed a way to use up the egg yolks, so it was added to the bread and Dom's new favourite Portuguese dessert, Pastel de Nata (egg-tarts)!
- Cod is considered a staple part of the Porto diet, but 100% of it is imported. It's dried and salted for preservation and is called Bacalhau.
- Portugal has the longest lasting alliance with England
- During the dictatorship (yep there was a dictatorship in Portugal), the ruling government built medieval castles, rewrote history, and even made the Porto cathedral look like a castle.
One of the things Porto is most known for is Port Wine, but all of the port cellars are actually located in Gaia, the city across the river.
We did a port wine tour that took us to 3 port cellars (Ramos Pinto, Quinta Santa Eufemia and Porto Cruz), where we tasted 7 different ports (white, pink, ruby and tawny).
More interesting facts from the tour:
- The port cellars are in Gaia (not Porto) because Gaia had lower tax and is north-facing, therefore less hot/sunny
- Gaia is the city with most alcohol per square meter, in the world
- Port is made by fermenting grapes and then adding cognac
- The grapes are fermented for 2, 3 or 4 days. Cognac is then added causing the fermentation process to stop.
- There is about 20% cognac to 80% wine.
- The cognac has around 70% to 80% alcohol content when it is added.
- Types of port:
- White: Made from white grapes
- Ruby: Aged 3 to 10 years in a large vat. Has less contact with the wood and air resulting in a darker colour and fruitier flavour.
- Tawny: Aged 4 to 40 years in smaller barrel. More contact with wood and oxygen results in flavours of spices, dry fruit and caramel.
- Vintage: Only available in really special years when the Port Institute decides that the year's batch is so good that it can be called a "Vintage Port".
- In the 17th century, port was created as a way to ensure the wine destined for England did not spoil. The modern version of port was introduced around 1850
- The life of a port barrel is as follows: it holds wine for the first 5 years, then port for 40 to 80 years, then ends with fermenting whiskey.
- Port grapes are grown in the Douro valley which is 150 km from Porto.
- The soil of the Douro Valley is made of shale which sometimes had to be loosened with dynamite in order to plant the vines.
- Summer temperatures reach 40 to 45 degrees Celsius with little rain. In winter it snows.
- The vine roots can grow up to 20 meters long
- They are not allowed to water the vines in the summer unless there is a really bad drought
- Port can be made from 120 different types of grapes
Since we were there for a few days, we also spent a day walking to the coast since we heard the views were really nice. Unfortunately, by the time we reached the end, a thick fog appeared so we had no view.
One of our biggest travel highlights is the food experience. We tried Bacalhau (salted cod), Dobrada Guisada (tripe stew), and Pastel de Nata (these were our favourite!).
We also read that one of the must-try local specialties is a super sandwich called the Francesinha.
The Francesinha was inspired by the French sandwich, Croque Monsieur: bread, meat, cheese, sauce. The creator decided to make it even better by adding more meat, an egg, more bread, more meat again, smothered in cheese, drenched in gravy, and placed over a bed of fries. The whole dish is then put in the oven and served hot. A delicious year's dose of cholesterol :)
We tried 2 of the more "popular" restaurants: Lado B and Cafe Santiago-F. Both were good, but we had a slight preference for Cafe Santiago as the sauce was a little spicier. Lado B had a really nice smoked-tofu vegetarian option that was also surprisingly delicious!
When we first arrived in Porto, we noticed a few people dressed nicely and wearing capes. We assumed there was some sort of concert or dress rehearsal happening in the area and didn't think much of it. As the hours/days passed and we explored further around the city, we continued to see more and more people dressed in capes. We started to think there was a Harry Potter convention in town.
At one point there was a group of them lined up and chanting and on our last day there was a massive parade of them! We finally found out that this was all part of a university student week called Queima das Fitas. We think it's supposed to be a fun celebration but a couple of the students seemed upset and were crying (not sure why)! The parade was interesting to watch for a bit and Dom was tempted to buy a cape too!