Porto and the Douro Valley

I had been anticipating my trip to Portugal for some time; the rugged cliffs of Algarve, the wine of Porto, the streetcars of Lisbon. For some reason, despite Portugal being relatively easy to get to, I had never explored this beautiful country. After spending the last week there, I can tell you that it is easily one of my favorite places. We packed more into one week than anyone should really, but if you only have a week or so, our itinerary was a great way to see some of the better highlights of the country.

Our Accommodations

We flew direct to Madrid as we got a direct flight on Iberia for around $700 USD RT and then took an inexpensive hopper flight to Porto.  Porto is smaller than Lisbon and has so much charm. The city overall is easily walkable, but if you try to see everything by foot, you’ll certainly be fairly exhausted at the end of the day. We stayed in what I would call an absolutely perfect location, not too touristy, but also centrally located. The Design Palacio Flats is a beautiful building set right in between the Baixa/Sé (downtown) district and the Ribeira. The Ribeira sits along the river and is certainly the most touristy area of Porto due to it’s river-side restaurants, bars and nice views. The Baixa or downtown area is really more of the heart of the city, with windy and hilly streets, plenty of shopping and the famous Portuguese blue and white tiled churches scattered throughout.

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We absolutely loved the location and loved our apartment more. All of the apartments at Design Palacio Flats seem to be unique. Ours had these huge bright windows with interior shutters, a kitchenette and dining area, a living room, loft bedroom and two bathrooms. The space was much more than what we needed and the cost only $284 Euro for two nights.

In a small space attached to the flats, we had a great little breakfast waiting for us each morning. A small buffet with quiches, meats, cheeses, pastries and more. Plus, a nice self-service espresso machine. If I can get a cappuccino in the morning, I’m off to a good start.

Porto by Foot 

Our first day in Porto, we spent exploring and walking around the city, checking out the famed churches, the streetcars, and just getting a sense of the city overall. The city is fairly clean and colorful and there seems to be a young, youthful energy about it.

A great spot for catching a coffee or a quick bite is Cafe Progresso, the oldest cafe in town. We stopped for a quick drink and small nibble and watched afternoon life in Porto get underway.

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Our favorite churches were Santo Illdefonso and Igreja dos Carmelitas Descalços. The first because we stumbled upon it and it has a small staircase leading up the front which is excellent for taking photos from below. The second church, Igreja dos Carmelitas Descalços, has massive tile walls which are beautifully designed and the church is stunning from all angles. Standing below, you feel like a small ant looking up at this towering structure. In front, you can see the streetcars criss-cross at the intersection directly before it. An easy hop-on, hop-off stop if your feet start to fail you. Capela de Santa Catarina in the Baixa area is also equally impressive.

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Another spot to stop and enjoy a drink or two is BASE, an outdoor bar situated in a park-like area close to Porto’s historical district and right near Clérigos Tower. The outdoor space has intimate seating areas, outdoor games and DJs playing from time to time. It’s great for a pit stop and to grab a drink….or four. We arrived just before sunset and enjoyed a nice happy hour drink on the expansive lawn.

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In the evening, we walked around the streets just off of the river walk or Ribeira area, stopping to eat and drink along the way at many of the small bars and restaurants in the quaint neighborhood. There was live music playing at several of the restaurants and the area as well. We ended up stopping into a restaurant right on the riverfront, but the food overall left us a little dissatisfied. There are amazing restaurants in the area, so do a little research as you don’t want to waste a meal here.

Day Trip to Douro Valley

The following day we decided to take a self-driving tour to the Douro Valley to check out the wine region. We rented a car early in the day from the nearby Hertz and, with only a short wait time, we were off.

The Douro Valley is stunning, but it is a trek, and we were pretty much gone for most of the day. Our first stop was at the beautiful Santuário de Nossa Senhora dos Remédios. The church sits atop a winding staircase of approximately 686 steps, with beautiful sculptures, fountains, and greenery to admire along the way. We only went partially down the staircase, but we did explore the property a little and stopped at their cafe for a quick espresso, enjoying the quiet and beautiful scenery around us.

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The Wineries

We continued down the road and made our next stop at a tasting room in the Távora-Varosa region, where the Douro and Beira regions meet. Murganheira is known for their sparkling wines so I was excited to visit as I’m a sucker for champagne and anything sparkling really. We basically had the modern tasting room all to ourselves as no one else was onsite. Two lovely Portuguese women from the area were very knowledgable and gave us a great overview of their products while we enjoyed a flight.

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We traveled a little further and stopped at the Fonseca Quinta do Panascal. This place came highly recommended for their port wines and for their tasting room. At first, we couldn’t find anyone to assist at the tasting room. Having arrived at the same time as several other wine enthusiasts, we saw several people roaming the property trying to hunt down someone that worked their. Finally, mission accomplished. A lovely woman, who we presume was on lunch break with the rest of the staff, came out and opened the tasting room for us. If you’re looking to enjoy the regions namesake wine among beautiful mahogany tables and large rustic barrels, then this is the place to be. They had a small variety of options, but the tasting room was pleasant and great for a quick glass or two.

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Our last stop on our trip was at Quinta Nova. This beautiful property has a lovely looking restaurant, overnight accommodations, a church and small gift shop and tasting room. This certainly was more upscale than our previous stop. We tried to get a spot within the restaurant but it appeared that they had either a private event or were about to end lunch service, so we ended up making our way to the gift shop and tasting room. We sat outside on the outdoor terrace and enjoyed a delicious charcuterie and cheese plate and a couple of glasses of their locally produced wine. Both were exceptional. And the view was absolutely stunning from where we sat.

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We made the three hour drive back through the small towns, terraced vineyards and valley back to Porto.

Dinner in Porto

That evening, Josh made us a reservation at a small restaurant called ODE Porto Wine House. We took the funicular down to the river walk area, which was a fun way to see the views and avoid the long staircases down to the evening nightlife.

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Based on reviews and the dinner time they gave us, we assumed ODE would be packed, however, when arrived, they took us to a small, cave-like area upstairs and we were able to take our pick of tables as no one else was there. We chose a small, romantic table by the window. Throughout the evening, several of the tables were filled, but this place most certainly is not about trying to turnover tables. The menu is prefix and is meant to be enjoyed as a tasting experience. Everything we ate was absolutely delicious and they easily accommodated special requests (as I don’t eat seafood). We also enjoyed a bottle of wine with dinner that was equally delicious and our female server was sweet and very hospitable. It’s certainly on the pricey side for Porto, but if you’re looking to treat yourself or just for an exceptional meal, I would highly recommend ODE.

Our Take

I will say that three days and two nights in Porto is not nearly enough time. We had chosen to cut Porto short so that we could drive down to Algarve and make some stops along the way, however, I was extremely disappointed to leave. There are plenty of the Douro Valley tasting rooms in Porto, just on the other side of the river, but we had chosen to drive through the region instead so we could see the countryside for ourselves. This, unfortunately, meant less time in Porto. We could have easily spent another two nights here, eating and drinking our way through the city. It really is a beautiful and charming city with excellent food and beverage options and a chill nightlife vibe throughout. If you have an option to visit, I would certainly just get lost roaming the small streets, visiting the cafes and taking in the sites and relaxed nature of the city.

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