After our September 2017 visit to Paris we travelled onwards to Portugal, starting our trip in Porto. This was our first visit to Portugal and my expectations were high. Why you might ask? Well there is some interesting family history on my Mother’s side of the family.

My family connection with Portugal

Family lore (never validated) is that my maternal great grandparents Emmaline Carilessi and Jose de Fraetus Henriquez eloped from Portugal on a ship bound for parts unknown. In 1869 Emmaline died in childbirth on board ship and was buried at sea somewhere off the coast of China. Jose and his daughter Marianna sailed on, settling in New Zealand. Marianna eventually settled in Australia, marrying my Grandfather. Sadly no record has been found of either Emmaline or Jose which allows our family to know where in Portugal they were from, although it is thought that Jose may have been from Flores in The Azores. It would have been wonderful to visit their home towns but sadly that was not to be.

Getting to Portugal

We flew from Paris to Porto in the north of Portugal. Porto is Portugal’s second largest City and a great jumping off point for the Douro Valley and surrounds. We flew from Paris, Orly with Vueling Airlines and were able to quickly connect to the centre of Porto using the City’s excellent metro service. We were impressed with this our first, Vueling experience, and would not hesitate to use the airline again.

Our Porto experience

We stayed in the Trindade area and the metro took us very close to our Airbnb accommodation. Whilst we could have chosen a better location, we found it easy to walk to the centre of Porto and we used the metro for longer trips. Our actual accommodation was very disappointing and should we make a second visit we would choose a location closer to the river.

On arrival we had a wander around our local area and scouted out a restaurant close by for dinner that night. We had a delicious meal at Tapabento Trindade (there is a second Tapabento in Sao Bento) and despite our accommodation, our visit to Porto was off to a great start. The food, the service and the wine list at this restaurant were all excellent. Do make a reservation though, we were lucky to get a table.

Dinner Tapabento Trindade
Perfect presentation and food at Tapabento Trindade

The following morning we joined the Vintage Food Tour run by Taste Porto .  This 3.5 hour walking tour gave us a taste of a variety of traditional Portuguese foods along with a wine tasting and a port tasting. I am not a fan of port wine (I find it too sweet) but the northern Portugal specialty wine, Vinho Verde, was delicious and a wine we enjoyed on several other occasions.  Whilst the tour gave an excellent overview, including a sense of the City layout, we found the food heavy and very meat and bread focussed. There is a reason Portugal has a high cholestorol problem and the famous Franchesinha sandwich might be responsible. Given the location of Porto and the historic association with seafood (particularly sardines), it is fair to say we were, by and large, disappointed in the food offerings.

Foodie delights on the Taste Porto Tour
Foodie delights on the Taste Porto Tour

 

Sardines in colourful cans Porto food tour
Sardines in colourful cans Taste Porto food tour

However, one can find alternatives to the heavy Portuguese food and that evening we enjoyed a more Mediterranean style meal at Ginjal Porto (also in the Trindade area). Not as polished as Tapabento, but still pleasant. There is good food in Porto, but for us not the traditional diet.

Things to do in Porto

We greatly enjoyed walking down into the historic centre of Porto and through the vibrant area close to the river. Lots of restaurants and live music made this a fun place to be and the tourist shops were brightly lit and welcoming. We had a mission to purchase some of the Ajuzelo tiles for which Portugal is famous, but waited until Lisbon to make this purchase. We did buy a few small gifts, including some lovely ceramic fridge magnets and some of the beautiful Castelbel soaps. Rowan also purchased some great shirts in Porto, benefiting from the end of summer sales.

Ajuzelos on building in Porto
Ajuzelos on building near Bolhao Market, Porto

The weather was perfect during our time in Porto and on the Sunday we ventured out to Matosinhos Beach for lunch by the sea. This location was easily reached by metro and there was a wide choice of restaurant styles. Again a booking is recommended, we waited 10-20 minutes or so for a table at Lais de Guia bar and restaurant which is right on the beach. The food and service here were both uninspiring. I had sardines and salad and was disappointed in the quality of the food. I think we would have to put that experience down to ‘location, location’ complacency.

Sand art at Matosinhos Beach, Porto
Sand art at Matosinhos Beach

On another day we enjoyed wandering through the Bolhao Market ,  a great place to source provisions for self catering or to enjoy a lunch within the market itself. We found the stallholders to be friendly and helpful, and tolerant of our almost non-existent Portuguese vocabulary. We purchased bread, cheese and fruit to eat at our apartment, and it was all delicious.

Garlic display at Bolhao Market
Garlic display at Bolhao Market

Of course a visit to the famous Sao Bento Station is a must, with the sensational entry foyer walls which are covered in Ajuzelo tiles. The station is busy with travellers and tourists, but definitely worth checking out.

Our trip to Portugal (more in a future post) was somewhat of a reconnaisance trip and we only had 4 nights in Porto, but we packed a lot into that time. There is a lot to see and do in Porto and we only scratched the surface. Would we return? On balance maybe not, but really because there is so much more of the world to see.

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Have you been to Porto? Is it on your list? If you have been, how did you find it?