>> Wednesday, October 27, 2010
Located in Portugal’s Douro region and 4 hours north of the nation’s capital lies Porto, which was how the country’s name came to be (putting the Port in Portugal). Known throughout the world for its famous port wine often overshadowed how stunning and picturesque the town itself was. First steps out of the underground Sao Bento station and you’re faced with all of Porto’s glory. Even the ride on the metro towards downtown from Vila Nova de Gaia (the city just across the river Douro), you can see the famed Dom Luis bridge. Most of the main sites in old town are within a 15 minute walking distance from this station including delicious restaurants and all the port wine cellar tours you can visit and taste.
Of course everybody who comes to Porto has to do a port tasting, it just wouldn’t be right not to and we like all others found ourselves entrenched in all the history and different storage methods of these wines not long after stepping in to the city. Who knew that all the different cellars produces port based on the exact same grape varieties grown locally in the Douro region? Only those grapes grown in the Douro can be used to make port wine because they are deemed to have a specific taste and quality. Tasting port is much like tasting wine, where there are different flavour notes and ranges. It reminds me of our Canadian ice wine but a less sweet version. Port also pairs well with cheese, so all you cheese lovers out there, feel free to experiment.
If you keep heading down from the cellars you’ll run across a series of restaurants along the riverfront on the Vila Nova de Gaia side which serves up international cuisines ranging from Japanese to Brazilian to Pizza Hut. Yes you’ve read this correctly, Pizza Hut, we noticed that everywhere we went in Portugal, Pizza Hut was a hit. Even when other restaurants were swatting flies, there would be a good number of tables inside the closest Pizza Hut. Maybe the Portuguese people know something that we don’t?
Anyhow, we settled for the Brazilian all you can eat meatfest instead. Like all other Brazilian restaurants you find your stomach bulging from the waiters coming around with skewers of perfectly grilled meat ranging from beef to chicken to quail and not to mention the delicious pineapples. Yet this time it was different, maybe because we were in Portugal or maybe because the live band was playing while I was sipping on my third glass of wine or maybe the Portuguese is just so well versed in their grilling abilities that every piece of meat was juicy, well seasoned and cooked to perfection. The quail was so succulent that I had to eat 3 servings. If you’re ever near the area definitely check it out - Mineirao, we got so full we never even touched the sides that they also served.
Walking down towards the river across from the port cellars you’ll find Cais da Ribeira, which is the oldest part of town and houses many different restaurants. The food here much like Lisbon serves up the famous bacalhau, squid, sardines and other fresh seafood. I’ve also managed to find a bit of grilled rabbit at Chez Lapin, which was tender and juicy. I believe that was my first time trying rabbit in Europe! Around the corner is the Sao Francisco church, the interior is completely covered in gold and an astonishing site if I do say so, I was in awe for quite some time. If you follow the crowds and head up north you’ll see the Avenida dos Aliados which stands Porto’s town hall at the end of the Praca da Liberdade. This is definitely an area not to be missed (nor will you miss it because of its immense size).
After reading some of the blogs we also headed to Café Majestic for a light afternoon snack, (it was much needed after all the shopping and walking up and down Rua de Santa Catarina) well known for their brunch and afternoon tea. Opened since the 1920’s Café Majestic brings you back in time to a period when dignitaries expected to be served by fully uniformed wait staff to which they still don today. The food wasn’t quite what I expected, but the setting and the scenery was more then worth it, plus you can never go wrong with a strong espresso from any café within Portugal.
So our culinary adventures continued throughout our days in Porto with many yummy fish and meat dishes consumed, not to mention many bottles of Portuguese wine gulped down (especially the Vinho Verde) and many more custard tarts digested, we slowly dragged our happy tummies to the train station and made our way back down south to the beautiful coastlines of Portugal’s Algarve region (at which point I’m suppose to wear a swimsuit after all that gorging).