Porto, near the mouth of the Douro River, is Portugal’s second-biggest city and an increasingly popular city break holiday destination. This has been boosted by an expanding network of Ryanair cheap flights to and from many other European cities. Renowned for its port wine cellars, many of which can be visited, Porto’s historic centre is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Porto’s varied attractions include its wonderful riverside setting, beautiful bridges, ancient churches, a cathedral, buildings brilliantly decorated with colorful tiles, the impressive FC Porto football stadium, some good fado clubs and other nightlife, museums, and a definite charm and character all its own.
Some of the Best Things to Do in Porto are:
Visit the Port Houses
Porto’s famous port houses are not actually in Porto but on the far side of the river across the Ponte de Dom Luis I bridge in the adjoining but separate city of Vila Nova de Gaia. Famous port names like Taylor’s, Croft, Fonseca, and Sandeman crop up everywhere, and many have cellars in Vila Nova de Gaia that can be toured.
One of the best port cellar tours is at Taylor’s Port (Rua do Choupelo 250, Tel: (+ 351) 223 742 800), not least for its exceptional restaurant, renowned as one of the best in town. Taylor’s has been making port in Portugal since 1692, and is still regarded as the best of the port houses for fine vintage ports, winning many awards in wine competitions worldwide.
Walk Across the Dom Luis Bridge
The Dom Luis I Bridge connects Porto with Vila Nova de Gaia, where the port houses are. It is one of the most photographed subjects in Porto. It has been carrying traffic and pedestrians between the two cities since it opened in 1886. The engineer was Teófilo Seyrig, who had previously worked in Porto with Gustav Eiffel, who designed the 1877 Maria Pia Bridge, a little further along the Douro and another impressive Porto sight.
See the Stadium of the Dragons
Whether visiting FC Porto’s Estadio Do Dragao for a football match or just admiring it from outside, the stadium is an impressive piece of sport architecture.
Listen to Fado Music
Many Porto restaurants and clubs feature Portugal’s mournful fado music, with one of the best-known being the Restaurante Tipico O Fado (16 Largo de Sao Joao Novo, tel (+351) 222 026 937).
Walk Round the Historic Centre of Porto
Porto’s Historic Centre was declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1996 and described as an outstanding urban landscape with a 2,000-year history. Highlights include the city’s cathedral, the neoclassical Stock Exchange Palace, and the Church of Santa Clara, one of many outstanding old churches.
Ryanair Cheap Flights to Porto
Porto has become one of budget airline Ryanair’s major airports in southern Europe. There are cheap flights to and from Porto from a range of European cities. At the time of writing there are flights to Porto on Ryanair from:
In the UK: Birmingham, Bristol, Liverpool, London-Stansted
In France: Lille, Marseille, Paris-Beauvais, Tours, St-Etienne (for Lyon)
In Italy: Milan, Pisa,
In Germany: Dusseldorf, Frankfurt-Hahn, Karlsruhe-Baden
In Spain: Barcelona, Girona, Madrid
Other destinations with Ryanair flights to Porto include Basel, Brussels, Eindhoven, Faro, Gran Canaria, and Tenerife South.
Where to Stay in Porto
The Pestana Porto Hotel is considered the best in Porto, right by the river in two historic buildings, with some rooms having spectacular river views.
Visiting Vineyards, Wine Tasting in Douro River Valley Wine Country
Taking a wine holiday in Portugal, whether traveling independently or on an organised group tour, is good any time of year but especially so during the autumn grape harvest. It is then, in September, when the Vintage Port houses such as Taylor Fladgate and Yeatman pick their grapes and still tread them in the traditional manner: by foot.
Wine Holidays in the Douro River Valley
The grapes used for making port wine are grown in the Douro Valley, regarded as one of the most beautiful wine regions in the world. It’s a popular place for wine river cruises, for group tours, and for independent travelers. Many of the port houses have visitor centers where wine lovers can enjoy a tasting, and see the grapes being picked and, in some places, also being trodden in the traditional manner.
The Quinta do Panascal of Fonseca Port
The vineyard at the Quinta do Panascal, owned by Fonseca Port, is one of several vineyards near the popular Douro town of Pinhao that can be visited, and where grape treading can be seen. It is one of the best organised of the vineyards for wine tours, with brochures, maps, and even MP3 audio tours available in a variety of languages. It can be visited by boat or by taxi from Pinhao, and at harvest time the workers tread the grapes – not for the benefit of tourists but because it’s their job.
Why are Feet Good for Treading Grapes?
It isn’t that this method of crushing grapes is primitive, as mechanisms for doing this job have existed since wine was first made. But no mechanical method has yet been found that can replicate the gentle pressing motion of the feet, which port houses believe gets the best results.
Taylor’s Port is one wine producer which recently invented a machine to try to replicate the gentle motion of the feet of the grape treaders. This is still being tested, but until such times as the port produced this way does better than the traditional method in blind tastings, the grape treaders’ jobs are safe.
The Hygiene of Treading Grapes
Some people’s first reaction to grape treading using feet is to ask about hygiene. No-one need have any concerns. The vineyard workers (and perhaps lucky visitors) are not allowed simply to jump into the grapes. Feet must be washed thoroughly first. In any case, when the fortified alcohol is added to the mixture later, to stop the fermentation process, it kills off any and all bacteria that might exist in the wine. This is only logical. If any bacteria were allowed to survive then the entire production of expensive Vintage Port would be ruined.
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