Despite what you might imagine, and the IATA code for the airport being OPO, nobody round here calls Porto ‘Oporto’. Maps, road signs, bus timetables and the local populace all agree. Our arrival in the River Douro on Thursday was somewhat inauspicious in that we had to find our way in completely blind! About an hour out, we encountered dense fog. Aided by our GPS plotter and radar (without which we couldn’t have attempted it) we avoided anchored ships (which we couldn’t actually see) and approached the port breakwater very gingerly. When we finally saw the substantial light tower on the pier end, it was no more than 20 metres ahead… Once in the river, the fog cleared!
That evening we went out for a large meal of locally caught grilled fish, then on Friday we set out to explore Porto and Gaia, the latter being the community on the south side of the river. We were moored on the Gaia side, so first we crossed the river by ferry:
These strange local boats, which remind me of Chinese sampans, are based on the ones that used to bring the wine down the Douro to the port houses in Gaia. Once on the north side, a vintage tram took us into Porto’s historic centre.
We looked at a range of historic buildings, of which Porto has a good selection. These included the treasure house and church of the Third Franciscan Order, the old market and the (rather austere) cathedral. San Bento railway station (not so historic) provided some nice tiling in the booking hall:
Here you see a monument and medieval tower in the cathedral square:
Getting around Porto involves a lot of climbing hills, and the next picture (taken from the top deck of one of the bridges, some 60 metres up) shows you why. The river, although near the sea, runs through a deep gorge where Porto and Gaia face each other. The photo is of Porto – at the bottom you can make out a couple of the old wine transport boats.
On the Gaia side, seen here, it’s all about port. The premises of the port producers stretch as far as the eye can see – famous names like Croft, Taylor and Sandeman.
This is the bridge in question (Don Luis I):
We got a free port tasting as a consequence of taking the cableway down to Gaia waterfront after lunch. But wanting to do things properly, we opted for a guided tour of the Sandeman establishment, founded by a Scot in 1790. Here’s our guide (dressed as a Sandeman logo!) with some barrels of tawny port:
And here’s the tasting we got at the end (one white, one tawny):
Very nice! Today we went back to Porto by bus, to see some of the things we missed yesterday, then by tram across the Don Luis I to a big shopping centre in Gaia, where we restocked with victuals. I recommend Porto as a good place for a weekend break, if you don’t mind hills – and there are cheap flights here by Ryanair, EasyJet et al. The flight path goes right over the Douro Marina… but fortunately not all night!