Destination Porto

Portugal November 2008 001Visiting Porto, Portugal, is a reminder of Portugal’s historic importance as a world trading centre for over two thousand years and its dominance in the 16th century.  The historic district is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.  For wine lovers, Porto is the home of the one and only Port wine, with Vila Nova de Gaia across the Douro River being the district where most of the major Port houses cellar and age their wines.  I have stayed at the Grande Hotel in the shopping district (about a mile north from the bridge), but if you are visiting Porto to see the cellars, you may want to stay closer to the ‘ribeira’ historical district on the north bank of the river, or stay in Vila Nova de Gaia.  Such famous Port houses as Croft, Sandeman, Quinta do Noval, Taylor Fladgate, Graham’s and Ramos Pinto are here and open to visitors.  Their locations, opening days, hours and fees can be found at the official site of the Port and Douro Wines Institute (IVDP) with links to the Porto Tourism Office.

If you want to get some color first, visit the Port Wine Museum, which is a small  museum (by American standards) but full of the rich history of Porto as a centre of trading and birthplace of Port wine.  The IVDP is in the historic district and also open to the public for a short tour, tasting and sales.

While you are doing all this walking, there are many small cafes located in the historic district.  One of the specialties in all of Portugal is bacalhao – reconstituted cod – which is almost always served with potatoes.  Each of the restaurants will have their own special preparation of this simple combination, all of them delicious.

Another benefit of visiting Porto and the Douro River Valley is that it is also on the southern edge of the Vinho Verde wine region, home of the light-bodied, crisp, faintly aromatic white wines that are the counterpart to the Albarino wines of Rias Baixas on the other side of the Spanish Border.  From Porto, it is only about a 25-mile (37km)  drive west to Penafiel and the major producer Aveleda and within an hour north, you are in the heart of the region.  In Porto, you can visit the official Vinho Verde Commission, tastings need to be booked in advance.   For more info and wine route “generator” visit the Vinho Verde site.