After topping up on tapas in Northern Spain, we crossed the border into Portugal where we slowly wound our way down the Douro Valley. Famous for its Port production, this fertile valley ripples with thousands of terraces, all cut from its impossibly steep sides. Snaking along the bottom of the valley, the Douro River is still a major thoroughfare, transporting the many barrels of Port from vineyard to the sea and beyond.
We spent the night in a family-run vineyard perched high up on the valley side. We couldn’t fault the family’s hospitality and after sampling rather too much homemade Port, we set off the next day to follow the river to Porto.
Our home in Porto was an ultra-modern apartment, carefully balanced on top of the shell of a former Port warehouse. This clash of old and new was something we became used to seeing in Porto, where architected metal and glass structures sit side by side with dilapidated houses and strings of washing are strung up next door to the smartest of restaurants.
We stayed on the opposite side of the river to the main town of Porto in the Gaia district, which is dominated by huge Port warehouses, their names proudly emblazed on their roofs. This is where boats bringing goods from the vineyards further up the valley dock, joined nowadays by a fleet of gondola-style boats waiting to take tourists on Douro tours.
The Dom Louis I bridge – a double-decker iron construction that has knee-jiggling views from the top deck, joins the Gaia district to the main town of Porto!
Porto is such a colourful city! Sandwiched between the blue sky and the river are rows of tall houses, their brightly painted tiles and iron balconies forming a patchwork of patterns.
We soon learnt that the best way to travel is by tram. These gorgeous mustard-yellow carriages still clunk about the streets between the cars on three routes through the city and to perch on one of their leather-upholstered seats became our favourite way to get from A to B.
We took the No. 1 tram line out along the last little stretch of the Douro River, from Porto to the sea and watched the Atlantic breakers smashing against the sea wall. It turned out we got there just in time for the sunset too!
Of course, it’s important to keep your sugar levels up when exploring the city and there’s one thing (apart from Port!) which Porto does very, very well…
After three days spent exploring this vibrant city we head North and back to Spain for a few days, having taken the decision that the pilgrimage centre of Santiago de Compostela will, rather fittingly, be the last stop on our trip. One thing is sure though – we’ll be back for more Pastel de Natas (and Port!) one day!