Lisbon was pretty, but I preferred the gritty, working-class city of Porto, located in the northern part of the country. Porto fees less polished but is better preserved because it was spared by the 1755 earthquake that demolished Lisbon. Houses with red-tiled roofs spill down steep hills to the riverbank, while flat-bottomed boats meander along the lazy Douro river. The city is made of dark granite, which contrasts perfectly with the bright tiles everywhere.
It’s not hard to fall in love with Porto immediately upon arrival because its train station is absolutely magnificent. São Bento Railway Station is covered with some of Portugal’s finest azulejos that depict historical and folk scenes of the Douro region.
While steep, nearly everything is within walking distance, and we arrived at our guest house in just a few minutes. Tucked into a little courtyard is InPatio Guest House, which is run by an adorable couple who renovated a 19th-century building into five sleek rooms with modern furnishings like heated floors and a luggage lift. We had one of the best breakfasts here, consisting of chorizo and ham from northern Portugal, cheese from southern Portugal, an assortment of fresh bread and croissants, homemade carrot cake with walnuts, fruits, pear yogurt with pomegranates, fresh squeezed orange juice, and made-to-order cappuccino. They also left us glasses of port and little pastries in our room.
We only had a short time in Porto so we decided to go on a four-hour port tasting tour with Porto Walkers. We met a large group at the entrance of Luis I Bridge and crossed the Douro river to the neighboring town of Vila Nova de Gaia. Port is called port not because it is produced in Porto. It’s actually produced about 60 miles upstream in the Douro Valley. Port is not even aged in Porto; it’s aged in Vila Nova de Gaia. On our tour, we learned that the only reason port is named after Porto is because it’s shipped from Porto, so that’s what shipping labels called it. We visited four different wine lodges and tasted seven types of port. I learned that my favorite is tawny port, which has a delicious oak flavor because it was aged in a smaller barrel, thus exposing it to more of the wood. Ruby port is the cheapest, while vintage port is the most expensive. Late Bottle Vintage was invented after World War II, when British wine lovers couldn’t afford true vintage port, so they would blend wines from a single year and age them together for a short time.
The rest of our night was spent tipsily crossing the bridge in the rain back to Porto with our new Australian friends from our tour, trying blood soup, and ending the night with an espresso and some pastéis de nata at Manteigaria, which I had discovered back in Lisbon.
The next day was raining on and off, but we woke up early to walk around the riverfront again. The sunrises are just as beautiful in Porto as they are in Lisbon. We crossed the bridge to stare at the Porto skyline across the Douro river one last time. Barrels of port used to sail down this river from the valley. It was a dangerous and time-consuming journey, so now port is just driven in by trucks.
From this side of the river, we could see all the different modes of public transportation available in Porto: buses, trolleys, metro, funiculars, tuk-tuks, even cable cars connecting the riverfront with a historic monastery. It reminded me of Istanbul, which is always a good thing. Our time in Porto was way too short, but I’m glad we had at least a brief introduction to another part of Portugal. Tchau, Portugal!