porto a diary entry
Upon landing, as with any Euro travel, it began with a heightened state of dreaminess. No doubt equal parts both from a 10hr flight and the eagerness of a much-anticipated visit. A dreaminess nonetheless and one that lingers in the memory long after. Just a short drive from the airport, through a vague, grassy hillside into tightly knitted old city streets, I arrived "on set" at the cobbled steps of Rua de Santa Catarina. There's no reason to explain it in any other way, a Wes Anderson scene to perfection with an absurdly pleasant mood. And it continues as you clumsily make your way up the bustling walkway with your baggage, passing Majestic Cafe, to the steps of Grande Hotel do Porto. A step back in time and the opening scene to arrival in Porto.
If the arrival wasn't Anderson-esque enough, for those truly avid, then the hotel completes whatever you find lacking. And to the nth degree in the most enjoyable way possible. Drab yet colorful and minimal while greatly eclectic. A grand ballroom-style eatery, and by far my favorite, a small classic cocktail lounge, and bar. Picturesque hallways and cozy rooms all at a wildly reasonable price. And that's just setting the bags down. When a finally made my way back out onto the cobbled steps of Rua de Santa Catarina I was ready for dinner. But a fine cup of coffee at Cafe Majestic comes first. Not the favorite cozy and wooded rustic joint, the other favorite and preferred and less often found. The rustic elegance that's of a fairy tale. And the perfect people-watching pause, as the sky dims tonight, before carrying on to dinner. As you'd expect, evening walks in the area are a pure continuation of an "on set" feel.
Just endless nooks-and-crannies of classic age-old sights of Portuguese city life and architecture. And tucked away in one of those crannies, under a street lamp, I arrived at Tapabento S.Bento. A humbly stylized eatery serving a selection of small pleasures with fine detail and flavor. The ambiance could not be better for a first evening, like being welcomed into a loving Portuguese home. I then returned excitedly to grab a nightcap at the cozy little bar of the hotel and called it a night. I awoke and was just as excited to try out the ballroom for the breakfast spread. A very eloquent Anderson-esque start to the day to set the tone before my long walk around the city. And I knew from just the short distance I'd viewed I was in for a special day. The key to any great walking city is a lite breakfast and room for more coffee. Because you know the first stop has gotta be a great bakery. And right around the corner as you head north, to see the blue tiles of Chapel of Souls, there's Confeitaria do Bolhão.
Sit down or walk away as I did with a fresh croissant and coffee now in hand. After the Chapel, I broke west across town then dropped south into the never-ending views of wonderful architecture before arriving at Livraria Lello book store. From there, it's a zigzag continued south of more architecture, beautiful tile, and all the fantastic nooks you could imagine. You can smell the waterfront nearing, and hear seagulls above, as you make you're way down the ancient hillside streets. By this time it was gladly lunch and there's plenty of fantastic waterfront or hill-perched choices. But I had plans later for the waterfront. So I looped back up the hillside to the east for new views on my return. Popping into the hotel for a refresher before finally arriving at my much-anticipated lunch nearby. Conga is a local choice, and a visitor's must, for the classic Portuguese pork sandwich. And a perfect bite washed down with a cool glass of green wine.
After milking that tasty situation for a while I had my eyes set on grabbing another experience across town. Another Anderson-esque touch to the trip, a scenery change, and a great way to settle lunch. I Uber'ed over but would be walking back from the Jardim Botânico do Porto. A dull pink 19th-century mansion surrounded by a small botanical garden. And a little cafe to grab a coffee or bring some wine could be ideal. On the walk back, or using Uber, several other gardens and museums could be grabbed depending on your energy and taste. For me, I just knew I had about a 45min walk east back to the hotel. So I just wandered the endless beauty of the old building streets, that stand as artwork, back to the hotel. That's how Porto is, to me anyway, it doesn't matter where you're walking, it's purely a pleasure of viewing anywhere. I would go as far to say, it's like a Paris but hilly and without pretentiousness. It's kind and gritty, my type of place.
Finally making it back to the hotel I had far earned a shower and a nap. Leather slip ons tested once again. The next thing I knew I was sitting cozily to some lounge beats and a glass of wine at Moustache. A cool swanky spot just down the street from O Diplomata. Both great brunch spots and the decider being with drinks vibe or coffee vibe. In which case I was just having a pre-dinner glass before "the big night." And that being the much anticipated night that any visitor has their first Francesinha. Now, it is highly debated where to have this dish and after careful review, I chose Brasão Aliados. And very glad I did. It's a pursued balance between an old and new Portuguese-style eatery. Very, very solid and do make a reservation. So being my last night in the central area of the city I saved room for a nightcap. And conveniently located a street below the hotel there is the Big Bad Bank Bar. A cool-n-comfy vibe for a drink, and should be noted as a cool choice to stay and or eat.
The next morning I hit the ballroom breakfast spread and lounged around the room with coffee before checkout. It was a drab, kinda rainy, day which was just fine by me. Porto's that way, cozy...so it's enjoyed rain or shine. I checked out and grabbed an Uber across the river to my next stage of the visit. The Port Winemakers waterfront area is a tourist stop for sure, but one you gotta do. It's an unforgettable view of the city on the river's edge. There are several options to stay around the area ranging from a typical hotel stay to more rustic hotels and BnBs. But one unique and particular option caught my attention. Front and center on the riverfront Sandeman Winery also have private suites amongst a hostel stay option. I've never stayed at a hostel, really never even considered it, but the main suite option was too ideal to pass. And it really was. But far more than that the entire environment was unexpectedly fantastic. The best way I can explain it is a small Ace Hotel, style and approach, with a nice hostel option.
Arriving mid-day I dropped my bags and headed straight down the street along the waterfront. I was hungry at this point and knew where I was headed. Casa Portuguesa do Pastel de Bacalhau is a wildly, absurd, and obnoxiously Anderson-esque way to enjoy the codfish fritter with a taste of Port Wine--just go see. After, the only logical thing to do next was to go wine taste. Considering I was already staying with Sandeman I figured I'd see another venue just up the street at Caves Cálem. Just a quick tour and some tasting and worth every penny. But I gotta say Ports is far too rich of a flavor for my pallet, but hands down fan of Portuguese green wine. The rain started as I left the winery so I quickly sought refuge in my new cozy home for the evening. And the rain just really made the whole mood of the stay even better. Front row seats to the drab and rainy beauty of the river. With the backdrop of the rust-colored roofs of the buildings escalating in the distance.
Just stepping out from my suite was the nucleus of the community area. Again a very Ace-like, a lounge area with a small bar/cafe and a kitchen for nightly family-style dinner. I had planned on dinner elsewhere but with the rain, I opted for this option. The rest of the evening before dinner I enjoyed some ham, cheese, and croissant with green wine. Dinner time arrived and the wonderful staff prepared and served a three-course home-cooked Portuguese meal. And for the first time in all my travels, I sat and enjoyed a fantastic meal and conversation with a group of fine fellow travelers. All experiencing the same thing, at the same time, in the same place at the same table. A real pleasure, although I still can't say I'd ever opt for a hostel stay option. But the experience opened my eyes to opting for a personal suite at one. Especially as fine this one, what an evening, what a value.
The next morning I arose to a sunrise river view and fresh coffee lightly filled the air. I stepped out into the lounge area and grabbed some items from the breakfast spread. Sipped my coffee at the window view one last time while pondering the steps of my last day. One that would end on a bit of a modern take in the area. Before anything though I had to walk up the hill to Jardim do Morro and grab a covid test. And It created a great excuse for a morning view. After that a got organized and said my goodbyes and appreciation. With my suitcase with me the rest of the day my first stop, heading back towards the airport, was at the Contemporary Arts Museum. A great LA-based artist was on display and the grounds outside are a great walk. After that, I Uber'd down to the modern developing waterfront of Foz. The warm weather scene of Porto with great restaurants, bars, and experiences. But far pricier. I was there for my last yum in Porto at Camélia Brunch Garden. Then after an Uber takes the coast to head back to the airport.
As I headed out along the coast I pondered to myself how enjoyably rustic of a visit it had been. And then I thought about how one could add a completely different layer to the trip with warm summer weather. But then again, that's the beauty of rustic locations like Porto. You could travel here and be cool and cozy or warm vibrant. Either way, you'll love it.
ProTip: With extra time, and good weather, grab a ride up the river for the day or drive into the hillside.
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