Summer City Break: Porto

Porto was the last stop on our 10 day summer city break after four days in Madrid for the Madcool Festival, then a few nights in Lisbon. We caught the train from Lisbon to Porto so our welcome to this beautiful city was the stunning São Bento train station. The interior is covered in azulejo tiles depicting scenes from Portuguese history. It was truly stunning and worth checking out, even if you don’t arrive by train.

We then wandered through the city on the lookout for our next Airbnb apartment. We were situated in downtown Porto in the Ribeira historic centre and again had a balcony with a stunning view of the Douro River. I was super organised for this trip and managed to book the accommodation months in advance and it really paid off. 20170713_Porto_Day7_012020170713_Porto_Day7_0124^^ You might also spot a decanter of Port sitting next to me, a very nice welcome present from the host. Ben made the most of that throughout our stay.20170713_204953After basking in the sun for a few hours overlooking the riverside we decided to go down and explore it. There were heaps of people out and eating in the early evening dusk, but as we wandered past the restaurants it looked like there was two extremes, either really lovely Michelin-esque places or overpriced tourist traps – neither of which suited us that night (I’m sure we could have found something by getting on Trip advisor but we were following our feet that night). So we walked up from the riverside promenade to the city centre and ended up at a cheap and cheerful Chinese Restaurant.

I hadn’t done much research about what to do in Porto, it being the end of our trip but I did know that we had to get to a port house and we had to go to the Livraria Lello bookshop.

Livraria Lello is credited with inspiring the Hogwarts library form JK Rowling and it is easy to see why stepping inside.

You line up (it definitely helps to book tickets in advance online) and enter the most lavishly ornate shop on the street but you can’t see inside it’s so dark compared to outside. 20170714_Porto_Day8_0078As your eyes adjust to the change in light this amazing staircase comes to life in front of you. Are you feeling like Hermione yet?

You climb the well-worn red stairs and find yourself in the library of your dreams.

Don’t forget to look up, it’s pretty spectacular from all angles. 20170714_Porto_Day8_0021Of course it’s no secret, so you will be sharing the space with hundreds of other tourists. Once you can’t take the crowds anymore head out and have a wander around the neighbourhood.

We went for quite a walk actually and headed over the Dom Luis bridge to the Vila Nova de Gaia side of the Douro River. This is where all the port houses are. The only one we had heard of before was Taylors so we decided to head there.

Our friends, who had been in Porto the previous weekend, had raved about the brilliant coffee cart they had found by chance and told us to look out for the green van. So when a green van came into view as we stepped off the bridge we thought it was the perfect time for a much-needed refreshment stop. We will second their recommendation, Combi Coffee is awesome. I got a milky iced tea and we sat looking back over the river.

It was so hot outside so it was nice to finally make it (up the hill!) to Taylor’s port house and enter the temperature controlled cellars. We did a self paced audio tour with a tasting in the gardens at the end. 20170714_Porto_Day8_0192

^^ Some pretty peahens joined us for our tipple, too.

On a bit of a schedule for our day in Porto, we couldn’t linger, although we would have loved to (must go back!) and we caught an Uber to make it to our next meeting point in time.

This was for our Taste Porto food tour. We did the Downtown Porto Food Tour which starts near the Bolhão food market. We got a walking tour of the city, along with its interesting history and ate so much food along the way. By the time we finished the three and a half hour tour we were so full we couldn’t even contemplate dinner. Such a great way to experience the city and really good value for money. Do this if you go to Porto!

My highlight was the different flavoured éclairs from Leitaria Da Quinta Do Paco. Sweets of course! I think Ben’s was the cured meats and flame grilled sausage from Taberna Do Largo. This is a great little bar and we hung about after chatting American politics with the honeymooning American couple on our tour. I felt bad as Trump had just been elected so they must have been defending their country the whole trip.

We spent the rest of the night perched above the river drinking our port and plotting how we can stay in this city forever. I definitely think we saved the best city for last. 20170714_Porto_Day8_0373We slept late on our last full day of holiday and had a great value breakfast in what we thought was a cute cafe, but it turns out that it is an Argentinian steak restaurant called Belos Aires. The decor is somewhat misleading but they do a nice all you can eat continental breakfast.  20170715_Porto_Day9_0015It’s in the Baxia area, which is worth going to as the streets look like this ^^^.

Being our summer holiday, we were determined to spend our last day on the beach. So we headed out to Foz which is where the Douro river meets the Atlantic Ocean and a nice seaside town. Our Airbnb host recommended we take the tram that almost left from our doorstep and follows the river out to the sea.

Ben was a bit excited about tram riding! So much old school mechanics.

When we arrived at about 12 o’clock, the beach was still shrowded in fog. We wandered along the promenade and out to the wharf, hoping it would burn off. Some locals were already set up on the beach, although you could barely see the water in front of them. We took it as a sign that eventually the sun would come out.

We realised as we waited around, that we were a bit matchy. We are big fans of mint green, apparently.20170715_Porto_Day9_0136Happily, the sun came out strong in the end and we lay in the sun taking intermittent dips in the sea all afternoon. Bliss!

Ben then snapped photos all the way home on the tram and even managed to get a pose from some hangers on.

20170715_Porto_Day9_0209We waved goodbye to the tram and headed back up to our all too welcoming balcony. There was a decanter of port to finish – not to mention some white wine for me, too.

After what seemed like a whole week of great eating we struck out by saving the best for last, Tapabento. Don’t miss this place while in Porto. I had rung up to try to get a reservation as we arrived and the only time they could accommodate us, was for an early lunch just before we flew out.

We were one of their first sittings for the day, but as we got through our meal it soon filled up. For good reason, the food here is exquisite. We shared two starters, one main (the wild prawn risotto) and a desert. 20170716_133417Look at me staring lovingly at that fruit of the forest tart. I really wished I had ordered one all to myself! A great way to end the trip. We left so satisfied and raving about Portuguese food and hospitality all the way back to Luton.

Porto – I really hope we will be back soon!

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Summer City Break: Lisbon

20170712_Lisbon_Day6_0044Tiles, trams and tarts in Lisbon!

It’s hard not to get obsessed with all three while in this gorgeous city, certainly looking back and editing photos now all three featured heavily in front of our camera lens.

Lisbon was city number two on our summer holiday break after Mad Cool Festival and Madrid. Ben and I landed mid afternoon and made our way to the lofty Barrio Alto apartment that was to be ours for the next three nights. We found the apartment on Airbnb and booked it based on the glowing reviews received, here is the link if you’re planning a Lisbon break yourself – it will not disappoint!

Being right on dinner time when we settled ourselves in the apartment our host recommended, Noobai, a casual bar on the hilltop around the corner for dinner and drinks. A perfect place to soak in the view and start planning our Lisbon adventure.

Our friendly waiter was all too keen to help us plan too, advising that Belem, Sintra and Cascais can’t be missed. We made it to two out of three – we’ll have to go back to explore Cascais.

But first of course, a walking tour. We joined a Sandemans morning tour of Lisbon to find out a bit of the history of the city and wander the cobbled streets as the were just waking up for the day.

After the walking tour we went on to book a paid tour with Sandemans to Belem, a town just outside of Lisbon about 30 minutes on the train.

After a cooler morning, the sun soon came out baking hot and we were wondering why we hadn’t booked a beach holiday instead.

Dipping my toes in on the shores of the River Tagus in Belem was the closest I got to a swim in Lisbon.

20170711_Lisbon_Day5_0163Belem is home to the  Monument to the Discoveries above commemorating the Age of Discoveries in Portugal. A time of great exploration and the begining of globalisation.

Oh and it is the home of the Pastie de nata! Wow that is a pastry. We had our first (three) from the famous Pasteis de Belem and continued to have them for breakfast for the next two days.

Our apartment was overlooking a tram route and so we woke up to drink tea on the balcony and watch the trams pass up and down below us.

A tram couldn’t go by without us lining up a picture of it, along with all the other tourists. I’m sure we must give the locals a good laugh, I know I roll my eyes at the tourists snapping pictures of the buses on Oxford street now.

Our last day in Lisbon was spent visiting the palaces and castles of Sintra. We managed to visit Pena Palace and the Moorish Castle. I would have loved to see more but we left a little late after having to sort out train tickets to Porto in person. 20170712_Lisbon_Day6_0199I knew we couldn’t miss Pena Palace though, as the colours were so striking in photos I really wanted to see it in person. This is where my fascination with tiles really started, too. There are so many different textures and colours in this place.

20170712_Lisbon_Day6_0148You can tell I had the camera most of the day as I have dragged Ben in to pose for me.

Late afternoon we trudged up to the Moorish Castle. My feet were hurting by then but the discomfort was worth it for the views.

Getting back from Sintra quite late we opted for an easy dinner at a restaurant just below our apartment called Santa Bica. Being about 10.30 we were starving, but the meal was worth the wait. I had a beautiful steak, but Ben was the winner of the night ordering their signature BBQ octopus. The softest most delicious piece of meat you can imagine. I say meat as it was so chunky its hard to think of it as fish.

Oh, the dessert here was very good, too. I think this was their signature dessert a condensed milk and biscuit-y sundae. Devine!

Little did we know we were in for even more food heaven, our next stop is Porto.