Friday, January 25, 2013

Oh, Porto!

Last weekend, we traveled to Porto (sometimes called Oporto). Portugal's second largest city after Lisbon, Porto is situated in the north of the country. Even though we knew it was going to be a long trip, it sounded like the perfect driving vacation for the holiday weekend. So the whole family, Chloe and Cora included of course, loaded up in the Mini. And despite raining most of the time (including some really epic weather Saturday morning) it was a fantastic weekend!

If you like your European cities large, clean, modern, and sophisticated...Porto is not for you. But if you want a small city, an old port town, full of character, winding streets, and brightly tiled buildings that tumble down steeply towards a river that is lined with restaurants and port tasting cellars, where the noise is a mix of car horns and sea will fall in love with Porto.

So many churches, every single one is gorgeous...

In typical Portuguese style the people were incredibly friendly and helpful. The food was tasty and cheap - corner cafes for coffee and delicious pastries, neighborhood restaurants serving just a few freshly made dishes each night.

This restaurant was completely run by a mother and her two daughters. Rather than translate the menu of the day, we were taken back to the kitchen to see what was being made.

The mama made everything, from the sausage appetizer to the pumpkin preserve served with fresh goat cheese for dessert.

The next night was another great meal in an eclectic little place with mismatched dishes, fabulous local wine, good food, and a funky vibe. 

Cod is everywhere in Portugal, it seems to be the national dish and it comes prepared a thousand ways. Here it was served uniquely with greens on toast.

Oh, and this...the francesinha. Literally "little Frenchie", this diabolical sandwich is constructed of no less than 4 meats (sometimes more), topped with melted cheese, placed on a bed of french fries and bathed in beer sauce. Whoa.

We had coffee and pastries one morning at Cafe Majestic, a Belle Epoque stunner, complete with white jacketed waiters and marble topped tables.

The Lello Bookstore is popular with Harry Potter fans (who just happen to be in northern Portugal) because J.K. Rowling lived in the city for a bit and when you step inside, you can see some of her inspiration. Neither of us are crazy for HP, but the Lello is lovely.

Another great place to stop in, or the perfect place to get out of the rain, is the Sao Bento train station. Small compared to other European stations and plain on the outside, the interior is covered in tiles. 

Porto is just perfect for a long weekend - walking around (even in the rain), taking in all the beautiful buildings, stopping for pastries or to sample some port (more on that later!), having a delicious meal. There aren't a million must-do things, so we were able to just enjoy and have a leisurely weekend.Since it is winter, there weren't many other tourists, which is nothing to complain about, but I can imagine it is a perfect place to visit in the summer. 

We've been to a few places in Portugal (Lisbon, Sintra, Luz, a quick stop in Castro Verde) and have had a great experience each time, so our expectations were high and Porto did not disappoint. I can't describe how much character this little city has and it has definitely made it onto my list of favorites. 

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