Porto, Portugal’s charming second largest city offers pretty cobbled streets, lovely beaches and a very warm welcome. It is an ideal place for a long weekend away in autumn or spring – as our resident travel expert, Roxane Gergaud, discovered.
We arrived late Friday evening and headed straight into the welcoming arms of our home for the weekend – Porto’s most charming boutique hotel – Rosa et Al. With only 6 rooms, it felt more like arriving at the home of a tasteful friend – a very tasteful friend indeed, with the old Portuguese town house converted into something that looked like it was straight off of the pages of Apartamento or Wallpaper* Magazine.
After a night of deep slumber, we awoke to blue skies and the smell of baking bread. Breakfast at Rosa’s is good, really good – eggs on toast and a strong coffee served to us in the pretty garden surrounded by herbs and the cluck of chickens (not sure from where!) set us up nicely for our first day of exploring.
Stepping out into the pretty cobbled streets you’re immediately immersed in the boutiques and galleries that are in abundance. We headed down to the banks of the mighty Douro river, and stumbled across the brilliant Armazém a huge, new arts space in a converted warehouse in Ribeira do Porto. Part of the movement to revitalize the old town, Armazém offers a rather impressive exhibition space, interesting boutiques and a bar with a great outdoor space luring you to sit and enjoy a drink in the sun.
Heading on into town we sat down for a late lunch of grilled sardines and calamari, washed down with cold Super Bock beers. Refuelled and unwinding into the weekend our wandering continued up into Ribeira, the old town area where time feels as if it has stood still for the past 50 years.
There’s plenty to take in just wandering the hilly streets at the top of which sits the beautiful Porto Cathedral. We wandered for hours, peeking down alleyways and peering into windows before stumbling across the charming Clerigos Flea Market. A treasure trove of fine-cut glasses and old reclaimed tiles, it was a bargain hunter’s paradise.
That evening we had dined at Book a softly lit and pleasantly swanky downtown restaurant. Housed in an old bookstore, the book theme runs throughout and we enjoyed zingy Hemingway Mojitos before moving onto some amazing Douro wine and delicious bacalhau, the famous Portuguese salted cod.
Sunday brought with it more sunshine, so we headed out to the beach. We strolled the length of the coastline from Nevogilde to Foz do Douro, stopping for lunch at Praia de Gondalém a dreamy beachside shack. We embraced the day of rest like locals appear to – sipping cold crisp white wine and enjoying incredible sushi, watching the waves of the Atlantic roll in.
After a snooze on the beach and a bracing dip in the sea, we meandered our way back through the beautiful Parque da Cidade – enviously eying up the stages set up for Primavera Sound. There’s just something about a festival by the sea – definitely on the wish list for next year.
That evening, finding somewhere for supper proved a little tricky – many restaurants are closed on a Sunday – but on the advice of Rosa we managed to squeeze ourselves into the brilliant Reitoria. With a steakhouse upstairs and tapas downstairs – we opted for the tapas, settling at a table outside to enjoy the warm evening air. The fried eggs and chips with truffle oil were truly something special. A night cap of 30 year old port, softened the prospect of the steep hill climb back to our hotel and into bed.
On our third and final day, we decided to brunch at a sweet little organic café we’d spied around the corner from Rosa called Virtudes & Segredos (Rua da Maternidade). With a focus on fresh, local, organic produce – we were treated to the most delicious eggs, home-baked artisanal bread and good strong coffee.
Buzzing from our caffeine hit, we meandered past the boutiques and galleries of Rua do Rosário. Patch Porto was a particular favourite with it’s kooky vintage clothing and clever design pieces made from reclaimed items.
Our ambling carried us down to Mercado do Bolhao. Much cited as a tourist trap, we were still keen to see it and were pleased that we did. There’s a mix of fresh produce, fish and meat alongside clothing and gifts all set in a crumbling old building – typical of Porto’s faded grandeur.
What better way to spend our last afternoon than drinking port? And so to Taylor’s where we had a tour of the warehouse and introduction to the port production process before spending a very enjoyable hour or two sampling the different vintages with views out over the Douro.
What a weekend and just what the doctor ordered – a bit of sun, a spot of culture and a lot of great food. Porto treated us well but, never satisfied, there were so many more things we’d have liked to have done. From a concert at the Rem Koolhaas designed Casa Musica (book well in advance), to a night out at Maus Habitos or a swim in the incredible Las Piscinas de Mare (open mid-June to mid-September). Oh well, not to worry we’ll just have to come back…
Where to stay
Rosa Et Al Townhouse – Located in Rua do Rosario is a hip and exceptionally renovated townhouse with just 6 rooms. Prices from £70 per night
Porto 1829 – A charming boutique hotel in the Ribeira district of Porto. Prices from £80 per night
For our full collection of hotels in Porto, click here
Porto airport is 10km from the city centre. A taxi takes about 20 minutes, or there are metro’s into town.