Doctor's Review: Medicine on the Move

October 23, 2017
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Vintage sights

Portugal's most famous wine region is also home to one of the country's most historic cities

Though largely undiscovered by travellers, Portugal is a country of outstanding natural beauty, scattered with medieval towns, historic castles and ancient architecture. Sitting at the other end of the country from the more-touristed Algarve Coast, Porto -- or Oporto as many Europeans call it -- is Portugal's second-largest city. It's also the heart of country's most famous wine region.

Clinging to a rocky gorge at the mouth of the Douro River, the old centre of Porto is full of tiled facades, charming narrow streets and lively seafood restaurants. The cathedral area is worth exploring, especially the Berredo district, which seems not to have changed since medieval times.

The city also has fine Baroque buildings including the exuberantly decorated Church of Santa Clara. The riverside Ribeira district has steep narrow streets and traditional balconied buildings, many of which now house fashionable restaurants and bars. Not surprisingly, the 1000-year-old historic district was recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

If you're lucky enough to be in Porto between September and November, you'll find jazz artists from around the world gathered for the Porto Jazz Festival (www.jazzportugal.net), which showcases new talent as well as established performers. For more extensive information in planning a visit to Porto, consult www.visitportugal.com.

Where To Stay
The recently renovated Hotel Dom Henrique (179 Rua Guedes de Azevedo; tel: 011-351-222-005-755; www.hotel-dom-henrique.pt) is located in the traditional heart of the city, steps from the main shopping zone. Located in the city's first concrete high-rise, this four-star hotel has 112 rooms with a spare modern style. Its contemporary Portuguese restaurant, Além Mar, has a wall decorated by a modern ceramic artist.

Every Friday and Saturday night at Bar Anrrique, on the 17th floor, you can enjoy live music while admiring a view of the city. Doubles start at €90, including buffet breakfast, if you book online.

The five-star Tivoli Porto (66 Rue Alfonso Lopes Vierra; tel: 011-351-226-077-900; www.tivolihotels.com) is set outside the city bustle in one of Porto's most exclusive residential neighbourhoods. It offers 58 luxurious rooms with classical decor and a swimming pool on lushly landscaped grounds.

Packages include the €164 Romantic Weekend package, two-night's stay with a leisurely breakfast served until 2pm.

The Residencial Dos Aliados (27 Rue Esiso de Melo; tel: 011-351-222-004-853; www.residencialaliados.com) occupies a landmark Beaux-Arts building just a short walk from the Ribeira district.

This pension-style hotel has 41 rooms with traditional Portuguse furnishing, most of which have views onto the graceful Aliados Avenue. Doubles start at €50, with a 10-percent discount for online bookings.

Where To Eat
Just as in the rest of Portugal, Porto's cuisine is heavily based on fish and seafood. A meal in traditional "Port fashion" would include at least two dishes; generally a lush soup followed by a fish dish. And, of course, all meals are washed down with excellent regional wine.

Restaurants vary in size and ambience, from a tavern-style tasca to a casa de pasto, offering set three-course meals; a cervejaria, a beer hall which serves food, to a marisquera, specializing in fish and shellfish.

Aquário Marisqueiro (179 Rua Rodrigues Sampaio; tel: 011-351-222-002-231) has been holding court for over half a century and is still one of the city's best seafood restaurants. Try the soup (made by boiling the shells of mariscos) as a starter. The €15 fixed-price menu offers cod, sole or trout with ham as a main course. The grilled sea bass and Spanish-style clams are also top choices. The restaurant has an excellent selection of local wines and port. Expect to pay €11 to €20 for main courses.

Porto has a strong café culture, and you're bound to stumble across a tempting place for coffee and a bite to eat. Set in a suitably ornate fin-de-siècle building with furniture dating back to 1922, the Café Majestic (112 Rua de Santa Catarina; tel: 011-351-222-003-887; www.alvo.com/majestic) recalls Porto's golden age of prosperity. Located near the stores along Santa Catarina, it's an ideal spot to break from a day of shopping.

The Majestic serves typical Porto francesinha -- a grilled open-face sandwich of beef, ham, sausage and cheese, covered in a spicy sauce. The café is also home to poetry readings, piano recitals and art exhibits.

 

 

What To Do By Day
Food and wine lovers will want to stop in at a few of the port-wine lodges -- some dating back 300 years -- located across the river at Vila Nova de Gaia. Historic lodges, such as Taylor's, Porto Sandeman, Ferreira, Caves Porto Cálem and Caves Ramos Pinto are very welcoming and run free tours for visitors.

Spain-based Cellar Tours (tel: 011-34-91-521-3939; www.cellartours.com) offers a private wine tour and tastings at three of the best lodges. You'll be whisked to and from your hotel in a luxury car with an English-speaking driver. The afternoon includes a guided walking tour in Porto and a visit to the spectacular 19th-century Stock Exchange, intricately decorated by some of the city's best craftsmen. For groups of two to three people, the tour costs €210 per person. Longer all-inclusive luxury packages are also available.

Porto also has a number of museums and galleries to explore, including the recent Fundaçao Serralves (210 Rua Don Joán de Castro; tel: 011-351-22-615-6500; www.serralves.pt) museum of contemporary art, set in an 18-hectare park with sculpture gardens, fountains and a tea house. Admission is €5.

Opened in 1840, The Museu Nacional de Soares dos Reis (Rue de Nom Manuel II; tel: 011-351-223-393-770; www.mnsr-ipmuseus.pt) houses a substantial collection including works by Dutch, Flemish, Italian and French masters. There is a large collection of classic 19th-century Portuguese work from the naturalistic Porto School along with exhibits of ceramics, glassware, jewellery and furniture. Admission is €3; it is free on Sundays.

With such a long history of Scottish and British merchants in the area, it was inevitable that Porto should boast a great golf course. Located 17 kilometres south of Porto near the beautiful beach of Espinho, the Oporto Golf Club (Lugar do Sisto, Paramos-Espinho; tel: 011-351-227-342-008; www.portugalgolfcourses.com/oporto.html) is an authentic links course dating back to 1890 -- the second-oldest on the continent.

It is a relatively short course (5668 metres for a par 71), but its narrow fairways are known to be tricky. The club has a restaurant and bar with terrace, a driving range, putting green, trolleys, caddies, club rentals and a pro shop. On a weekday, you'll pay approximately €50 for 18 holes; the course is €60 on weekends. The private club accepts non-members with a handicap certificate.

What To Do By Night
Following dinner, you can find an array of bars and nightclubs with everything from jazz to Latin to dance music. For those who want to soak up a little high art, evening concerts are presented at Porto's newly inaugurated Casa da Música (604 Avenida de Boavista; tel: 001-351-220-120-200; www.casadamusica.com), designed by cutting-edge architect Rem Koolhaas. Concerts include performances by the Porto National Orchestra, international soloists, chamber musicians and productions by numerous ballet companies.

Fado -- traditional Portuguese music -- isn't as big in Porto as it is in Lisbon, but you can sit in on a performance at Mal Cozinhado (11 Rua do Outeirinho; tel: 011-351-222-081-319; http://malcozinhado.planetaclix.pt). Five singers and guitarists perform the country's nostalgic folk music in six-hour sets, from Monday to Saturday starting at 9:30pm. The initial €12 cover charge includes your first two drinks. Dinner options range from €25 to €30 per person and are served as of 8:30pm.

Getting There
A number of airlines offer connections to Porto through their main European hub. A recent search of Internet fares found rates as high as $1884 roundtrip from Toronto to Porto with Air France (tel: 800-667-2747; www.airfrance.com) to as low as $750 roundtrip with British Airways (tel: 800-airways; www.britishairways.com).

Another alternative is to look for an inexpensive fare to Lisbon. From there, it's only a scenic three-hour train ride to Porto, €21 one way. There are several trains (www.cp.pt) a day, so you can take your time and explore a little of Portugal's capital before heading north.

 

This article was accurate when it was published. Please confirm rates and details directly with the companies in question.

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