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Portugal: 48 Hours in Porto

Updated: Mar 3, 2020

I recommend treating yourself to a stay at The Yeatman Hotel, in the heart of the Gaia district, during your idyll in Porto, Portugal’s second-largest city. The Yeatman bills itself as a wine hotel, the theme running through the establishment, from the extensive wine cellars to the Caudalie Vinothérapie Spa, which offers therapies using extracts from the vine. Your 48 hours starts now...

Day One:

After a hearty breakfast at The Yeatman, with the Duoro River snaking below, walk downhill to the Ponte Luis I that anchors the city. The double-decker bridge spanning the river was created by Teophile Seyrig, a former partner of Gustave Eiffel, and the views from the upper level are spectacular.

Crossing to the Porto side, board the Funicular dos Guindais to ascend the steep hill to the old town. Admire the panoramic views across the river, taking in the Ribeira waterfront, the Cais de Gaia on the opposing bank, and the barcos rabelos rocking gently on their moorings. These boats traditionally transported barrels of port from the vineyards upstream.

Walking towards Avenida dos Aliados, a sloping boulevard lined with grand buildings and a central promenade, you’ll find the São Bento train station. Stop to appreciate the delicate blue and white tiled panels painted by artist Jorge Colaço, which allude to the history of Portugal and the development of transport. At the top of the avenue stands the Town Hall, a palatial granite and marble structure with a tall bell tower.

By now, you’ll have worked up an appetite, so pop into the fascinating 19th-century Mercado do Bolhão. This market does a brisk trade in fresh local produce, so it’s the perfect place to sample local wines, smoked meat and cheese or swing by one of the inexpensive stalls on the ground level for a fresh seafood feast.

Circling back towards the river, drop into the Lello Bookstore. Built in 1906 and renovated in 1995 after falling into disrepair, this is now arguably the most beautiful book shop in the world, and possibly the most ornate, blending Neo-Gothic and Art Deco elements including carved wooden ceilings, stained-glass, and an eye-catching red staircase. From here, it’s a short walk to Clerigos Tower, an easily spotted architectural landmark that affords a bird’s-eye view of the city’s red roofs and hills atop its 240 steps. The 1763 structure is the bell tower of the baroque Clerigos Church.

Continuing towards the river, the next stop is one of the city's oldest monuments, the 12th Century Porto Cathedral. The cathedral is flanked by two square towers, each supported by two buttresses and crowned with a cupola. Less than ten minutes’ walk away, the magnificent, Neoclassical Palácio da Bolsa, the former stock exchange, is housed in a square containing a statue of Henry the Navigator, the first of Portugal’s great explorers. Next door, is the 13th-century São Francisco church, boasting a flamboyant interior laced with gold leaf.

For an authentic Portuguese food experience, book into ODE Porto Winehouse, tucked down a side street near São Francisco. This eatery features an impressive wine list that extends to the décor, with slate table-tops resting on wine barrels. The restaurant sources fresh Portuguese produce, including bread from Bragança, smoked pork from Minho and sheep's milk cheese from Alentejo and it’s minutes from the waterfront, which comes alive at night.

Day Two:

Start the day with a refreshing dip in The Yeatman’s lush swimming pool, before crossing back to the Porto side and trundling to Foz, Porto's beach suburb, on a 1920’s vintage tram. The trip to the Atlantic takes around twenty minutes. Wander through the Jardim do Passeio Alegre, an elegant garden entered through two 19th century obelisks and surrounded by palm trees, sculptures, two mini-golf courses, and a bandstand that hosts philharmonic concerts during the summer.

Most of the beaches here are dotted with outcrops of rocks, so not great for swimming, but stroll along the water’s edge to the swanky beachside Praia da Luz restaurant for an early lunch, before continuing another mile or so to Castelo do Queijo, a fortress dating from 1661. It is reached by a drawbridge, and the cannons inside point towards the sea. From the fortress, amble through Parque da Cidade, Portugal’s largest urban park.

Catch the bus back to Porto in time for an afternoon port tour and tasting at any one of the port wine lodges on the Gaia side of the river and perhaps a ride on this aerial gondola that provides views over the Douro and Porto on its five-minute flight.

For dinner, book a table at the gastronomic restaurant at The Yeatman, the only restaurant in Porto to carry a Michelin star. Sample innovative dishes accompanied by Alvarinho wines as you gaze out over the city, knowing that you have but sampled the delights Porto has to offer.

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