Porto did not only give its name to Portugal but to its famous wine – the port.
Port is not everyone’s cup of wine.
Some call it sickly sweet or an old ladies drink.
Turns out I am a fan of sickly sweet and pushing ahead to be a proud old lady, which is probably why I really really liked port.
It is not as bitter as wine and there is a lot more appreciation for the sweet flavour of the grape. It is stronger than wine, yet I find port a lot tastier. Port is often served for desert and that just speaks for itself.
The place to taste the best Port wine in Porto is beautiful Gaia, the part of Porto housing some world renowned wineries with a long history.
Today we were introduced to Port – a fine starter to our Douro valley tour which we did a few days later – and to something far more toxic than port, Portuguese lupini beans! Apart from that we took in more major sights in Porto – and with an eye for strangeness, I spotted enough to keep me entertained.
The day started less dramatic. And cold. Porto in April is sunny but chilly (hence my hand warmers). I am amazed how the Portuguese manage through winter and spring without proper heating in their historic homes.
First thing today, we bought a combined ticket for 15 Euros in the morning at the Ribiera promenade.
The ticket includes a river cruise, a ride with the cable car in Gaia and port tasting at one of the wine lodges.
Considering that the river cruise is definitely worth 3 Euros, a regular tasting costs 5 Euros and the cable car 8 Euros, if bought independently, I would call it a fair touristy deal. The cool thing is, that you can time yourself. We are going to do the cruise tomorrow, hoping for better weather and more space outside the crowded weekends.
Before Gaia, we made a little detour, to take the Funicular Dos Guindais, the tiny but famous elevator wagon for 2 Euros each way. We boarded at the end of the riverfront Ribiera to get to Porto’s Cathedral.
The short (few minutes) but fun ride with the funi holds a nice view over the Dom Luis I Bridge and wine lodges in Gaia on the opposite side of the Douro river.
The Funicular Dos Guindais was opened in 1891 but closed only two year later, after a terrible accident. More than a hundred years later, the ride opened again – coincidentally, on the day of my birthday, in 2004. Maybe that is why I liked it so much. If you have my kind of mind frame, the elevator looks like a cute creature with an elongated neck, going up the hill, stretching its head as it moves along. Yep, it does.
The Cathedral is one of the oldest monuments in Porto dating back to the 12th century. It has a recognisable Gothic rose window and is flanked by two square towers which gives it the look of a fancy fortress. Suffering from way too many alterations throughout history, it is a rather bare example of a plain Romanesque church, missing the opulent gilt wood works, stucco and elaborate paintings of other Christian temples we saw in Portugal.
The annexed Gothic cloister is by far more interesting and very much worth the 3 Euros admission.
Built between the 14th and the 15th centuries, I marvelled at its embellishment of typically blue-white tile compositions.
Motifs from the Canticle of Canticles with romantic depictions of lovers. Nice.
There were some more delightfully strange things. Like a picture of whoever this guy is, taped right onto one of the cloister windows.
Or this work of wood craft. Not all apostles were attentive listeners, it seems.
The riches of cloisters in Portugal easily compete with royal interiors.
On the uppermost gallery, you can take a walk around and spot some elfin plants growing on the stony cloister roofs.
That is mainly, what I did up here.
And I spotted mum below, planning our route.
These signs indicate two famous pilgrimage routes, one to Spain’s shrine at Santiago de Compostela. The other one leads to Fatima. The village that rose to pilgrimage site number one after many believers were staring at the sun too long. After they had burned their retinas, the virgin Mary appeared in the sky. Before, three Fatima village siblings had made contact with a mysterious sublime being, that is wonder-woman Mary.
After all that, we moved from sacrum to profanum.
Closer to the port wine!
We crossed Porto’s iconic Dom Luis I Bridge and having stepped into Gaia, we took the Teleferico de Gaia (Porto’s cable car).
The next three pictures are from mum who had a great eye for landscapes.
For a ride, we had to exchange our combined tour tickets at the cable car station.
The Teleferico de Gaia runs along Gaia’s picturesque river front, dotted with big old houses displaying world famous port wine names. So pretty.
Looking down on the emblematic beauty of the historical area of Porto and the characteristic roofs of the port wine lodges in Gaia.
Our first wine lodge in Porto was Porto Cruz. But there are so many to chose from.
We toured the Porto Cruz building, starting with the roof terrace, making our way down to the tasting. Call me a nerd, but it was fun to learn about the production process of port wine and watched some well made short films about the port wine of Porto Cruz.
The grapes come from an ancient wine region in the northern part of Portugal, the Douro Valley. This place enjoys perfect wine weather conditions and has a unique history. Quiet an astonishing time span really, of roughly 2000 years, when Romans were the first to produce wine in that region. Today, the man made slopes of the Douro Valley are the beautiful world heritage site for some prime port production.
After the harvest, the traditional way of wine making involved stinky stamping feet, producing the juice. Nowadays, most professional wineries use robots but the wooden barrels to store the precious juice look just the same.
The transportation process from production site to the cellar’s of the wine lodge was risky, the barrels being transported on the Douro river to Gaia on wooden barcas, which had to survive a shaky and harsh river ride before the state build a dam to smooth out transport conditions.
At the end of the tour, we got to try Porto Cruz Pink and it was just so tasty. Just the colour alone – what girl can resist pink? The taste was super fruity, light, not bitter or sour, nor overly sweet. Although I am a Polish misfit not liking alcohol all that much, this would be the closest to a perfect alcoholic drink, sharing my favourite drinks list, with Japanese カシスミルク – cassis with milk cocktail.
Of course, there was plenty Porto Cruz port booze to chose from.
Targeting women with a stable hand, this souvenir set of porto plus nail-polish might be an adequate challenge.
Tomorrow, we shall try another world leading porto – from Gaia’s Sandeman cellars.
Dinner was non alcoholic. Yet almost toxic!
We cooked pasta and made a salad with sardines, tomatoes, olives and lemons at our chic home. Vegetable soup and bread for starters is a Portuguese tradition, we picked up here!
So far so good but every once in a dinner, we go experimental, incorporating original Portuguese products.
Today, we tried to mix in some Portuguese lupini beans – our recent grocery discovery. Even after 20 minutes of cooking they were hard as a rock. I tried to work on them in a blender. Bad idea. Made a huge mess in the kitchen.
I should have read up on lupini before I tried to cook them. Because lupin poisoning was one of the first articles I found on the net. Lupin poisoning affects people that eat incorrectly prepared lupin beans, it says.
The good thing, once you get the toxicity out, and if you don’t choke on those yellow buggars, the health benefits are not bad at all.
Luckily, further research revealed that, apparently, we bought the non toxic lupini-in-brine-version. And that lupini are meant to be consumed just like that. They are such a popular snack here.
So long, see you later!