This year on my way back to Asia from Canada, I decided to take the scenic route and stopover in Europe. It felt like it has been ages since I explored a new country, so this was a great opportunity. There are many countries to choose from and though I knew little about it, I liked the sounds of Portugal. Lucky me, it turned out to be amazing. It is a confluence of so many things I value in a destination: friendly people, good food/drink, convenient transport, loads of cultural attractions, reasonable prices and more.
I started the adventure in the northern city of Porto. I liked the vibe of the place right from arrival. The airport was chilled out, what a contrast from the gong show I had come from at my stopover in London Gatwick. From the airport I was able to ride the Porto Metro right to my accommodation door step. For my first time I was thinking I should stay in the center of Porto but instead there was a place outside the center that caught my eye on AirBmB. The host Sofia was super with plenty of local advice and she even made a cake for guests to share. The apartment is really comfy and close to the seaside which is lined with huge beaches and loads of seafood restaurants.
The gorgeous San Bento train station
The city center is wonderful place to roam around. lined with beautiful historic buildings, art and loads of dining option. I found the food tasty, cost definitely more affordable than Canada and the portions generous . It seemed like most meals would come with not one but two large, starchy sides. The riverside is really pretty and lined with bars and restaurants. You can cross the bridge to the other side of the river and check out the port wine cellars and take a tour like I did or just enjoy a drink or two.
A fine feast of freshly grilled sardines
I also enjoyed a couple of days at Aveiro, an artistic seaside community that is a short train ride away from Porto. The Airbnb I stayed at, Aveiro Arts House, was remarkable. It was the home of the late artist Vasco Branco. The whole house, including guest rooms was like one big art gallery, a tribute to him from his grandson Hugo who is operating the place now. This artistic feel carried on throughout the town.
Aveiro town center
I was sad to leave Portugal after only 1 week, but I already had a trip to Italy booked. I will definitely spend more time there in future. Click these links to see more photos of Porto and Aveiro
O Mar’co- newly opened at the end of the long line of seafood restaurants on Matosinhos seaside. The service was friendly and efficient. My waiter was able to explain everything well in English. I ordered the grilled sardines along with a mixed salad (huge) and the roast potatoes(with a punch). For drink had a small bottle of Duas Quintas red,. Everything was so good I got it all down but afterwards was absolutely stuffed and tipsy to boot. Early on I had told the waiter it was my first day in Porto and he kindly offered me a glass of Grahams 10 year old tawny port. It was silky smooth and the perfect finish to a super meal. When the bill arrived I was bracing myself for €40 or €50 . What a pleasant surprise when it was only €26.50.
Rua de S. Sebastiao 10
Confeitaria Dos Clerigos – great cafe right in the heart of the tourist aeea. I had their menu of the day (pratto do dia) twice, both times tasty and very filling for only about €5.
Tours- I toured one of the largest port cellars, Calem, and enjoyed it. You get a few minutes at the start to play around in their interactive center, then guided group tour begins down in the cellar. They have some huge vats down there. One of them is over 100 years old and holds many thousands of liters of port. The guide gave a good explanation about the process, then we went back upstairs for tasting. The guide said a few words about drinking port wine, then left us to it. I got the ticket for €15 which includes 3 styles of port to taste. I preferred the LBV (late bottle vintage). The cellars are just across the river from Porto in Gaia, it’s a nice walk over the bridge.
Tasting- Some port houses have tasting along the riverside, it is a gorgeous setting and a good way to find which port you like best. I went to Noval and did an informal tasting and my favourite was their 10 year tawny, bought a small bottle, €10.70
Good, affordable port- Dow’s Finest Reserve and Graham’s 10 year tawny port. Both are around €10 a bottle (750 ml)
Chocolateria Equador- high quality locally made chocolate using cacao from Ecuador. They sell bars, truffles and bulk chocolate. There are a few shops, the one I went to had port or coffee with chocolate tasting. I found the port pairs very well with chocolate. Close to the river, Rue Sousa Viteebo, 103 Porto
Coffee shops are everywhere and they make a decent brew. Espresso generally €0.65, cappuccino €2. Be sure to try the famous Portuguese egg tarts.
There is an ATM at airport departure level (3) by Cafe Central. Note Cafe Central also has good coffee, comfortable seating, including sofa and electrical outlets.
Airbnb- stayed at Sofia’s, Porto City Park and Matosinhos beaches. The room and apartment are very clean and comfortable. Sofia is a lovely, helpful host, always willing to take time for her guests. The location is good, a quiet neighborhood with a nice walk to the beach or can get on the Metro and easily get to Porto old city. It was about $45 CDN per night. If you haven’t already for goodness sake, sign up for AirBnB. You can use my link and we will both get some savings.
Metro – is quite good and affordable, €1.60 gets you most anywhere. You can buy or top up tickets at each stop and validate them at another small machine before you get on the train. It goes to the airport and the main train station (Campanhã)
Train-There are two train stations, San Bento and Campanhã. Campanhã is the main station for Porto now, San Bento is a most beautiful historic station in the tourist area and still does have some trains running. From Campanhã I got the train to Aveiro. It was easy to do, buy the ticket on the machine, validate it and go. The train was nice and only €4 for the trip, about 1 hour ride
Arrived by Easyjet from London Gatwick. It was okay, definitely no frills. Cost was $180 CDN, included 1 checked bag fee.
Departed with Air Portugal. Cost was $95, including fee for 1 checked bag. It is a good airline.
When to go
June- I was there June 10-17, I think it was a good time. I found it surprisingly cool, rarely did the temperature go above 20 Celcius. There was little rain but the week before it had rained often. At the beach town Ilhavo, it looked like most of the summer rentals had not opened yet.