11.04.2017 - 12.04.2017
We rented a car for our drive from Lisbon to Porto. When you need an automatic car and the European rental car place has limited options, you end up with a sweet BMW convertible. 5 points for being dumb Americans!
We drove an hour north of Lisbon to Obidos which is a walled city from the 1100s. It reminded me of Toledo, Spain which is another medieval walled city. Unless you are a 70 year old tourist taking a giant bus tour, you only need thirty minutes to stroll around here. We then drove 45 minutes north to Nazaré to see the Atlantic Ocean. In high tourist season, Nazaré is supposedly bumping. In April, it was rather quiet, but it was cool to see Portugal's famous beaches.
We drove two more hours north to Porto. After almost witnessing a motorcyclist get annihilated by a car in Porto, we were ready to return our car. City driving in Portugal is not for us. We returned the car and checked into Hotel Carris which is a couple blocks from the Douro River and the Ribeira district. We had drinks on the Ribeira before eating one of our favorite meals of the trip.
Flor dos Congregados is a tiny little restaurant on a side street in the center of town. It has an old rustic feel to it with a stone and dark wood interior. We tried their famous tyrlene (pork and prosciutto sandwich), a delicious charcuterie board, octopus, tomato rice, and pork. All of that with two glasses of wine and two cocktails for €45 which we thought was a bargain.
Our first full day in Porto, we met up with Pancho Walking Tour for a free historical tour of the city. Our tour guide Ana was much better than Ricardo in Lisbon. Here are a few fun facts about Porto:
1. Rua Flores is one of three historic shopping streets. There aren't any flowers on this street, nor any flower shops. The street gets its name because it used to be where the bishop's gardens were located.
2. The Luis the First Bridge has a twin named the Dona Maria further up the Douro River. Both were designed by Gustave Eiffel, and the Dona Maria bridge served as his inspiration for the Eiffel Tower.
3. Port wine was made by mistake. The English and Portuguese have a long standing alliance dating back to 1386. The Portuguese would export wine, but during the journey, it would lose its alcohol content and flavor. They started adding a neutral grape spirit to the wine to preserve it, thus the birth of fortified Portuguese wine.
4. Gaia is the city on the opposite side of the Douro from Porto. In the 17th century, the port wineries started building cellars in Gaia. They would grow grapes and produce the wine in the Douro Valley, but the dry, hot climate of the Douro Valley was not ideal for aging the wine. Thus, they built cellars in the more humid and cooler Gaia. They chose Gaia over Porto because there were lower taxes and more space.
5. There are approximately 17 large Port cellars in Gaia and numerous smaller ones. The majority of the large cellars have English names like Taylor, Offley, Sandeman, Callem, Graham, and Cockburn. As mentioned in #3 above, Port was the result of exporting wine to the English. Those English in turn invested in wineries and started their own wine brands.
6. JK Rowling lived in Porto for a few years pre-Harry Potter. Salazar Slytherin was named after the Portuguese dictator who ruled Portugal for 30 years. There is a bookstore named Livraria Lello that served as the inspiration for Flourish and Botts. Outside the bookstore is a fountain decorated with winged lions. These gryphons served as the inspiration for the Gryffindor mascot. Also, the college students here wear cloaks similar to the Hogwarts students.
7. Azulejos are ceramic glazed tiles that adorn buildings throughout Portugal. The word is derived from an Arabic word meaning polished stone. The tiles in Lisbon feature more of the Moorish influence whereas tiles in Porto feature more Christian influences. The traditional colors are blue and white since those are the main paint colors the moors had. They decorate buildings and often tell stories of the country's history. They also help keep the heat in the house in the winter, cool inside in the summer, and fight erosion.
After the tour, we ate at Fish Fixe on the Ribeira and then walked across the Louis I Bridge to Gaia. Our tour guide told us to pass the first few cellars in Gaia as they were always the busiest. Luckily, the cellars are easy to spot as they all have large signs on the top of their buildings. We opted for Taylor's which is located high on a hill overlooking Porto. Taylor's was a very classy establishment. It rules about 40% of the port industry and has brands that make table wines and own luxury hotels. The gardens outside the cellar had peacocks and roosters which was very entertaining to watch while tasting ports.
After Taylor's, we wanted to see what a smaller cellar was like, and we visited Augusto's for a glass of wine. The difference between the two was akin to visiting Sam Adam's and then a local craft brewery.
We ended the day with dinner at A Tasquinha. The TripAdvisor reviews were misleading. It was a decent meal but did not live up to all the hype. Luckily it was another relatively cheap meal so we weren't mad about it.