Impossible to cover all that Oporto offers, as Portugal’s 2nd largest city of roughly 250,000 inhabitants is spread out over hills and along the Douro and the Atlantic. So, I will be bold and share with you how I would spend a lovely day in Oporto: by foot. You can walk anywhere, in the country or in the city; all you need are comfortable shoes. In fact, walking is one of my 3 addictions, in addition to wine/port and coffee. Imagine a typical day of sunny mild Oporto weather with a good 5 hours at hand, follow this 6 km route, mainly using pedestrian walkways.
Start at the Atlantic end of Avenida da Boavista; there is captivating net sculpture called “Giant Anemone” (50m x 50m / 150ft x 150ft), by American sculptress Janet Echelman. A huge net honoring the fishing industry that undulates and billows in the breeze to resemble an anemone: ethereal, graceful and so original. Beyond is the Atlantic, you may see surfers as this beach is known for good waves.
Pass by landmark Castelo do Queijo, translated “Cheese Castle”, because of the rocky hill’s shape on which it stands. Surrounded by a moat and with watch towers corbelled out on each corner, the fort is impressive. Across the rotonda is Oporto’s Sealife Aquarium and the west entrance of Oporto’s expansive City Park.
The walk carries on south towards beach lover’s Foz, one of Oporto’s 15 districts called parishes.
Foz’s Esplanada hugs the Atlantic coast; join the many Portenses (Oporto’s inhabitants) as they walk, run, bike and roller blade up and down the pedestrian walkway. Rocky beaches with sandy nooks, outdoor cafes and restaurants abound here. My favorites are:
Tavi Confeitaria da Foz – excellent baked goods and light lunch (even sushi!) with seating overlooking the Atlantic, perfect for coffee and newspaper/tour book break: rua da Senhora da Luz 363, Foz www.tavi.pt
Praia da Luz – take in the inspiring Atlantic views in this more upscale spot, service all day from breakfast to dinner – sandwiches, fresh fish and a varied menu: Avenida Brasil, Foz, tel 22 6173234 www.praiadaluz.pt
Shis Restaurante – fantastic Atlantic ocean views combined with excellent fresh ingredients, impeccable presentation and Portuguese/international cuisine make for a very special place: rua Coronel Raul Peres, Foz, tel 22 6189593 www.shisrestaurante.com
A Capoeira Restaurante – small, typical and with local Portuguese dishes: esplanada do Castelo 63 | Foz, 226 181 589 (no website)
Elegant Hotel Boa Vista, a 150 yr-old establishment, painted in cheerful pastel yellow, stands a couple of doors down from A Capoeira and across from 16th-century S. Joao Fort and charming Passeio Alegre garden. I especially like this hotel because of the swimming pool on the roof, with an indulgent view of where the Douro river meets the Atlantic ocean. Hotel Boa Vista, Esplanada do Castelo, 58, Foz 226 173 818 www.hotelboavista.com
Impressive to imagine how many ships, heavy with traditional port-filled pipas (barrels), have made the voyage in the last 300 + years, entering the Atlantic at the Douro’s mouth. The tree-lined pedestrian walkway crosses different parishes along the Douro; fishing boats are docked, fishermen repair nets, and café culture is abuzz. The ambiance is upbeat and laid back, friendly and not over crowded; I am in my element. Across the river is Vila Nova de Gaia, home to famous port lodges where the aging of port used to exclusively take place. Bridges cross the river with impressive architecture, civil engineering feats.
Restaurants flank both sides of the river road, and the Museu do Vinho do Douro (Douro Wine Museum) comes up on the left, of course worth the visit. Further on and to the left Calcada de Monchique climbs up to one of my favorite restaurants, Sessanta Setanta, where I have had my favorite bacalhau dish (see blog 2/10).
If you start to feel tired jump on the Porto tram car, a slice of the past with wood-paneled interior and leather seats. The Rua do Ouro (“road of gold” as the Douro translates to “river of gold”), passes by colorful tile-facaded buildings, those recently restored with modern touches and those that are quite decadent, as well as museums of the Electric Car and of Money.
The more touristy Ribieras parish is our final destination. Here fisherman sell their catch, small typical restaurants thrive and Portuguese linens and souvenirs are sold. There is a store that sells cork products, to include purses, shoes, umbrellas and ties made out of cork, worth the visit to see how cork can be transformed, other than wine corks: Portosigns, rua da Alfandega 17 www.portosigns.pt. Next door is a Portuguese azuelos or tile store, with patterns, contrasting colors and bas relief to dazzle the eyes. My favorite and very manageable museum is across the way: Casa do Infante, where Prince Henry the Navigator was born in 1394. The 14th century building was the city’s first customs house; recent remodeling has successfully married modern elements with the ancient design. Archaeological findings, distinct mosaic flooring, and a self-guided tour through Oporto’s urban evolution are impressively mise en place.
Here the walk ends, and you will be ready for a glass of port! ~Kay