Porto and the North Winelands
The Porto and Douro Region cuts across the northern tier of Portugal, marked by the Douro River Valley and the city Porto on the Atlantic coast. Porto is Portugal’s second largest city and is famous for its exportation of Port wine, which comes from the vineyards lining the river valley. In 2006, the region celebrated the 250th anniversary of the naming of the Douro wine region, the oldest such designation in the world. The vineyards and estates in this wine region are among the most popular destinations for Portugal’s visitors. The area has been designated a World Heritage Site.
Porto is also Portugal's cultural capital, with an amazing riverfront of stores, eateries and nightlife. Its rich monuments, nearby seaside towns and Port wine houses make it a wonderful place to explore.
In Porto, the relatively new National Contemporary Art Museum helped spur the city’s transformation from a fine wine-producing city to a center of contemporary art and architecture. Numerous galleries now populate the Rua Miguel Bombarda in the city center. The Foz do Douro area, where the Douro River flows into the Atlantic, is becoming a fashion and design Mecca. Many of the restaurants and discos along the city’s riverfront are designed by young Portuguese architects.
Porto’s Casa da Musica (House of Music) is a major performance space designed by the Dutch architect Rem Koolhaas. Finished in 2005, the new venue has become a city icon. Casa da Musica’s design has been called "the most attractive project the architect Rem Koolhaas has ever built" by Nicolai Ouroussoff of the New York Times. Others call it the most important concert hall built in the last 100 years.
Porto also has the largest Pousada de Portugal. With 75 rooms, the Pousada do Freixo, just east of Portos’ historic district, is the largest among Portugal’s national chain of historic hotels. It is a former noble palace, with sweeping views of the river Douro as well as extensive gardens.
The Porto region is where Portugal began as a country in the 12th century. Its mountainous and steep hilly slopes are dotted with the manor houses and castles of once important figures in Portugal’s history. The town of Guimarães, for example, was Portugal’s first capital and is where D. Afonso Henriques, the country’s founder and first king, was born. Cities such as Braga, Amarante and Bragança are also historically significant. Through the Minho area north of the city of Porto, rivers and nature reserves are abundant and offer hiking, climbing and other active sport opportunities. Granite from the mountains served as a prime building material for the Romanesque chapels and baroque churches found throughout this region.
The Port Wine Museum located in an 18th century warehouse where the wines of Companhia Geral da Agricultura das Vinhas do Alto Douro were once made and stored. This museum explores the commercial history of the city and its famous wine.
Cruise the Douro in Porto
Various companies in Porto run the Pontes (Bridges) cruise, a trip along the river Douro that provides a great way to see the northern capital. Leaving from Gaia, the hour-long tour offers a bit of the city’s history as revealed by its characteristic bridges.
The tour includes the Pênsil Bridge, inaugurated in 1843, and the Maria Pia Bridge, the first major work of Gustavo Eiffel. Next is the grandiose Luís I Bridge, designed by Teófilo Seyrig, Eiffel’s partner, before the Arrábida Bridge with its 270-metre span. The Arrábida was once the world record-holder for reinforced concrete bridges.
Along the Cais da Ribeira Riverfront in Porto, signs glowing across the water in Vila Nova de Gaia are those of port wine lodges, inviting visitors in for tastings and tours. The main port wine lodges are:
Sanderman (Largo Miguel Bombarda #3. 351- 223 740 500). Admission about 3 Euros)
Calem (Avenida Diogo Leite 25-42 351- 223 746 660).
Real Vinicola (Azevedo Magalhaes 314. 351- 223 775 100).
From the city of Porto to the border, the Douro River Valley is filled with picturesque sites. The town of Lamego is known for its many Baroque churches and monasteries. Modern hotels located in traditional cities like Lamego highlight the unique marriage between old world and contemporary architecture. Those looking for a trendy boutique hotel atmosphere should head to the Aquapura Hotel.
In the town of Pinhão, visitors can see a rustic, traditional vineyard experience. Tourists come to savor both the scenic vistas and the ample supply of local dishes and wine. The Quinta de Romaneira in Pinhão is a new luxury resort perched high above the Douro River on a beautiful wine estate. Casa de Casal de Loivos, a stunning manor house with spectacular views of the Douro valley, is another option. Visitors interested in the history of winemaking will enjoy this 17th century estate, surrounded by vineyards that visitors are welcome to explore.
Cruises in style up the Douro River
Douro Azul offers daily cruises that give visitors a chance to experience the monuments and estates of the Douro River Valley, while also making connections on land. The company also operates tow hotel ships, further operates two Hotel-Ships - the AltoDouro and the Invicta - both equipped with restaurant, bar and sun deck. They operate weeklong cruises that include, similar to the other programs, various excursions, meals in renowned restaurants or in Country Estate hotels and visits to various points of historical, beauty or cultural interest.
Douro Azul (www.douroazul.pt)
If you go….
Location: Southwestern Europe, bordering the North Atlantic Ocean, west of Spain. Six hours flight from U.S. East Coast to the mainland, or four hours flight to the Azores islands.
Climate: Portugal has a mild climate without extremes of temperature. Winters are pleasant, and summers are moderately hot. The North (Porto) has an Atlantic climate influenced by the Gulf Stream. The middle of the country (the Lisbon and the Beiras-Centro de Portugal Region) have gentle dry summers and short mild winters. Southern Portugal (the Alentejo and Algarve Regions) has a warm, dry Mediterranean climate without extremes of heat. The Madeira islands offer an inviting climate all year-round with temperatures around 70 degrees. The Azores islands also offer very mild weather moderated by the Atlantic’s maritime influence.
Population: 10,566,212 (July 2005 est. -about the same as the state of Pennsylvania).
Area: 35,672 square miles (about the same as the state of Maine – includes Azores and Madeira archipelagos ). Land: 35,502 sq mi; water: 170 sq mi. More than 350 miles of coastline.
Islands: The nine Azores islands in the mid-Atlantic are a four hours flight from Boston, at the same latitude as New England. Madeira’s two islands, 90 minutes south of Lisbon by air, are at the same latitude as Charleston, S.C.
Language: Portuguese (English is spoken throughout the country).
Time Zone: GMT - Five hours ahead of U.S. East Coast time in mainland Portugal and Madeira; the Azores are just four hours ahead of EST.
Currency: The unit of currency is the Euro (€). Most banks have automatic exchange machines (Multibanco). Most hotels will change money and charge a small extra amount to cover fluctuation exchange rates. All Portuguese banks accept traveler checks. Visa, Amex and MasterCard are the most accepted credit cards.
Getting There: Year-round flights are available from Boston (SATA/Azores Express). Flights from Boston also service Ponta Delgada on the Azores island of São Miguel and Lajes on the Azores island of Terceira (both SATA/Azores Express). www.sata.pt
Lodging: Hotels range the gamut, from humble hostels to 2, 3, 4, and 5 star options – not to mention bed and breakfasts, manor houses, historic hotels and resorts, urban hotels and apartment-hotels. The Pousadas de Portugal are very well appointed, special hotels usually located in historical sites or areas of unusual beauty, often inside restored monuments, castles or palaces. There are three distinct categories: regional Pousadas, Pousadas in historical areas and Pousadas in national monuments. A company called "Turismo no Espaço Rural" offers privately owned homes ranging from wonderful farmhouses to manor houses. There are many camping areas throughout the country that allow for an inexpensive holiday with close contact with nature.
Learn more: www.flytoazores.com