|Subject: Portugal 2003 Trip Report - North of the Douro & Porto|
- North of the Douro and Porto --
We had not planned on visiting this area until prompted by ZINERs and were ever so glad that we included these wonderful towns in our travels. By this time, tho, weather was becoming colder so we both opted not to linger so that we could extend our stay in the Algave by another week.
Easy parking around Sao Goncalo Cathedral (just peaked in due to many repairs underway) made it convenient to walk across the famed stone bridge with built in circular seats#very unique! At the other end was the fanciest coffee house we've ever been to (Confeitaria da Ponte) with crystal chandeliers/candles/flowers creating an elegant scene.. The young owner is everpresent and was delighted with our compliments. It even has an outside balcony along a riverside which makes for a very relaxing atmosphere! And,to top it all off, the pastries were outstanding as well!
What an interesting town with an esplanade down the center, both sides of which featured shops#great walking around the historic
square with each building sporting a different balcony style on attached row houses. Various monuments tell the history and we happened upon Restaurante Paraxut in Centro Historico which, again, is a Must Stop! Good food, atmosphere and decent prices as well# but the setting is what does it amidst the old history.
BRAGA --(A Must if we return to the area)
A drive thru colorful Lixa, tiled houses, brought us to Braga,
our favorite to date..closed cobblestoned shopping arcades with
high end stores and the most modern ever circular McDonald's
building we've seen. We entered just for kicks and were sur- prised to see that a separate coffee counter was set up for
expressos and bicas (little cofee) which apparently are served
directly to your table by the hostess#a novel approach for McD!
We spent hours just walking thru and enjoying the gardens in town and the many gyrating fountains.
We were disappointed to miss dining across from our centrally
located Hotel IBIS at Restaurante Velhas Tempos, extremely small and quaint but no space was open#so, again, next time.
BARCELOS --(Another Must, if we get back)
Has generous and gratis gardens right in the center of town at Park das Baracas; many groundskeepers were sweeping the walks, weeding
and maintaining the sculptured bushes # gardenias in bloom # really a beautiful sight to behold, set behind a stone statuted surrounding
Just a step above is the main shopping arcade, Rua Direita, where (upon recommendation from a policeman) we found Restaurante Dom Antonio and enjoyed the Very Best Ever calde verde and the Very Best Ever codfish cakes with rice and beans. So popular is their cuisine that a long take-out line forms and we were able to watch and visit with the female cooks who were thrilled at our interest.
Complete with a small carafe of wine and delicious bread, the bill came to an unbelievable 10E. Again, A Must for anyone in the area# for the quality, not the price.
Altho the city is famed as the origin of the Legend of the
Barcelos Cock, they were not evident in the many souvenier and tourist shops.
VARZIM - VILA da CONDE # MATSINHOS
Small towns along the beach on the way to Porto were drive#bys since the Casino did not open until 3pm.
PORTO and VILA NOVA da GAIA
A major mistake arriving#or trying to#on a busy Friday afternoon with the worst traffic tie-up on the highway. Trying to avoid
it, we bypassed our direct route and got totally and completely
lost in the Porto Foz and Boa Vista areas; one insistent truck
driver was parked half into the narrow street trying to enourage us thru which was an impossibility#it took many appeals and hard looks to finally get him to move that darn thing out of
the way so that traffic could get by, but by then it was so
confusing that we missed finding where we wanted to go; finally we did locate Pensao Portofoz on a crowded hill with inch parking of cars, at which point we looked at one another and decided to get going#and fast. Another story now trying to
locate Hotel IBIS which we knew was on the Gaia side and we
assumed near the Port Wine Lodges#you know the story, if you
Assume. Again, after many requests for directions in , all sending us off the wrong way, we stopped and asked a fellow
parked by the side of the river. He must have taken pity on
the frustrated looks on our faces so he decided to actually
drive there and had us follow him up, up and around; else, we
might still be there today!
Later that rainy evening, our ZINE friend Ricardo Correia Duarte brought his lovely wife Paula and adorable son Goncalo to the hotel lobby where we enjoyed a cordial meeting and visit - The Wonderful World of The Travelzine!
We really didn't get to see much of Porto except driving up and down its hills; so much construction was going on that
we chose to hold off for a future visit.
It's a long story, but we finally did get to the Ribeira (riverside), colorfully landscaped with several Rabelo boats
( which cargoed port wine in days gone past) moored alongside
as a tourist attraction.
Port Wine Lodges are closed for siesta time, so be certain to
schedule visits appropriately; a modest fee is charged which
can be applied to purchases after the tastings. We opted for the Ferreira lodge tour since we had seen so many of their vineyards in the Douro Valley (and besides, it has a Portuguese
name # ah, gotta support my countrymen!) vs. Sandeman, Offley,
Taylor, Calem, Graham, etc#tho we later learned that Ferreira
and the first two are part of an English conglomerate! But, we stopped to see the actual Sandeman in the salesroom later.
The tour was very informative and interesting, starting with
the history of the area, grape growing, manufacturing and the works; highly recommended; a great day would be to hit three or four of the rooms#then go out to a fine dinner to soak it all up!