Home Of Port Wine

Trip Start Aug 06, 2011
Trip End Oct 06, 2013

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Where I stayed
Casa do Patio

Flag of Portugal  , Northern Portugal,
Sunday, January 27, 2013

With the success of our London Brazilian Embassy venture we were left with the question of how to get to Brazil from Europe? I'm sure there's quite a few options but it seemed to make sense to head for the Portuguese colonial capital of Lisbon which still has a good number of flights heading to its' former South American property. And just to be consistent, there was no point in taking the direct route to Lisbon so we booked a flight to Porto for no other reason than it's the home of port wine. In the two weeks we were in London we did absolutely zero research on Portugal, booked a flight and a hotel, and hoped we could figure it out on the fly.

At least we thought we booked a hotel. Turns out it was a bit of a furnished studio apartment in a great location. And in another first, at the airport we were picked up by one of the two owners using his family vehicle- under the guise of giving us a choice he showed us a number of the rooms that make up his burgeoning real estate empire. I'm not sure I would have picked this type of accommodation if I had done a little more due diligence, but I'm sure glad we ended up here (and with the small kitchen, DH was able to flex her cooking muscles once again- unaided by cookbooks, she put together a couple of crackerjack dinners of Cheerios and milk- that kind of talent just can't be taught). Right in the middle of the very atmospheric old town of Porto we were living in a very traditional space- if DH and I had honed our sardine identification skills we could have passed for locals.

In addition to being the home of port (I can't help but think of the two pompous brothers sipping port while holding the glass stem with their pinkies out on that sitcom Frazier), Porto is known as the industrial centre of Portugal, but I think that's a bit unkind.- the area of town we wandered around was quintessential old Europe. You can almost imagine the birth and expansion of the imperial city of Porto as you huff and puff your way up and down the hills which surround the waterfront area. The many castles, forts, cathedrals and churches occupy the strategic high points and the town has crammed into the subservient spaces below, and with that space at a premium, there are no detached homes or buildings- you almost get the sense that if just one building crumbled, the entire city might topple over like some sort of real life game of domino’s. As much as London had a sparkling, almost bleached look to it, Porto looks very lived in (unfortunately a couple of escapee spray painters from Carol C’s neighbourhood in Melbourne seem to have made their way here) but it’s the old town views from the other side of the river that are a true highlight of any visit here. And to get to the other side you have to cross a bridge that looks like a horizontal Eiffel Tower (no surprise to learn that this feat of wrought iron engineering was designed by Gustave Eiffel).  By sheer coincidence, the other side of the river is also where you get the many free glasses of Port from the numerous brewing facilities located here.

Port wine (also known as Porto, and often simply port) is a Portuguese fortified wine produced exclusively in the northern provinces of Portugal.  It is typically a sweet, red wine, often served as a dessert wine though it also comes in dry, semi-dry, and white varieties (which turned out to be my favourite). Under European Union Protected Designation of Origin guidelines, only the product from Portugal may be labelled as port or Porto- much of the rest of the world is a little more flexible in what qualifies as evidenced by the port I had at a slightly run-down Cambodian winery last year. Until 1986 official port wine could only be exported from Portugal from Vila Nova de Gaia near Porto. In days gone by, the wine was taken downriver in flat-bottom boats called 'barcos rabelos', to be processed and stored, however, in the 1950s and 1960s several hydroelectric power dams were built along the river, ending this traditional conveyance down the river. Port became very popular in England after 1703, when war with France deprived English wine drinkers of French wine (an early form of collateral damage?). The continued English involvement in the port trade can be seen in the names of the many port shippers: Cockburn, Croft, Dow, Gould, Graham, Osborne, Offley, Sandeman, Taylor and Warre, that you can see along the waterfront.  In the UK, the military at formal dinners use port as a wine to toast the Queen (with my Princess not indulging, I was able to toast her a number of times with the free samples).

After sobering up, we looked at renting a car in Portugal to make our way to the many small towns that we had wanted to visit, but the internet seemed to be full of horror stories with respect to Portuguese driving skills so we immediately decided against it (and when I say we, I of course mean DH- she was adamant that we not drive which was a bit of a surprise because since she wasn’t driving and had lost her navigating job to a GPS unit early in our Australian adventures, her only role has been to do the Queens wave at locals on the street as we drive by). Our hosts in Porto passionately insisted that Portuguese drivers were as good at driving as their national team was at soccer (although this did invoke images of Portuguese drivers rolling around on the payment with fake injuries at just a hint of contact??). We found a super price on a thimble-sized car and squeezed our backpacks in- we were ready to take on the winding cobblestone mazes that are a key feature of all older towns in Portugal.
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CarolC on

Good to hear we aren't the only ones with spray paint artists (I use the artist term loosely!).

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