A flagon of Porto

Trip Start Jun 29, 2005
Trip End Nov 30, 2009

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Wednesday, July 5, 2006

After the joys of The Algarve I'm taking a keen interest in this little country on the edge of Europe, so I couldn't resist sneaking a visit to Porto in the north - second largest city here and the spiritual home of the opportunistically-invented fortified wine called 'Port'.

Those who know me well can attest to my penchant for a tipple, and on occassion (usually after a long, boozy lunch) my appreciation of this fine, solid form of wine. So with half a day to spare I set my mind to finding some traditional Port 'caves' as well as taking a peek at the old part of town.

Sitting on a gentle curve in the Douro River, Porto has built itself tall on the steep slopes north of the water. Much of the development has a vertigo-inducing feel - towering but thin and looming over those wandering or cruising on the broad, deep river below. Numerous bridges that span the water are of similar dimension and add to the dizzying effect.

Inside the old town many of the buildings are showing distinct signs of age but those on the water are an attractive and well kept lot, teeming with tourists mainly but lending the waterfront a good summer buzz. Rowers and strange large river boats, once used for river cargo but now generally filled with groups doing river or wine tours, make for a very pleasant indeed.

On my only night in town I got lucky and found an excellent, cheap little restaurant on the waterfront and chowed down on a regional specialty - Roast Kid. Turns out that it's roasted goat and believe me, these lanky critters are a lot tastier than they look when munching garbage on the side of the road in most places I've been this trip. Whilst savouring that taste sensation Italy smashed two goals in with minutes to spare of extra time against Germany (boo hoo, you're breakin' m heart) and after great food topped with wine, beer and a tasty port and I wobbled home past some interestingly lit architecture.

Now with only a few hours to spare I set my mind to the task at hand, charging up the well sign-posted hill on the southern bank of the river. This is where the port producers have long had their warehouses and bottling facilities, and these days the skyline is filled with bold Hollywood-style signage advertising the locations of the various wine caves.

Through well-kept laneways I eventually came across Taylor's, a recognised and reputable brand whose first commercial activities can be traced back to 1692. Their grounds are stately and magnificent and even include a resident peacock that you might be able to make out in one picture above (Where's Wally?). Whilst waiting for the cave tour I had a taste of a pretty bitter 'White Port' which is understandably not so popular elsewhere in the world, then paid for a glass of their 20 year old Tawny Port - a much better option.

Port came about through war long ago. Due to internecine conflict on the continent at that time, Britain increased the taxes on French wines so traders were forced to seek cheaper alternative sources - very fortunate for the neighbouring Portuguese. Unfortunately their wine didn't travel well over the extra distance, so pure grape spirit was added to their wines to 'fortify' them. Not only did they make the distance, but were stronger and sweeter than typical wines which also appealed to British palates. Porto has been the home to this method and formula ever since.

Some of the bizarre old Taylor's bottles were very interesting, dating to early in the 18th century. However the 'port caves' that I came to see were a bit disappointing. I only got to check two (Taylor's and Offley's) but neither were caves as such, just big, dark warehouse spaces much like other large wine distillation cellars elsewhere in the world. Oh well. Maybe there are some actual cave cellars about but I ran out of time to find them. Still, a good quick plonk stop as I head northwards towards home.

From here it is back to Spain on an overnight train destined for San Sebastian and Basque country. Unfortunately I'll miss the game to see whether Portugal goes through to the World Cup Finals. However if all goes well I'll hear about it anyway and then catch up with New Orlean's Chris, met for the first time in Yangon and then by completely random accident in Athens, to see the 'running of the bulls' in Pamplona a few days hence. Maybe we'll find some accommodation, maybe not, but it certainly should be an adventure either way! Tune in for it next time...

Next entry -> Pamplona and San Fermine (The Running of the Bulls)

Newly discovered - never explored

Garden of eden found in West Papua, Indonesia.
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technotrekker on

Re: Portugal vs France
Sure is mate and I was surprised as you about France. Happy Portuguese and many a sad Brazilian wandering around on the same night!

Will be hanging in here til the 9th so you certainly hear from me as things progress.

Til then,

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