A Room with a View – Porto or the Douro Valley?

Fiona Maclean discovers the romantic side of this beautiful part of Portugal

Fish fixe exterior 2

Fish Fixe

Fish Fixe - rice - Porto

Rice at Fish Fixe

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Villa Nova de Gaia

Station Porto

Porto Station

Station - details of wall frieze

Porto Station - details of wall frieze

Lallo Bookshop Porto

Lello Bookshop

Bookshop Lello in Porto Interior

Lell Bookshop

Palacio da Bolsa Porto hallway

Palacio da Bolsa hallway

Palacio Da Bolsa Arab Room

Palacio Da Bolsa Arab Room

Porto Serralves Foundation 2

Porto Serralves Foundation

Vintage Tram Porto

Vintage Tram Porto

Porto Classico - 2

Porto Classico

Porto - river cruise

Porto - river cruise

Porto at Night from Porto Cruz

Porto at Night from Porto Cruz

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Douro Valley

What makes some places seem so intrinsically romantic that even a die-hard singleton like me starts looking for her Mr Darcy? I used to think it was all about association – about having been somewhere with that ‘right person’ even if they did turn out to be just ‘right at the time’. Latterly though, I’ve come to the conclusion that for me some places ooze romance from the seams like honey. Visiting Porto for the first time recently was a good example. I wasn’t with a significant other – and yet, I couldn’t escape the romance of Portugal’s second city.

I’d expected somewhere dominated by port wine – and while that is true if you visit Vila Nova de Gaia on the South bank of the river, the main city is a beautiful historic place with a host of other attractions.

Stroll down the Cais de Ribeira to get a feel for the City. It’s a charming riverside walk lined with restaurants and cafes. Fish Fixe when I dined, has particularly splendid view across the river to the port houses of Vila Nova de Gaia. The food is excellent too, with a focus on local delicacies and of course, fish!

Porto is a city full of beauty. Even the São Bento Railway Station in Porto is somewhere worth spending some time. The interior is covered in Azulejos, the painted blue and white tiles that you can find throughout Portugal. Here though rather than a church or mansion, the setting is a Grand Tour style railway station and the tiles depict a series of important Portuguese conquests!

Wander around the downtown part of Porto and you can visit the book shop which is said to have inspired J K Rowland when she was writing the Harry Potter books. Livraria Lello is a stunning gothic revival creation, with winding staircases and intricately painted wood and plasterwork and is known as the third most beautiful bookshop in the world.

And, Palácio da Bolsa (the Stock Exchange) is another example of what you might miss if you spend too much time port tasting. A spectacular building through, the seminal work of Gustavo Adolfo Gonçalves e Sousa is the ‘Arab Room’. Built between 1862 and 1880 in the Moorish Revival style, if making money can in any way be linked with romance, this is a good example. It’s one of those places where you just need to look up.

You shouldn’t miss a visit to the Contemporary Art Museum of Serralves. Apart from being one of Portugal’s leading cultural institutions, it’s a stunning site housing some amazing contemporary artwork. The Museum itself was designed by Alvaro Siza after the revolution but the beautiful gardens designed by Jacques Greber are worth exploring too. And there’s Serralves Villa itself, a unique Art Deco building designed by Charles Siclis and João Gomes da Silva which houses temporary exhibitions. The estate also has a farm which specialises in heritage breeds!

Although there’s a timeless feel to the estate, the museum was only created after the state acquisition of the land in 1986 and building of the museum itself started in 1992. It was opened in 1999 and is now the most visited museum in Portugal.

A city with a river does have a certain advantage. Particularly if it is the winding estuary of the Douro, promising port and other wines from further upstream. At night, the river becomes a stunning mirror for the city lights, from one side of the river you’ll see the bridges and the old city, from the other the Port Houses, many now with fine restaurants and lively bars.

You can even stay in one of the Port Houses – at the Yeatman for example, now a luxury wine hotel set in landscaped garden overlooking the Douro where you can treat yourself to a Caudelie wine spa treatment or relax, enjoy the fine dining and take a night time dip in the rooftop pool with beautiful views over the river.

Getting around Porto is easy. Much of the city is accessible on foot, or you can use one of Porto’s old trams to travel more swiftly. Tramline number one will take you along the riverfront so that you can stop off at several historic sites en-route including the tram museum and the Arrabida Bridge.

Or, for a personal tour, why not book a trip with Classico Porto who offer car tours of the city and surrounds in a range of vintage cars, each with their own driver

Of course, this is the perfect place for a romantic river cruise and you have the choice of a short cruise under the six Douro bridges from the Marina upstream to the centre of Porto itself or a full day or if you want to escape the city to take a longer cruise along the Douro to the Port Mansions and vineyards.

Some of the old mansions are now converted into boutique hotels. What could be better than waking up looking out over the vine covered slopes of the Douro from a hotel like Quinta da Pacheca Wine House Hotel.

Explore the stunning towns and cities of the area like Amarante and discover some of the best of Portuguese wine in the Vinho Verde region which surrounds Porto. Hotel Monverde is a wine experience hotel where you can learn more about Portuguese wines or just indulge in wine based spa treatments like their signature Divine Grapes body ritual, using the antioxidant properties of grapes to exfoliate before a red grape skin body wrap and a red vine leaf oil massage.

Or perhaps take a few days to stay in Amarante itself. Like much of Portugal this region has some wonderful properties which were originally stately homes and where you can now stay as a guest. Casa da Calcada is a great example, a luxury hotel in Amarante, built in the Baroque style in the sixteenth century as one of the main palaces of the Earl of Redondo. At the beginning of the twentieth century the palace became an important meeting place for politicians and intellectuals and the owner, António do Lago Cerqueira, was one of the most important lead politicians of the First Republic. The property was completely refurbished in 2001 to become a 5-star hotel

For me, this part of Portugal is the perfect setting for a honeymoon or an anniversary trip. Stunning historic buildings, a fascinating heritage, excellent food and wine and beautiful countryside. Now, I just need to find someone who shares my passion for Portugal!

For more information about Northern Portugal check their website

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