Editor’s Note: Although our fly by night contributing writer, Adrienne Smith, has been busy doing what she does best, changing hats, we’ve managed to get her fleeting and rather romantic impressions of her recent visit to Porto. Porto, located just across the Douro River from Vila Nova de Gaia, is not only the second largest city in Portugal, but has also been recognized by UNESCO as a World Heritage site. A dozen sites in Portugal have been added to the World Heritage List, the most recent being the Landscape of the Pico Island Vineyard Culture in 2004.
I’ve been away for a month, exactly. A month filled with wine presentations, tasting classes, bobbing for apples (not really), working full time and achieving stiffer penalties for parole violators. And somewhere sandwiched right in the middle, I managed to escape to Porto, Portugal (sigh) city, a deliciously lovely city in the north of Portugal.
If I had a gun to my head forcing me to rate countries in terms of their national cuisine, Portugal would be right up near the top of my list. If I had to rate cities in terms of just sheer breathless romanticism and staggering drama, Porto would outrank most that I’ve ever visited. It is a city graced with the wide and elegant avenues typical to more northern European cities, but then interwoven with winding streets that cascade carelessly down from hilltop monuments. There are charmingly blackened and sometimes rundown buildings that seem perched almost haphazardly amongst the maze of streets, glints of brightly colored tiles in cherry and emerald tones, and intricately painted wedgewood blue designs. There are clotheslines winding like colorful flags though the building facades. There is an area near the cathedral that feels almost like a fishing village, its windy narrow streets have flowerpots, open doors shrouded in threadbare curtains, delicious aromas of food (maybe because it was lunchtime when I happened upon it), and the occasional Virgin complete with lit candles stuck into an unassuming corner. And just when you think you are in the middle of a charmingly sleepy town, you happen upon the clean and stark lines of a modern architectural masterpiece, a photography museum or a reformed apartment building and incredibly majestic bridges.
And then there is the Douro; glistening, wide and churning away of its own free will, independent of everything else and breathing life into the city as it rushes by as though completely unconcerned by it. Someone told me that this is what every city needs, a thing with a life completely of its own.
There are the famous Port wines, and fresh fish (typically cod); plates of deep green leafy sauteed vegetables, softly boiled potatoes, and minced golden flecks of baked garlic. Crisp, refreshing Vinhos Verdes – slightly sparkling – and deep fruity reds made of grapes with wonderfully difficult to pronounce names. Portuguese coffee is one of the best in the world, and cheap!
And when the sun comes out and the city is laid out before you, there is no place like it in the world.