When we arrived to Porto, we knew we had a considerable amount to learn. Despite visiting this charming city for over a decade, our visits were typically part of conferences or press trips, and thus, focused on a certain set of restaurants, hotels and historical sites. Though it gives you a general sense of the city, it doesn’t give you an insider’s view of great places to visit.
So how do you visit a city?
The most common way is to jump in and explore on your own, to go rogue! Another option is to let the experts guide you on a few tours. When we sought out the second option, there wasn’t much on the table; especially when it came to walking tours that allowed us to really uncover the hidden gems. Hence, when I received an email one day from André Apolinário from Taste Porto Food Tours, I was excited to see what he was offering; which happened to be a lot!
Started by four friends united in their love of Porto they found a niche that wasn’t being filled: food. Porto has tours, tours of port wine lodges, old buildings and on big blue buses; but it was the food element that was missing. In fact, they dedicated so much time and energy into this project that Andre is in the process of leaving his civil engineering job so as to pursue this passion full time. I’m impressed by the effort they have put into planning and strategizing on how to build the best tours for people visiting Porto for the first time.
When I asked whether they were planning to offer tours beyond their current 3.5 hour tour of downtown, Andre confirmed they would be offering more, but it would take at least 2 months just to select the places to visit. In order to do it right, Andre needs the local’s support. “To add a shop to the tour is a process of first becoming a valued customer to the shop, and then eventually asking them [the shop] what they could offer to our tour”. For Andre, it’s about helping Porto grow as much as it’s about making his company successful: they are truly one in the same. The more Porto is a vibrant place to discover, the more people will come and spend their holidays here exploring this ancient culture.
So how was the tour? In one word: excellent! Why? In large part because Andre makes you feel like you belong from the first greeting to the last glass of wine. Over the course of approximately 3 hours, you visit roughly 6 locations depending on the time of year and what is open. The day I attended the tour, one shop was closed for vacation, but we still had a great time and I didn’t feel tired from walking or hungry, nor stuffed. Each shop offered pastries, sandwiches or other nibbles – small glimpses into the culinary culture of Portugal. Some places we had a glass of wine and even a taste of the local microbrew Sovina.
From all the places we visited on the tour, I had only frequented one previously; but even this provided a new experience as the dishes chosen were things I had never tried before. However, Flor dos Congregados was by far my favorite. We ate sandes terylene and drank sparkling wine. As a sandwich lover, this had it all: slow cooked pork loin topped with flavorful ham on a crunchy roll. Pure heaven. I’ve been there since and highly suggest a visit for their sandes (sandwiches).
Finally, while the tour is primarily focused on the food and wine, Andre goes out of his way to make it all encompassing, adding relevant information about Porto’s history, architecture and culture. As a now former civil engineer he has a fascination with buildings and cities in general. It’s very apparent that he loves the city of Porto and it comes through in the tour as we discover unique places that we might otherwise miss. From stopping us as we walk under a otherwise plain looking sidewalk overhang, and having us look up to see a surprise mosaic, to going out of the way to show us several interesting vistas of Porto, the tour was more than just a food experience, it’s love letter to Porto. For this reason, I highly recommend you check them out.
My parents recently booked a tour with Andre and had an amazing time. Here’s a bit of feedback from their experience:
Having fallen in love with Porto on a previous trip, it was so nice to get to know the city from a new perspective through our taste buds. The guide, André Apolinário, was knowledgable on all things Porto. The food stops were all different, all delicious and each introduced us to a traditional norther Portuguese food and drink. A must tour for anyone visiting Porto whether your first, second or even third trip.
If you happen to be in town, book a tour with Andre through his site and let him know Catavino sent you.
Tours are 5 days a week: Tues – Saturday, Rain or Shine. With two times: 10:30am (English) 4:00pm (Portuguese) - They are available for private tours and advice!