Profile of Oporto
Portugal's second biggest city, Oporto ("Porto" in Portuguese) is the capital of Portugal's most
famous wine region - Port. It is home to most of the Port lodges (where the wines are aged after
vinification in the wineries along the Douro further inland), located in Vila Nova de Gaia and is
located magnificently on the banks of the great Douro River. Oporto is well known for its
characteristic sailboats, the "Barcos Rabelos", which used to ship Port downstream from the
vineyards. The journey was actually quite dangerous, but even despite the introduction of the
Port train in the late 1800's, the Barcos Rabelos continued to be used for transporting Port
until the 1960's. These days, the famous boats are used for an annual race, held in Oporto in
June every year.
Oporto is a town of contradictions- still very poor by European standards and yet full of some
unidentifiable charm that seduces the visitor. The river is lined with great, non-pretentious seafood
restaurants, where traditional dishes like "Tripas" (tripe) and "Ameijoas" (clams) are served in the
boisterous bars and cafes. The city has a tremendous amount of atmosphere, with narrow, steep, winding
lanes; old trams; beautifully tiled and deteriorating facades; and a bizarre blend of mom and pop shops
rubbing elbows with elegant new shops, overcrowded and happily noisy neighborhoods falling into
opulent suburbs full of villas and luxuriant gardens. The main attractions architecturally are the Sé
cathedral, 13th century cathedral renovated in the 18th century and located on the hill above Oporto's
historic São Bento train station. You can climb the Renaissance epoch stairs, which lead you to a
chapterhouse, and provide stunning views over the old quarter. The Igreja de São Francisco is another
extraordinary church with a Gothic exterior and decadent gilded Rococo interior. The Stock exchange,
A Bolsa, is also an impressive building, constructed in the 19th century in an array of styles including
a neoclassic façade and Moorish interior.
What most visitors come to Oporto for, however, is not only for the city itself, rather the city's
biggest export- Port. From the old town of Oporto, you only have to cross the Ponte Dom Luis I
bridge to reach the fantastic old port lodges, many of them dating back to the late 1700's. Some of the
port lodges are located in transformed monasteries, like the Ferreira lodge (a port company founded
in 1715). Ferreira is in fact one of the most fascinating lodges to visit along with the historic
Sandeman (also housing a museum), Graham and Calém.
Gastronomy and Wine
As the rest of Portugal, Oporto's cuisine is heavily based on fish and seafood. Dishes you will
commonly see on restaurant menus can include "arroz de marisco" (seafood with rice), "bacalhau
assado no forno" (cod roasted in the oven), "bacalhau à Bras" (cod fried with egg, potatoes &
onions), "caldeirada", (fish stew popular all over Portugal and lovely with the Vinho Verde wines)
and "açorda de marisco" (seafood mix served with fresh bread). You'll also find "cavala"
(mackerel), "cherne" (stone bass), "enguias" (eels, and acquired taste), "linguado" (sole)
"polvo" (octopus, sometimes served with paprika and quite nice with White Port), "raia" (skate,
delicious) and the ever-present "sardinhas". Port is served more as an aperitif, with cheese
and as a dessert wine, although White Port is commonly drunk throughout a meal. The wonderful
zippy white wines from further north, bordering Spain's Galicia, accompany the seafood perfectly.
Vinho Verde (Green Wine) actually refers to the wine being "young", and the wines can be very
fresh and aromatic.
Romantic River Cruises
The best way to see the city is from the river, by private
yacht or cruise boat. There are many different companies offering half-day, full-day and
even weekend long trips into Port wine country up to Pinhao. Many of them provide gourmet
lunches and Port aperitifs onboard.
Wine Tasting at Port Lodges
All of the prestigious port wine companies have lodges in
Vila Nova de Gaia including Ramos Pinto, Fonseca, Taylors, Warres, Dows, Sandeman, Ferreira,
Delaforce, Croft, Cockburns, Offley, and Quinta do Noval, Kopke, Rozès and Osbourne.
By Jennifer Drapisch