We were in Portugal 18 months ago, but didn’t have time to visit Porto (spent most of it in wine country…we do have our priorities!). This time we planned three days in Porto, with two in Douro, and five in Lisbon. And we fell in love with Porto.
Porto is charming and laid-back. A wonderful reprieve from other fast-paced, museum packed European cities. Take a deep breath and enjoy the beautiful views of the Rio Douro from a stroll across the Dom Luis I Bridge and the Foz Seaside, admire the beach landscape on the city’s western coast and enjoy the liveliness of the UNESCO World Heritage Ribeira District.
Ahhh, and drinking, get ready to sip and drink your way through Vila Nova de Gaia to taste the region’s famed port at its finest wine lodges. There are also some historic and cultural sites to visit: Porto Cathedral, Sao Bento Railway Station, and Clerigos Tower. And don’t forget to visit the Livraria Lello Book Store that was the inspiration for Harry Potter.
- Intercontinental – I don’t usually stay at large chain hotels, but a travel buddy highly recommended the hotel and we gave it a try. What a surprise! It seemed like a small, boutique hotel. The staff was extremely friendly and accommodating, the upgraded room was beautiful, and the breakfast (that was included) was great. Would definitely recommend it.
It is hard to spend more than 60-70 Euros for a great dinner with wine (bottle and 1/2)! Easily dinners like this back in NYC would cost upward of $200.
- Mistu – R. do Comercio do Porto 161 – The first thing that catches your eye as you enter the restaurant is the big black and white photograph of a topless model inside this Parisian style brasserie. It is hard to imagine this once was an old locksmith workshop. The food is Portuguese/Asian/ South-American fusion and quite good and creative. But service was off a bit. Our main course arrived while we were still eating our appetizers and same with dessert. Had to ask them to bring them back to the kitchen until we were ready (though they did apologize).
- Cantina 32 – R. das Flores 32 – This is where the young, hip, and stylish people eat. So great people watching while you are enjoying the delicious food. Read about this restaurant from a NYT’s article “There are two rules to follow when dining at Cantina 32, a bistro on Porto’s popular pedestrian street, do not refuse the bread, and order the cheesecake. Start with the bread basket, which costs extra. After dipping the warm wheat roll in banana butter, I had to resist the urge to wave over the waitress for more.” For dessert “Heads turned when a small clay pot — complete with what looked like dirt and a sprout of thyme — was delivered from the kitchen. It was only when I dipped my spoon into the dirt — actually Oreo cookie crumble — that I unearthed a creamy banana filling, a clever ruse for a dessert disguised as a plant.” Our waiter was great. He told us to change our original order and made recommendations that turned out to be some of the best food we had in Porto (ya gotta try the squid appetizer!).
- Adega de S. Nicolau – R. de São Nicolau 1 – Our favorite restaurant in Porto. I had actually picked another restaurant for this evening but the owners Mother passed away and they closed the restaurant. The hotel concierge took it on himself to make these reservations and tracked us down to confirm we were OK with it. What a great recommendation, we loved everything about it, the casual atmosphere, the delicious food, and very friendly service. And you felt like you were eating inside a wine barrel!
There may not be a more beautiful wine country. There are breathtaking views of the wineries, with the vines surrounding them and the almond and mimosa trees in bloom (the hills were filled with pink and bright yellow blooms), all flowing into the Douro River.
- Hotel Quinta do Vallado – we stayed at this small wine hotel / vineyard last trip and enjoyed the beautiful grounds, friendly service, and attractive rooms. You can stay in the Manor House, once belonging to Dona Antónia Adelaide Ferreira (look this amazing woman up!), built in 1733 or the new building. Last trip we stayed in the new building and this time the Manor House. Manor House, recently renovated, wins hands down. The estate has a swimming pool and great hikes. We did the three trails as well as the free wine tour and tastings the day we relaxed at the hotel without any activities planned. Have your dinners here also as the price quality is unbeatable.
- Oporto and Douro Moments – used Ana & Marco again, as they develop individual tours, tailored to your taste (and we loved them last visit). Just as wonderful this time around. We had a guided visit of Quinta de S. Jose including a Vineyard Safari in the middle of the steep Douro terraces (plus a wine tasting). This is a fairly new vineyard, owned by a lovely husband and wife team (the wife and her winemaker hosted us for the visit). Very enjoyable and loved their wines. Then off to Quinto da Gricha (Churchill Wines) with a guided tour, a delicious private lunch cooked by the owner chef, and a wine tasting.
Was great to return to Lisbon and we immediately felt at home (as well as got our exercise climbing up the seven hills daily). There are lots of sights to see (view my previous post for sights, day trips, and other tips) but take time to stroll and capture the real essence of the city (like the street art below). Writing below on restaurants, bars, and Fado (which we hadn’t listened to on our previous trip).
- Hotel Avenida Palace – stayed a the same hotel as last visit but would try a new one next trip. It is a charming old hotel, in a good location, but be careful of the rooms you choose as some were under, or awaiting, renovation.
Hard not to eat well in Lisbon. We only had one mediocre meal as the restaurant we wanted was closed for renovations and didn’t have the time to do the research on the one the hotel recommended instead.
- Loco – without a doubt my favorite restaurant, and not just in Lisbon. Dined there last year and so glad I decided to return, and on our first night. What a great welcome back (they actually remembered us from 18 months ago). We had such a delicious dinner made even more enjoyable by their friendly service and the restaurants relaxing atmosphere. The size of the central open kitchen compared to the 22-seat dining room that surrounds it—the kitchen is bigger—reveals how complicated the dishes are. Chef Alexandre Silva and his team turn out small, seasonal tasting menus that are as visually wonderful as they are delicious. You get a choice of 14 or 18 “moments” that might be served on a bento box filled with moss or in a distillation flask spilling out aromatic steam. This is a must, one time splurge, in Lisbon.
- Trobadores – the restaurant we booked for the evening, Prado, was closed when we arrived (even though they confirmed with our hotel). Never did find out what the issue was…but we passed a “tavern” on the way that was packed with young people and seemed very vibrant. So we relied on our instinct and glad we did, it was a very pleasant evening! Trobadores is actually a beer bar, with many varieties on tap, but of course they had wine (small but interesting selection). They had lots of small bites on the menu and with the help of the very friendly staff, we had a great meal also (and the crostini was plated so beautifully that my husband posted it on Instagram).
- Pap Acorda Mercado da Ribeira – SKIP this one. Great location above the Mercado, but food, atmosphere, and service were all under par.
- Sacramento – We also did a last minute switch this evening as the restaurant I previously had booked was not within walking distance, and we love to stroll to dinner and back. But we weren’t disappointed. It was a bright, contemporary restaurant, cafe & bar, with a Portuguese menu in an 18th-century palace stable.
- See Me – also a return visit and still enjoyed the fresh seafood and friendly, lively service. See my previous post for more info.
- Time Out Mercado – eat anywhere at this great food hall, especially the Michelin star Chef’s booths so you can experience their cooking at a ridiculously low cost.
Bars and Fado
- Portologia Lisboa, La Maison des Porto – Passed by this great looking Port store and had to stop in for a glass (actually did so on two nights). It was small, charming, and beyond friendly. Owned by one of the small Port producers in Douro and specializing in, as you would guess, Port tastings. A great place to land after dinner.
- Hotel Do Chado Rooftop Bar – This Panoramic Bar has the most impressive views of Lisbon. Especially at night when the hills, and castle, are fully lit up. And the drinks are excellent.
- Fado – you have to try it once. The musicians were very talented and the music itself was lovely and soulful, but the singing a bit too dramatic for me.
All I can say is visit Portugal NOW before it is overrun by tourists (quite a few already and everyone I talk to has this on there travel list) and the prices start going up as in other parts of Europe.