We are attending a conference in Porto, Portugal for a few days. Even though we will be spending time in meetings and other functions, we are determined to see as much of this lovely city as we can.
We had been in Madrid, so the flight on Portugália Airlines was a short one, and we land early in the day.
A short taxi ride and we arrive at the Sheraton Porto Hotel & Spa, a beautiful hotel made even more beautiful when we are offered a glass of port on check-in. It’s not even 9:00am, but, we’re in Porto, right?
Our room is on the Club Floor and we discover there is a club room open 7-24 with snacks and — you guessed it — port. This is better than we expected!
Forte de São Francisco do Queijo
One of the first adventures is a trip to Forte de São Francisco do Queijo (which sounds much more elegant than its English translation, the Fort of Saint Francis of Cheese). We hike through the city to the fort, an easy 45-minute walk.
The Atlantic Ocean washes up against the fort, the thick stones resisting centuries of erosion. Plants find life in the tiny spaces between the stones.
There are a number of rooms decorated in 19th century style. In its time, I’m sure the room was filled with smoke from oil lamps.
There are a number of rooms displaying period pieces, including this early 1900’s firearm cabinet.
There are few other visitors to the fort. The smell of the sea and the sounds of gulls are in the air. We hike throughout the fort, imagining what it must have been like to withstand a naval bombardment behind these walls, hoping the thickness of the tons of stone will protect from the iron projectiles launched from ships.
Cannons overlook the ocean, a once-deadly weapon now rusted by the ocean air. In an earlier era, this fort was a fearsome display of Portugal’s authority. Today, it’s a marvelous example of human architectural ingenuity and the grace that can be wrought even from military might.
The day is beautiful, and we walk south along the beach until we reach Farolim de Felgueiras, a lighthouse that is located at the tip of the jetty. The breeze is gentle and warm.
We stop at a small café for a snack … then realize it’s getting late, and we’re not exactly sure how to get back. So we ask, “Pardon, do you speak English?” Eventually we find someone, who calls a taxi for us. 🙂
Casa da Música
A good night’s sleep, the meetings are finished, and it’s time to visit Case da Música.
You can’t miss the building. “Look for something that looks like nothing you’ve ever seen before.” Before entering, we walk around the exterior; everywhere we find surprises.
Will the inside be as interesting as the outside?
Yup, there is nothing ordinary in the Case da Música. We walk down the hallways just because we want to find out what will happen at the other end.
Around each corner is another place of wonder. Dr. Seuss would have loved this place.
The lighting is unique. We descend, holding the railing, extending our necks to peer around the curved walls.
We can’t even guess what this room is used for.
We find a mural made of azulejo, which is a tin-glazed ceramic tilework, lighted with only natural lighting.
This is just a small sample of the wonders found in the House of Music. In fact, there are seven floors, each built for a different purpose and with a different theme. We’ve been here for a while now, and it’s time for our next adventure.
We’re in Porto, so let’s visit a winery. We select Sandeman Winery, not only because it’s famous, but because we can see the winery from our side of the river.
We walk across the bridge and approach the winery. It looks more like a warehouse than a tasting room, and we’re not sure if we should enter. A workman who is casually watching us calls us over and explains that, indeed, there is a tasting room, but first we must take the tour.
Sandeman’s logo features a caped man (named Don) dressed in a Portuguese student’s cape and a wide Spanish hat. Our guides give us the tour.
True Port wine, we are told, is made only in the Douno valley from hand-picked grapes. The grapes are put in wide, open-top fermenting tanks made of granite. The grapes are crushed (the process takes up to three days), then transferred to a second fermenting tank where they continue to ferment until the optimal sugar level is reached. At this time, the fermentation is stopped by the addition of spirits. Most Port producers use about 30% brandy to reach the legal minimum of 17.5 ABV.
Our guide tells us that, legally, all Port wines must be aged for a minimum of 2 years before release. Even then, it’s illegal for a Port producer to sell more than 30% of their vintage; meaning, Port wine producers are legally “encouraged” to age their wines for extended periods of time.
Finally, we go to the tasting room. Our hosts bring us tastes of Port wine varying in price, from least expensive to most. It is only the most expensive that I think I will remember: it rolls across my tongue and down my throat like warm honey, a mixture of flavors and sensations that are new to me. I don’t have the vocabulary to adequately describe it and, unfortunately, I don’t have the $200 to purchase a bottle. 🙁 But we are content to have experienced it, if only once, and in the beautiful city of Porto.
Taking in the sights
The Douro river divides Porto, providing a picturesque riverfront. There are many streets and paths, allowing easy exploration.
Lush and green, with Atlantic breezes warming the air.
These boats appear to be transporting caskets of wine, but there is no one around to ask…
Across the river from us is Cais da Ribeira, a UNESCO World Heritage site.
Of course, not everything in Porto is classic and traditional. In some places, an unwary traveler might pay more for something than they expect; but not in this store.
I am not going to comment on this one. Nope. No comment.
Sheraton Porto Hotel & Spa
We shouldn’t neglect the hotel’s spa. It is in the lower level, and it is the most well-appointed spa we have ever been in.
There are many different types of jet spays: under our feet, wrap-around showers, pulsating jets at hip height. This particular one we enjoy as it massages away any shoulder tension we have.
We are sitting on a bench, perhaps 2 feet below the surface, as thousands of tiny jets tickle us with bubbles.
In the traditional sauna, we add fragrances to a metal pan, then pour cold water, creating a savory steam that both stimulates and relaxes our senses.
We decide not to swim. The water is warm, but to our now-hot skin, it would seem frigid.
Time to go
We love it here, but it’s time to go. Boa noite, Porto, until we someday return.