Porto is Portugal’s second largest city, located at the mouth of the Douro River in the northwestern corner of the country. The Roman name of the ancient settlement, Portus Cale (Portucale) is the nation’s namesake. The city’s history is closely tied to the region’s wine industry. Port is the semisweet wine produced in the Douro Valley, from where it has been shipped via barcos rabelos (flat sailing vessels) downriver to this coastal city for export to Europe, especially to England, since the 13th century. The legacy of this trade has left an indelible mark on the city’s culture. Declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the historical city quarters, abundant with baroque churches and neo-classical public buildings, is a worthy destination for history buffs and wine aficionados.
Located in the city center, a few blocks away from City Hall and the art district, the Infante Sagres Hotel (do not let the unassuming façade deter you from entering) is a boutique hotel with grand ambitions, sophisticated design and intimate ambiance that resembles a 19th century Portuguese manor house in its décor. The hotel was actually built in the 1950’s, and it seamlessly blends neo baroque elements with a modern sensibility into an atmosphere that evokes the intimacy of a private residence. In the imposing public areas one finds beautiful crystal chandeliers, stained glass windows and large mirrors and antiques, mingled with contemporary furnishings that complement the impeccable service provided by the courteous staff. The hotel has welcomed in its short history notable personalities like the Dalai Lama, the King of Norway, the Queen of the Netherlands, Bob Dylan, Catherine Deneuve, Prince Edward of Great Britain and John Malkovich. They all have delighted on the hotel’s stylishness, understated luxury and excellent location in the heart of the city, just steps away from the main shopping street, Rua de Santa Caltalina.
Step out of the hotel, and you’ll be immersed in local hospitality. Portuenses, as the locals are known, are to this day referred to as tripeiros, a reference to the traditional tripe dish tripa a moda do porto, that is found everywhere in the city. The Avenida dos Aliados with its belle epoque buildings, is just minutes away, and a visit to the historic center and the Romanesque cathedral, perched on a rocky outcrop overlooking the city, will not disappoint. But there is more to Porto than sightseeing. The medieval town tumbles down to the river with tight, twisting streets onto Renaissance squares and baroque monuments. Take a walk along the river and enter the wine cellars and cafes for an authentic culinary experience of traditional bacalhau (cod) with vinho verde followed by the best Port in the world. If you favor a more contemporary experience, visit the Serralves Museum designed by Pritzker award winner Alvaro Siza Vieira. Day trips to the sleepy Douro Valley are available and highly recommended.
Back at the hotel, the Asian themed Angkor Wat Spa awaits to help you evade the city stress and pamper you with all kinds of massages and sea salt baths. The Boca do Lobo restaurant is a reminder of how elegant Portugal can be and, according to The New York Times, “boasts the kind of formal service rituals that other restaurants have long ago forgotten”. It features a menu designed by Michelin star Chef Alvaro Lourenço, ranging from a carpaccio of salmon with arugula or lasagna of grilled octopus in garlic oil to the house specialty, duck magret in port wine sauce with truffles. The wine selection is one of the finest in the country. The restaurant is located in the lobby with a patio terrace for al fresco dining.
Leaving Porto is the toughest decision you may have to make while in Portugal. This is a quiet European enclave, but its elegant charm is comparable to other Iberian destinations like Lisbon, Barcelona or Valencia. Make sure to pack lots of souvenirs and at least a bottle of the best Port in the world to bring back home. ■