By Kerry Christiani, Writer
Opening up like a pop-up book from the banks of the Rio Douro, edgy-yet-opulent Porto entices with its historic centre, sumptuous food and wine, and charismatic locals.
Snapshots of Local LifePorto’s charms are as subtle as the nuances of an aged tawny port, best savoured slowly on a romp through the hilly backstreets of Miragaia, Ribeira and Massarelos. It’s the quiet moments of reflection and the snapshots of daily life that you’ll remember most: the slosh of the Douro against the docks; the snap of laundry drying in river winds; the sound of port glasses clinking; the sight of young lovers discreetly tangled under a landmark bridge, on the rim of a park fountain, in the crumbling notch of a graffiti-blasted wall…Street Art & Cutting-Edge ArchitectureBeyond Porto’s alley-woven historic heart, contemporary architects have left their idiosyncratic stamp on the city’s skyline. Winging Porto into the 21st century is Álvaro Siza Vieira’s crisply minimalist Museu de Arte Contemporânea and Rem Koolhaas’ daringly iconic Casa da Música. Public art is everywhere, from azulejos (hand-painted tiles) glamming up the metro to street art tattooed across crumbling medieval walls. Costah and Hazul, who always work incognito, have blazed their patterns along the streets of the Aliados, Miragaia and Massarelos.Foodie Porto: Port Wine & BeyondWith much-lauded chefs like Pedro Lemos, Ricardo Costa, Rui Paula and José Avillez shaking the pans, the city’s culinary star continues to rise. Take Vasco Coelho Santos at the new Euskalduna Studio, for instance, wowing with highly experimental 10-course menus, Vítor Matos at Michelin-starred Antiqvvm, or José Cordeiro at The Blini, an upscale marisquería putting stunning riffs on Atlantic-fresh seafood in Gaia. Petiscarias (Portuguese-style tapas bars), gourmet steakhouses, brunch cafes, hallowed port cellars, craft beer bars, food markets – you name it, Porto nails it. Bom apetite!Miradouros, Gardens & Coastal WalksPorto holds you captive at its sky-high miradouros (lookouts) and on-trend roof terrace bars. From the Sé cathedral terrace and Gaia’s hilltop Jardim do Morro, the city is reduced to postcard format: a colourful tumbledown dream with soaring bell towers, extravagant baroque churches and stately beaux arts buildings. Equally ravishing is Jardins do Palácio de Cristal’s palm-fringed, fountain-speckled gardens. Even in the city’s heart, seagulls soar on Atlantic breezes, and a rickety ride on tram 1 trundles to the wide open ocean in Foz do Douro in minutes.Why I love PortoBeyond Porto’s more obvious charms – the river, the port lodges, the alley-woven historic centre – it’s the city’s soulfulness that makes it that bit special. Revealing itself little by little, Porto is made for exploring on foot, and you never know quite where those thigh-challenging steps or back alleys will lead you. The laid-back vibe, ludicrously beautiful viewpoints and relentlessly hospitable locals make this an easy city to love. High-spirited nightlife, outstanding food, wine tasting, street art, avant-garde design, mood-lifting ocean views – you name it, Porto pulls it off time and again.
Maria Ines Amaral
Founder and CEO of Portuguese Association of Tourism for the Middle East