Porto, the Gateway to the Douro Wine Region

Porto, formerly known as “Portus Cale” by the Romans, latin for Port of Cale, is now known as Oporto (The Port) by the locals following the Reconquest in AD 1000.  This city is full of Old-World charm with its red-tiled roofs, soaring bell towers, extravagant baroque churches, and stately buildings tumbling down the hillside to the River Douro (Rio Douro). Porto is one of Europe’s oldest centers and was registered as a World Heritage site by Unesco in 1996.

Oporto of "Portucale"

Porto of “Portucale”

Fun fact:  Did you know that Porto put the “Portu” in Portugal? In AD 1000, after the reconquest of Portugal from the Moors, the city’s name was made the name of the new country,“Portucale.”

I personally love the beauty of this town, and on my first real visit to this town, I marveled at the historical and modern significance that it had on the wine industry. Porto is famous for its export of Port wine; however, this region has so much more to offer than just Port wine.  Indeed, Porto is a vibrant city with amazing food and culture.

A little wine history of Porto:

While it is thought that grapes have been grown in Portugal for over 4,000 years, it wasn’t until the 14th century that Portugal really became known for its wine trade with England.  This wine trade later expanded in the 17th century to other countries such as Scotland and the Netherlands.

Port Wine Basics:

Port wine, also known as Vinho do Porto, is a Portuguese fortified wine made exclusively from grapes from the Douro Valley in northern Portugal. It is typically a sweet red wine that is often enjoyed with desserts or cheeses. There are now many different types of port: white port, rose port and the traditional red port.

Before I delve into everything port, I want to talk about Porto.  I’ve covered Port wines in this article.

The city of Porto:

Porto—or Oporto, as I like to call it—serves in many ways as the historical and cultural gateway to the stunning Douro River valley. It is worth it to stay a few days here before setting off into the Douro river valley.

Porto is a compact city with rolling hills, so be prepared to walk up and down quite a bit. I would recommend a great pair of walking shoes. As I visited the city, I created an “Oporto Must See List” which I saved on my Foursquare account. (I love using this tool because it maps it all out for me and as people provide me with recommendations, I add it to my list and can find it instantly.)

Ribeira of Porto looking over at Vila Nova de Gaia at night

Ribeira of Porto looking over at Vila Nova de Gaia at night

Porto is technically divided into three parts:

Ribeira, which is Porto’s riverfront center with a gorgeous view of all the Port wine houses across the river in Vila Nova de Gaia. This is a stunning neighborhood with great riverside restaurants and outdoor patios. It can be very touristy, so be prepared to look at menus and pricing first before sitting down. If you are a runner or a walker, you can run all the way from the port at the river’s edge inland as well as out to the sea along a busy road. I would recommend going early in the morning before the traffic picks up.

Places to visit:

  • Palácio da Bolsa, R. de Ferreira Borges 55, next to the Church of St. Francis —This stunning building is a must-see.  It  has some lavishly decorated rooms, including the Arabian room, which was inspired by Granada’s Alhambra.

Place to eat:

  • Bacalhau Restaurant—This tiny little place is hidden on Rua de Cima do Muro Bacalhoeiros 153. It is right on the river, and they offer some great dishes of seafood and in particular Bacalhau, also known as dried and salted cod, the nation’s national dish. They also have a great wine menu. You can sit outside or inside, but the views are worth waiting for a table outside.  +351.960.378.883


The Historic Sao Bento Train Station

The Historic Sao Bento Train Station

City Center, which is located directly up from Ribeira, on the top of the hillside.  I would consider this area to be a more realistic and less touristy area of Porto, especially if you are considering doing some shopping.

Places to visit:

  • Sao Bento Train Station, Praca Almeida Garret: This train station, opened in 1916, is still in operation.  The entry hall to the train station is covered in over twenty thousand vivid blue “azulejo” tiles, showing the historical and folk scenes of the Douro River region; the tiles were painted by Jorge Colaco in the 1900s. Throughout northern Portugal you will be able to find beautiful blue “azulejo” Portuguese tile that you can take home as a souvenir.
  • Clérigos Church and Tower, Rua S. Felipe de Nery:  Are you interested in seeing the beautiful city from above?  If so, brave the 225-step climb to the top of this towering landmark of Porto. Afterwards, stop over at the Clérigos Vinhos & Petiscos for a small bite and great wine.

Places to eat and drink:

  • Bella Doce Praça Almeida Garrett 11, is a great place to sit down and enjoy some of the local pastries and amazing coffee at a phenomenal price. At less than a Euro, you can enjoy a beautiful shot of espresso.  It is located directly across from São Bento Train station and has white umbrellas covering the outdoor tables. The entrance has a white awning.  It is also directly behind the large green magazine kiosk and by the entrance to the São Bento Metro stop.
  • Clérigos Vinhos & Petiscos, Rua das Carmelitas, 151, is a cute wine bar that offers a really good selection of Portuguese wines and aperitifs. It is located in the middle of this very modern-looking outdoor mall with outdoor and indoor seating.  I went in the middle of the afternoon, after lunch and before dinner, and enjoyed a small three-bite nibble and spent 3 euros for a Reserve glass of Douro wine. They serve regular-size meals for lunch and dinner.
  • Café Aviz, Rua de Aviz 1, is a great no-fuss cafeteria where you can get a reasonably priced meal. I’ve heard the francesinha, which is a sandwich made with a number of different meats, roast beef, different sausages and bologna, then covered with melted cheese, and a beer-and-tomato sauce. It is then topped with an egg at some places and served with French fries.  Be aware, it is a heart-attack type of meal but I would rather eat this than food at the millions of fast-food restaurants you now see. Click on this link for a fellow traveler’s experience with the Francesinha.

Vila Nova de Gaia

Now that you’ve stuffed yourself with this amazingly dense sandwich, let’s walk back down the hill and across the river to the Port wine center, Vila Nova de Gaia.  This is arguably one of Porto’s main tourist attractions, the port-wine cellars (Caves do vinho do Porto). The Douro can be crossed by any of the six bridges that connect the two sides of Porto together. If you are walk as I would imagine you would after the Francesinha, cross via the Ponte Dom Luis I. The metro runs above it, and the cars and pedestrians can cross on the lower level directly from the Ribeira water front.

Vila Nova de Gaia has always played a very important role in the history of the port wine business. All port wine that was to be exported outside of Portugal, had to first pass through Gaia. It would travel from the Douro Valley, almost 100 kilometers, approx.. 62 miles down river to Gaia, where it would be stored and aged before it was shipped out. This is where you will find a number of port houses that are definitely worth a visit. Here are a few of my recommendations.

Places to visit and taste:

Quevedo Port Wine Lodge, Rua de Santa Marinha, 77, Vila Nova de Gaia: This family-owned port wine business was officially founded in 1991, but the history of the land and the family goes back even further. The Quevedo Vineyard is located in João da Pesqueira, a small town in the heart of Douro Valley, where they make still wines as well as port wines.  Oscar, the most well known and recognized member of the family, acts as the face of Quevedo. He is also the member of the family whom you are likely to see in the tasting room, while his sister, Claudia, the winemaker, is generally out in Douro making the wine.  Oscar explains how port is made. I personally love his accent. Enjoy:

W. & J. Graham’s Lodge, Rua do Agro 141, Vila Nova de Gaia: W & J Graham’s was founded in 1820 by the Graham brothers from Scotland. The lodge itself was built in 1890, where you can now visit, taste, and tour the amazing facilities. I would highly recommend visiting this great lodge. W & J Graham’s now belongs to the prestigious wine group, the Symington Family, along with CockBurn’s, Warre’s, and Dow’s.

Porto Calém, Av. Diogo Leite, 344, Vila Nova de Gaia: Calém is the closest port lodge to the bridge and therefore makes it a great beginning or end stop. Established in 1859, Calém is one of the oldest port houses in Vila Nova de Gaia. In 2006 and 2008, they won the Best of Wine Tourism award for their architecture and wine tourism services. They offer daily tours and hold a number of events throughout the year. Since 1998, Calém is now a part of Sogevinus Fine Wines S.A., which also owns Kopke, Barros and Burmester.

Given that you’ve probably already drank quite a bit of port at this point, the only option is return to the City Center or go across the river and enjoy the night life and great food Porto has to offer. While I haven’t had a chance to visit all these places, I would recommend checking out my “Oporto Must See List” on Foursquare for more recommendations given to me by fellow travelers and locals.

After visiting Oporto for a few days, make sure you make it to the Douro River Valley. Stay tuned for a series of stories on Portuguese wine and travel.

Chin Chin!

How to Travel Better: Travel Tips from Seasoned Travelers

After my recent travel over the ocean, I realized that there were a few things that I had forgotten–mainly the things I remembered last minute as I was rushing to make my plane. I decided that it might be fun to discuss this with other fellow travel and wine writers to create a set of strategies and few key lessons learned from many years of traveling.

On our way to the Douro region from Oporto, Portugal, I sat with Panos Kakaviatos of Connections to Wine of France (via Greece) @PanosKakaviatos, Pieter Rosenthal of Cork and Bottle of Glasgow (via The Netherlands) @pieterrosenthal, and the lovely Lindsay Holas of Wine on Time @wine_on_time of London. Together we created the following recommendations that might benefit you this holiday season as you travel.

Booking your flight(s) and hotel(s):

  • Booking your flight online is probably the easiest way to save.  Look into TripWatcher and get instant alerts when the prices drop.
  • When booking your hotel, look into the online service Tingo which will automatically re-book at a lower price if the price drops.
  • If you are looking for parking near the airport, one good option is to plan to spend the night in a Park, Sleep and Fly hotel which allows you to leave your car anywhere from 7-14 days for just staying one night.  They shuttle you to and from the airport, all you need to pay is the one night stay.
  • When you are booking your flight:
    • Reserve seats as soon as possible, preferably at the same time that you make your reservation.
    • Order any special meals in advance.  The good news is that you’ll almost always get served first.
    • Tall? Reserve the last emergency exit seat for extra leg room.
    • According to some experts, you might consider booking your seat more in the middle to back of the plane. Click here for a recent article to support these findings.
    • Don’t choose seats that are too close to bathrooms, unless you plan to get up and go the bathroom often. Lines usually form around these seats.
    • You will want to sleep if it is a long-haul trip. I personally prefer to reserve the window seat. But if you prefer to move around or if you have tight connections, reserve an aisle seat.
  • Flight tips from the pros:
    • If you are flying out of Europe, leave out of Frankfurt–there are free newspapers. Another idea is to consider going through Amsterdam, which has a great shopping mall as well, and has easy transport to and from the airport.
    • Avoid Charles de Gaulle airport.  This airport can be horribly complicated and confusing.
  • When booking your hotel, look into the online service Tingo, which will automatically re-book at a lower price if the price drops.
    • Find a hotel that is as central to the many sights you plan on visiting.  Consider using AirBnB or booking.com.
    • Also check on TripAdvisor online as you book, to get a better idea of what to expect.
  • Check your passport and make sure it is still valid for the time there and back.
  • Make sure that you have necessary visas, even for tours which cross country boundaries.  Tours don’t always advise you of visa needs.  Go to go to its embassy’s or consulate’s website, which may be found on the State Department Foreign Consulate website.
  • Check your overseas medical insurance coverage before you go.
  • Familiarize yourself with local conditions and laws. While in a foreign country, you are subject to its laws. The State Department website has useful safety and other information about the countries you will visit.
  • Make sure you are up on all your necessary shots and vaccinations. Check out Travelers’ Health page of the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) website.
These are a few of my favorite things... What my carry on looks like.

These are a few of my favorite things… What my carry on looks like.

Before you go:

  • Check in online.
  • Save all your reservations on an online Travel management tool like TripIt or TripCase. The TripIt Pro offers the ability to re-book if needed and always keeps you up-to-date on your gate changes and delays. It is a great tool to use, I personally use it every time. My brother uses TripCase and it includes free travel alerts sent directly to your phone.
  • Travel adapter idea: buy one adapter plus an extension cord with multiple plug inlets.  This will allow you to charge multiple items at once.
  • Buy a few combination locks that you can use on your suitcase and bags. If you leave your bag in your hotel room, this guarantees added security for your belongings and documents. Make sure to set the combination before you leave to something you’ll remember.
  • Bring a small carryon that fits within another larger carryon. You can use this as your inflight go-to bag that easily stows under your seat but still leaves room for your feet. An example might be a purse or manpurse that fits within a small rolling carryon.  You can fit your basic necessities in there and stow away the larger bag.
  • Active? If you like to stay fit while you are away, consider taking your sneakers along with you and a pair of clothes that can be easily washed in the since and used again and again. I always ask at the front desk or the locals where they recommend going for a run or walk. The added bonus is that you are likely to see the city at different hours and in a different way.

Basics to remember:

  • Your passport and a paper copy of your itinerary as well as the final address of where you are staying.
  • Put a luggage tag inside each suitcase as well as outside, in case the outside one gets accidentally pulled off.
  • Luggage tags should indicate your destination as well as your normal address.  Be sure to add phone numbers, too.  This precaution enables lost luggage to get back to you faster.
  • Travel as light as possible.  If you are planning on bringing a lot back, make sure one fits into the other so you can fly in with one, come back with two.
  • Also realize that American carry-ons are larger than European ones. Going over is never the issue, but coming back you may run into issues. Make sure to check your European as well as American measurements and compare them to your handbags; check also with your airline carrier(s).  You can avoid a lot of headaches by checking out these issues.

What to pack:

  • In your carryon:
    • Pack a Ziploc-type bag with your basic necessities that you might need on the flight as well as for your first days: toothpaste, deodorant, toothbrush, small tube of moisturizer, chapstick, basic meds.  Remember the TSC guidelines.
    • Passport and paper copy of itinerary, written down destination address.
    • An extra charger for your phone, and don’t forget your laptop, tablet, and e-reader cables and chargers.
    • A change of clothes with extra underwear and socks.
    • Melatonin, allergy medicine like an antihistamine—IF allowed by your physician.
    • Inflatable travel pillow, ear buds or noise cancelling headphones, sleeping mask, small amount of pain-killers and medications you will need for a week (in case your luggage is diverted), reusable water bottle, lotion,  Pepto Bismol-type tablets and antidiarrhea tablets, sweater or scarf, and finally, tissues.
    • Other carryon recommendations: Gum, eye drops, face wipes, and makeup powder if you need it.
  • Carry an extra bag, just in case you’re overweight later.
  • Bring along a portable luggage scale, you can use it to weigh your bags before you go and when you return to make sure you aren’t in for a surprise at the airport. You can pick one up at any of your local stores.
  • Wear comfortable shoes and clothes. It’s not pretty but everyone bloats and swells, not to mention that airline food is often loaded with sodium.
  • Bring in-flight entertainment, either a book or another form of entertainment.
  • If you are like Panos, make sure you always carry a case for your glasses.

The day of your travel:

  • Book a taxi/shuttle pick-up the night before you fly, or earlier, especially if it is an early morning pick-up.
  • Wear dark and comfortable clothes, preferably layers. Dark clothes are best in case of spills.
  • Wear shoes that are easily removable.
  • Pack a sandwich or snacks for long-haul flights in case you don’t like what they provide you inflight.
  • Before you leave the house, make sure you program your timer on your heater to avoid frozen pipes.
  • Don’t forget to take out the trash and clean out your refrigerator before you leave.

While you fly:

  • Watch your preferred movie first and sleep the rest of the time; you’ll thank me once you get there.
  • Set your watch to your destination’s time zone, this will allow you to adjust to better adjust to the time change.
  • Walk around and stretch, drink plenty of water, this will help with the swelling and is good for you overall.
  • If you like wine, most airlines offer a free alcoholic drink with the first meal.  Drink it then, but stop yourself at one drink, since you will need to drink plenty of water to stay hydrated and wake up refreshed.

Once you land:

  • Waiting for your bags to be unloaded? Why not go to the bathroom; this will save you the time and headache of trying to find a “free” bathroom later.
  • Go to the tourist office in the airport, get a map, and ask about public transport or general cost of taxis into town. Public transport in Europe is usually quite easy and well worth the savings over a taxi. Save the money to enjoy a wonderful breakfast.
    • Use the public transport, if you aren’t too tired or carrying too many bags.
    • Decided on a taxi? Ask how much it’s likely to be, before you get in. That way they can’t jerk you around. Ask at least two drivers.
  • For cities in Europe, consider buying a travel pass in the airport for public transportation.  These passes often offer savings as well as eliminate hassle each time that you board a bus or train.
  • Get a local SIM card with a data plan.  The iPhone 5 by Verizon is automatically unlocked and can be used in other countries, and possible other iPhones and other smartphones. Check with your carrier before you go if you are unsure.  Some airports have cellphone carriers in the airport. It is worth it to get the SIM card the minute you arrive, since you never know when you’ll get stranded and need to call the hotel for directions.
  • Checking in: If they ask, business or leisure, say business; they’re likely to upgrade or give you a better room.
  • If you are a journalist, let the hotel know you’re a journalist; you’ll get better attention.
  • Don’t be naïve.  Watch your bags, with your hands on your bags at all times.
  • Hungry? Reviews are a great way to find the next place to eat. We like to use Yelp in the US, Foursquare and Trip Advisor in Europe.
  • Avoid eating spots on the main streets or at places near main attractions; ask the locals where they go eat. You’ll get the best meals at the best prices.

First day:

  • It may sound funny, but eat the local yogurt and honey; these are full of local probiotics which will help you adjust to the foods in your new area.
  • Ask locals—and also check online–whether you can drink the water if you are outside the US and Europe.
  • Avoid street foods unless someone you know and trust recommends it. Food poisoning, and worse—hepatitis—are real dangers
  • Generally speaking, eat what the locals eat.  However, in some Third World countries, find out before you go which foods might not be safe.

Now… go grab a bottle of wine and a local sandwich, sit in a park, people-watch, and enjoy it!

We hope these prove useful to you. I always wished I had remembered half of these things when I was traveling. Safe travels and happy holidays!

The welcome surprise at the Wine Bloggers’ Conference #wbc12…Portuguese wines!

Portuguese wines were a huge surprise to me the first time I tried them and continue to be whenever I initiate others into this small but grand wine world of Portuguese wines.

Portugal has more to offer than just Port wines, they have amazing still wines a.k.a regular wines, that will blow you away! Having lived in Spain for the past two years and finally after being in the same Iberian Peninsula as Portugal, I ventured out to Oporto and then to the Douro River valley to taste some of the finest wines I had tasted in my life. Had I experienced these wines earlier, I would have potentially made Régua or Pinhão my new home instead of beautiful Rioja. I would have worked in a beautiful Quinta do…(add the name of any amazing Quinta here) and loved every minute of it. But I discovered this region already half way through my Masters of Viticulture and Enology program to be able to change paths at that point. There is always the future!

Viticulture and Enology Masters Group visiting the beautiful region of Douro, Portugal

I have taken with me, however, my love of Portuguese wines and am always happy to share this best kept secret with others.

Most recently, at the Wine Bloggers’ Conference in Portland this past month, there was a reason to share and to celebrate. During the recent Live Wine Blogging event focused on Reds, which is similar to a speed dating event with wine, I was served the 2010 Herdade do Esporão, Portugal Red “Quatro Castas 4” made with none other than one of my favorite grape varieties, Tempranillo, also known as Aragonez in Portugal. This wine is made of four different varieties: Aragonez, Tinta Miuda, Tinta Caiada, and Alfrocheiro.

2010 Herdade do Esporão, Quatro Castas 4

It was produced in a new region for me of Portugal, Alentejano. This region is located west of Lisbon, on the way to Badajoz, Spain.  For a price point of $17, I was happily surprised to have such a quality wine at that price point. It was complex yet easy to drink, it is a medium-bodied wine that in your mouth explodes with raspberries, ripe plums, and touch of cherry (must be the Tempranillo, aka, Aragonez).

For me this was the first time, I had a chance to try Portuguese wines from Alentejano and now I have two very good wine regions of Portugal to direct fellow wine lovers to, Douro and Alentejano.  I also have a new location on my list of places to visit in the near future! Tchim-tchim! Saúde! Cheers!

To find out more about Esporão wines, visit them at Esporão Winery or follow them on Twitter at @esporaowines