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While Lisbon and the southern Algarve coast seem to spend much of their time in the spotlight, it’s Portugal’s northern city of Porto that has been biding its time, ready to emerge as the country’s new “it” destination. Porto sits along the Douro River and is one of Europe’s oldest cities, dating back to the Roman Empire. In fact, its historic downtown was named a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1996. In the last few years, Porto’s popularity has skyrocketed among the indie jet-set crowd looking to uncover the city’s understated elegance. Here are a few of the must-see sights and some of the best places to stay in Porto.
Where to StayThe best hotel in Porto is The Yeatman, according to Carolina Guarita, a Sao Paulo-based luxury travel advisor and Portugal expert for Selections, a luxury travel agency whose itineraries often include stays at the posh hotel.
“It’s set on a hilltop in Vila Nova de Gaia and has stunning views over historic Porto,” she said. “It’s a wine-spa hotel with a focus on vinotherapy. It also has a one-Michelin-star restaurant, The Yeatman.”
A second option to consider is InterContinental Porto - Palacio das Cardosas, a more classic hotel in the city’s historic center. The hotel was originally a convent in the 18th century and later became a palace. Today, it is considered one of the more high-end hotels in the city.
What to DoStart your visit to Porto with a walk through its historic center and a visit to the Church of Sao Francisco. The exterior of the church looks decidedly gothic, but hidden within is one of Portugal’s best examples of baroque splendor, with every corner of the church bedazzled with nearly 220 pounds of gold leaf.
Guarita recommends a stop for a coffee at the nearby Majestic Cafe and a visit to the Livraria Lello bookstore. If it’s a sunny day, another great way to get oriented in Porto is to take a cruise down the Douro.
Architecture buffs will delight in the Se do Porto cathedral, which is a mishmash of architectural styles that date back to the 12th century.
The iconic Casa da Musica, which opened in 2005, is another must for a visit in Porto. This cultural hub is home to the Porto National Orchestra and was designed by Dutch architect Rem Koolhaas. It is one of the city’s best pieces of contemporary architecture.
If your itinerary doesn’t include a stay in the Douro Valley, Guarita suggests taking a guided tour of one of the many “quintas” just outside the city. Quintas are large, wine-growing country estates that open their doors to travelers looking to sample the local fruits. Guarita recommends Quinta da Pacheca and Quinta de la Rosa.
Of course, coming to Porto and skipping the port wine would be unthinkable. Most of the port warehouses are in Vila Nova de Gaia, but clients will still be able to get a great sampling of the local beverage at the wine shops on the Port side of the river. Shops to consider are Porto in a Bottle, Touriga Vinhos de Portugal and Vinologia.
Where to EatMuch like Spain, Portugal has its own version of tapas culture. “Petiscos,” or Portuguese tapas, are a great alternative to a sit-down dinner. Consider exploring Rua dos Caldeireiros for appetizer-hopping.
A trip to Porto, or Portugal in general, is incomplete without a “francesinha,” the most popular local sandwich, made with ham, fresh sausage, steak or roasted meat and covered with melted cheese. The whole concoction is smothered in a hot tomato and beer sauce and served with fries. One of the best in the city can be found at Porta’O Lado.
Pedro Lemos, a one-Michelin-star restaurant, tis another must-try for traditional Portuguese cooking. A casual dining experience can be found at Cantinho do Avillez, which has a sister restaurant in Lisbon. For a fancier meal, consider DOP.
“The kitchen is run by the well-known Portuguese chef Rui Paula, and they have a tasting menu with five courses,” Guarita said.
InterContinental Porto - Palacio das Cardosaswww.ihg.com
Quinta da Pachecawww.quintadapacheca.com
Quinta de la Rosawww.quintadelarosa.com