Taste of a place – Porto Revisited
Starting our Camino de Santiago walk from the impressive Sé Cathedral was the perfect excuse to spend a couple of days in our favourite city, Porto.
Still bowled over by the beautiful architecture, the tiles, the river etc, we found the city to be much busier than on our pre covid visits. Of course, this could be due to pent up demand, but it soon became very clear that Porto has become a “hot” destination.
Perhaps as a result of the influx of visitors, construction sites seemed to dominate some of the main squares, corralling people through high sided hoardings which added to the crowded feeling. We didn’t get to the bottom of what the works were but, hopefully it will be worth the disruption. Sadly, we did note that our favourite “mom and pop” side street bar – basically an elderly couple’s front room had been swallowed up by the development (at least, we hope this is the reason it is no more).
After 4 years, the redevelopment of the emblematic, 2 storey Bolhao market remains incomplete, but work is well and truly under way. Vital signs look really good; the newly mustard coloured painted neoclassical facade looks amazing and we’re sure it will be well worth the wait (expected end June this year).
In common with our previous stays in Porto, our rental apartment was great. This time, we rented via Impar Luxury Apartments and the location could not have been more central. The apartment was super modern with some interesting design features such as the hideaway kitchen which really maximised the space. Located on the corner of a building, it benefitted from fabulous balcony views either side of the apartment. We had buskers on both sides, so could choose our soundtrack each morning!
And so to the other important stuff of life; food. Well, firstly I should confess to having failed on the Francesinha front. In my last Porto blog, I did commit to trying one of these iconic belly busting sandwiches on my return. I did spot a veggie version, but even so, I found myself not up to the task of tackling this monster toastie doused with beer sauce and a side of chips….
Instead we revisited our old favourite restaurant “O Rapido“, named after an express train and tucked down the lefthand side of Sao Bento station (recommended by our host the first time we stayed in Porto – I don’t think we would have discovered it for ourselves).
The key here, is that the produce is just so good. That combined with simple, but skilful cooking methods. We went for octopus fillet with octopus rice and a fabulous sea bass. Both exemplary. And those hand-cut disc like chips are just so good! So good is everything here, I even broke with tradition and went for dessert; a Porto speciality – soft layers of biscuity loveliness.
There is something else about O Rapido that is sets it apart. It is small and intimate with closely set tables and lovely linen. It is always busy, yet it is unfussy and unhurried. It has a true sense of itself. In addition, the patient chap serving us humoured our lousy Portuguese with good grace and chuckled when we told him how good everything was – like he didn’t already know!!! Its just our kind of place.
Another day, we hoped to find O Rapido open – it wasn’t. So we “made do” with some really tasty petiscos (similar to tapas) on the tiny terrace next door at Viseu No Porto. We were very impressed with the lightness/freshness of bolinhos de bacalhau (salt cod croquettes), having become quite the aficionados…and some really lovely fried white fish fillets too. We will definitely return for a more substantial meal next time.
Still (always) on the subject of all things bacalhau, we also revisited Casa Bragança the home of hearty, traditional fare and more than a few bacalhau dishes. Here they offer up traditional home-cooked dishes in an efficient yet friendly way. You wont leave here hungry, for sure.
When in Porto it would be rude not to call into the famous Majestic cafe for a pick me up of coffee and a crispy, creamy pastel de nata. It may be the most expensive coffee for miles around, but the ornate interior of this Belle Epoque era institution will transport you back in time to the 1920s when it was a hang out for writers, politicians, artists and thinkers…well worth a visit. If you’re lucky, there may be a pianist to accompany your musings on the leather banquettes….
On a more egalitarian note, we recommend crossing the river to Vila Nova da Gaia to visit the handsome plaster coloured Mercado Beira-Rio. This charming covered space on the waterfront combines innovation with a sense of tradition. You will find independent food stalls surrounding lines of communal tables which run down the centre. Here chefs knock out gourmet sandwiches, pasta, bacalhau dishes, cheese platters, ice cream etc, etc. Hit it at lunchtime and it will be humming with activity. We opted for beer and a slice or two of pizza (as we had a dinner reservation!!!)
If you are feeling energetic during your stay (or like us, you need to do a bit of pre camino training/walk off some of the excellent meals), Porto is ideally placed for some excellent riverside/seaside walks or strolls. We took the historic tram along the waterfront to Foz do Douro and walked along the coast past Matosinhos, home to a legion of the best fish restaurants (we have been reliably informed), past roman fish salting tanks to the rustic fishing village of Angeiras.
We will certainly be walking this way again as not only was the scenery fantastic, the smells of the kerbside wood fired grills being fired up in Matosinhos was something else…
Looking back at the photos of our brief stay now, I can see that they have been suffused by a hazy light caused by the “weather event” we experienced; namely sand from the Sahara being blown north. The city was veiled with an otherworldly sepia tint. This rosy glow outside matched the warm feeling Porto left us with as we started our walk northwards.
Tchau beautiful Porto, we will see you soon!