There are two commanding Bridges in Porto. The most conspicuous is the two-tier Ponte de Dom Luis I, whose metal arch dominates the skyline above the Douro river and links the city to Vila Nova de Gaia, hub of the Port wine industry. Eighty miles upstream are the precipitous vineyards that provide the grapes for the fortified classics and some equally remarkable Douro table wines.
The other Bridge is Adrian, CEO of the Fladgate Partnership, whose portfolio includes several Port houses, most notably Taylor’s, and the luxury Yeatman Hotel, all of whose 82 rooms command stunning views of Porto’s World Heritage cityscape. Big thanks to Adrian for arranging our stay there a while back. It boasts a two Michelin star restaurant, ‘library’ of 250,000 bottles, decanter-shaped infinity pool, wine spa… and Taylor’s Port lodge just across the way. Yes, there is a heaven.
But the hotel was just the start of Bridge’s ambitions to turn a workaday wine shippers warehouse district into an oenophile tourist destination to rival Bordeaux’s Cité du Vin. Some £100m later and with necessary pandemic patience after opening in 2020, the World of Wine has certainly injected a WOW! factor to the south bank of Portugal’s second city.
It’s actually seven linked museums – like the Yeatman, created on repurposed lodge land – that add fashion, chocolate and culture to the wine-led experience which includes an exploration of cork and Bridge’s own collection of vintage and antique drinking vessels. After all of which there is the chance to unwind in one of the site’s nine restaurants with that view, naturally, of one of Europe’s most beautiful cities.
With travel restrictions easing all this is a magnet for me to return. And beyond WOW so much to enjoy all over again. As a stark contrast, roam the opposite riverfront district of Ribeira. It’s not the rough sailors’ haunt of yore, but the cobbled lanes and ancient dark houses are still far from gentrified as they might be in Lisbon.
A cynic in me wonders if UNESCO pay a stipend to Porto’s housewives to spend half their day hanging picturesque washing out from their balconies. The flap of laundry is everywhere, high above even the narrowest, shadowiest of passages.
The quickest way up to the city proper is via the Funicular dos Guindais, which brings you out nerar the towering Se Cathedral and the medieval maze of the Barredo district. From here it’s no distance to three of the city’s star turns.
First there’s the Belle Epoque era railway station Sao Bento where azulejos tiles run rampant floor to ceiling, illustrating episodes of Portuguese history. Close by you’ll find one of the world’s most beautiful bookshops, Lello, which has a jolly little cafe on the top floor reached by ornate staircases.
Nothing, though, quite prepares you for Sao Francisco on the Rua do Infante D Henrique. The church was begun in the 1300s, but it is the 18th century Baroque interior that amazes. Over 200g of gold encrusts the high altar and pillars, culminating in the ornate carvings of the biblical Tree of Jesse. More sombrely, the opposite wall flaunts some gory images of martyrdom. The ticket includes a visit to the Catacombs that survive from a monastery on the site. Real memento mori stuff, carved skulls atop tombs and a well-stocked ossuary.
It’s a relief then to retreat to Vila Nova for an obligatory Port tasting at Calem and a stroll past the barcos rabelos bobbing on the Douro quayside. These are the traditional flat-bottomed boats once used to transport barrels of Port from the vineyards down to the city. Once it was a seriously dangerous voyage but the Douro has been tamed by locks and dams.
As an add-on to any stay in Porto I’d recommend a trip in the opposite direction–upstream to discover the wonderful scenery and wines of the Douro Valley. Meanwhile, here I recommend a clutch of the region’s opulent reds.
The Yeatman, Rua do Choupelo (Sta. Marinha), 4400-088 Vila Nova de Gaia, Porto.