porto: hidden gem or overrated?

10 Dec

This past weekend, I took advantage of the “puente” and hopped on a 55-minute RyanAir flight from Madrid to Porto, in Northern Portugal. The RyanAir experience was better than I had anticipated. Yes, there’s tons of advertising inside and the Irish accented flight attendants are almost impossible to understand, but the flight was on time and easy. I chose to visit Porto because I fell in love with Lisbon when I visited in March 2009, and hoped Portugal’s second largest city would share some charming traits with its southern relative. Porto is situated along the Duoro River and is known for being the origin of Port wine. For four nights and five days, a few friends and I explored the highs and lows of Porto.

duoro. The river itself is worth a trip to Porto – it’s beautiful! We didn’t make it on the river itself, but a walk across the insanely high pedestrian bridge gave us more than enough epic views of the city.

port in porto. Port is definitely not my cup of tea, but the 4 euro tour and tasting we got at world-famous “Sandeman” (Famous for Pleasure, apparently) was more than worth it. We saw the barrels and vats, learned all about the intense aging process, and sampled a tawny and white Port. While I’ll stick to beer in the future, it was a unique and cool experience.

(fatty) food. One of the recommendations we received in terms of food was to try the “Francesinha” – a type of sandwich that literally translated means “little French woman.” While the result was something that is probably plastered all over http://www.thisiswhyyourefat.com, it was inevitably delicious. Bread, steak, ham, sausage, and “fresh sausage” as well as fresh melted cheese and a SPICY sauce. (Don’t even get me started on how great it is that Portugal knows how to use spice!) We had it our very first night there, as well as the following day so we could try the “Best Francesinha in Porto.” On our last night, my friend Laura and I ate a traditional dish called “Piri Piri Chicken” served to us by our hostel. Also delicious and spicy. Nom.

hostel hits and misses. We stayed at Porto Spot Hostel, a beautifully designed, relatively new place that was affordable, clean, had a delicious free breakfast (including a homemade pumpkin jam I’ll be trying to make next year around the holidays), and free wifi (when it worked, which was about half the time). The location was decent, about a 10 minute walk from the city center and 20 or so from the river. The people were friendly, the happy hour specials on the Portuguese beer I’m obsessed with, Super Bock, were impressive, and it was safe and comfortable. The hostel lacked a couple of things, though, that prevented Spot from replacing Lisbon’s Oasis Backpacker’s Mansion as my favorite hostel. While the staff was knowledgable in terms of directions, they suggested we go explore things that were either incredibly lame or closed. The hostel’s pub crawl wasn’t any great shakes either, but they get points for trying. All in all, Porto Spot Hostel gets a solid “B” rating in my book.

All in all, Porto was a fun and inexpensive getaway. While my one semester of Portuguese at Cal proved to be anything but helpful, it was fun to be in a place with different customs and routines. The rainy weather allowed some time for a trip to the (incredibly inexpensive) movies and indoor mall next to FC Porto’s stadium. We also discovered some great Portuguese pastries, delicious Ecuadorian chocolate, and ventured to an over-hyped Christmas market and a Crystal Palace that “doesn’t actually exist.”
If you’ve been to Porto, let me know what I left out! What are some other must-sees in Portugal in general?
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One Response to “porto: hidden gem or overrated?”

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  1. mash-up twenty-ten. « That's G - December 30, 2010

    […] of these decisions have proven helpful, even if I feel like a buffoon on occasion. I traveled to Porto, Portugal at the beginning of the month, experienced the madness of Christmas in Madrid (both in the city […]

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