Porto is best known for port. Port is made from about 30 unique varieties of grapes grown in the Douro River Valley which runs west from Spain, across Portugal to the Atlantic Ocean. The grapes are crushed, fermented, and barreled in the Douro River Valley, then after being fortified with brandy and aged for a few months, it is transported to Gaia at the mouth of the Douro River and aged in caves for 10 or 20 years. Gaia, on the south side of the Douro River, is dominated by wineries – Sandeman, Croft, Taylor’s. Porto is on the north bank on hills that rise steeply from the river. From the river it looks more colonial than Mediterranean, the building’s tile facades and tin roofs more reminiscent of Kuching or Jakarta than Malaga or Genoa. But as you make your way uphill into the old city it is more obviously European with cobblestone streets, tile roofs, many cafes.
I can’t think of any fine Portugues restaurants at home, so it is a bit surprising that the food is exceptional. There is a lot of fresh fish and very good wine, of course, but also unique flavors that must have been introduced from the Portuguese colonies in Africa and Asia. Even very inexpensive restaurants make outstanding frango asado, a spicy grilled chicken that comes with potatoes, rice, vegetables, and a glass of wine for about $3. Bakeries are also plentiful, most seeming to specialize in natas, custard similar to natillas in Spain but in a tart.
Like most places in the world the people are very friendly and helpful. Fewer speak English than in most other European countries, but they seem to understand my Portugues-Spanish-Italian-English gibberish, and I occasionally understand them.
Other than port the big tourist item is cork. You can buy cork purses, cork backpacks, cork wallets, cork jewelry, cork placemats, cork eyeglass frames, cork clothing, and yes, even cork corks.
I’ve had a very nice couple of days in Porto. Tomorrow I will start walking north along the coast. It has been foggy and cool so it should be nice walking weather. My map is here.