Thursday, March 24, 2011

Porto Day 1 (20 March): Bridges, rabbits and vinho verde

We left our front door at 10 am and were drinking white port and in Porto by 2 pm. Not often you get a welcome port and tonic as a welcome drink in a hotel (see left)! This is a place that feels more like a town than a city, and the Pestano Hotel is in exactly the right place, in a UNESCO protected site, on the river looking across to the port wine district at the foot of the huge arch of the Eiffel built bridge.

Ventured out to walk along the river, which flows at a fair speed as it’s an eroded a gorge through the rock, so that Porto is a warren of very steep streets and alleyways. A walk across the lower level of the Eiffel bridge takes you into the Gaia area, which is packed with port warehouses, then up through the alleyways to the monastery (now barracks) at the top of the hill to watch the sunset. As darkness fell we walked back to the north side across the upper level of the bridge and through the Cathedral grounds to zig-zag down lots of steep steps back to the Pestano. Lots of high single arch bridges traverse the gorge –it’s like a Newcastle but with a café culture and sun. Looking back across the river at night you see the Port house signs lit up; Kopke, Calem, Sandeman’s, Offley, Croft, Ferriara, Ramos and Cockburns.

Our first meal was in Chez Lapin. Gil was far from disturbed by the real caged rabbits at the door, and ordered, you’ve guessed it – rabbit. She ordered Porto’s famous ‘tripos’ (tripe) dish for lunch the next day, (liver’s her favourite dish) so is clearly a fearless diner. She only flinched once in Porto, at fried gizzard. Chez Lapin was a cosy place by the riverside and the Vino Verde was badly needed after our marathon walk. My fish soup, beef in a Porto sauce and triple dessert were all superb. First impressions of Porto – impressed.

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