O Porto had me at PORT (Wine that is!). I was absolutely thrilled to begin a holiday with new sights, foods and smells, but especially happy to visit an important Wine Region in Portugal. O Porto has been Portugal’s most important city for experiencing wine from the Douro Valley for some time. The Port Wine business is centuries strong, but expanded in the 13th century when they began shipping Vinhos (pronounced viños, the Spanish ñ is equivalent to Portuguese nh) on Rabelo boats sailing up the Douro River. Eventually, they shipped to more and further destinations, the English especially taking a liking to their product. Today, O Porto’s neighboring city just across the river, VILA NOVA DE GAIA:
delivers a great experience by offering tours of their Wine Cellars and tastings of all their fabulous Ports. We considered possibly taking a River tour (another tasting option), sailing on the Douro and drinking wine must be a winning combination, but in the end, we found love in a glass (or 4 glasses) at a local restaurant, TABERINHA DO MANEL.
I can’t tell you enough, that the best places while Traveling are often encountered by happenstance. We didn’t google/or yelp this place, nor was it a recommendation by word of mouth. We stopped for lunch at this local restaurant and we just got LUCKY, beyond lucky. The restaurant was busy. The terrace and first floor were at capacity, so we were led to our table on the second floor. Stone walls, large wooden tables, a warm smile from the owner himself who came to chat several times, we felt quite welcomed. My sister practiced her Portuguese and each of us ordered a Porto Flight (four distinct Vinhos do Porto). I also ordered what must be the Star Dish of this place because it was absolutely Sinful: THE FRANCESINHA (pictured in the above collage). Francesinha means “little Frenchie” and it’s a sandwich. It’s a wet sandwich. The sauce is a tomato and beer sauce. With somewhere between 3 and 5 different meats inside (like pork, steak, sausage & roasted meat) melted cheese atop the bread, & finally topped off with a fried egg, you cannot image what kind of deliciousness you will experience. You have to accompany this sandwich with french fries because otherwise there would be so much of that Tasty Sauce that would be lost. Another thing, you might want to consider sharing this sandwich. I couldn’t finish it alone. I gave momma and my sister each a bite or 2, even though the fat kid in me didn’t want to share it. To all the Foodies of the world, this sandwich is a MUST EAT Food in Portugal, and what better place to try it than where it originated, here in the Porto Region. A sandwich to enjoy, to savor, to share I would say, for fear of future heart disease should you go at it alone.
After the meal, we had some time to enjoy the gorgeous late afternoon on this side of the River. We walked around the city in such a relaxed state, which I would attribute to the vinhos, and eventually crossed the bridge back over to O Porto. My favorite pastime in Spain and Portugal it seems, has been looking up at people looking down from their windows/balconies. . . I find them fascinating. I grew up in a house with access to the outdoors whenever I wanted/needed. Here in Europe, so many people live in Pisos/Apartments, where the thought of many flights of stairs to go outside might discourage some from catching some fresh air; Hence, hanging out on the balcony. Here in Europe, I look up at the balconies, where the people (often elderly women though not always) spend a few special moments watching people, or smoking a cig, or gossiping. The simplest things in life are often the most satisfying. This one’s for all the comadres y compadres of Europe who inspire me to stop and stare, while I smile at them looking at me looking at them.
Sights of Gaia
Useful Websites for your Porto/Vila Nova de Gaia Travels: