We arrived in Porto at around noon, and thankfully our Airbnb host allowed us to check in early. If you are looking for somewhere to stay in Porto, I recommend our host Ana at “♥* In the mood for… Oporto*♥” – a very comfortable 3 bedroom apartment, very centrally located. We dropped off our luggage and headed out to explore the city.
Any visit to Portugal will necessarily involve partaking in the local cuisine. The excellent wines, seafood and pastries are particularly famous, but Porto’s own specialty is an artery-clogging concoction called the Francesinha. Francesinha, which means “little Frenchie” is Porto’s version of the French croque-monsieur – a sandwich layered with ham, several types of sausage, steak or roast meat, drowned in melted cheese & an egg, and covered with a beer and tomato sauce. And chips (french fries). I suspected this was a meal designed for tourists, but several locals assured me they eat them regularly. Our first meal in Porto, naturally, was Francesinha (shared) washed down with the local beer, in a small but very popular cafe recommended by Ana. I have to say it was more tasty than it looked, but I don’t feel the need to ever have another.
Porto is the second largest city in Portugal, and full of old world charm. While Lisbon was destroyed in an earthquake in 1755, Porto was spared and is very well preserved. Porto has undergone somewhat of a renaissance in the last decade or so, from a depressed industrial city to a lively cultural scene. We saw evidence of restoration everywhere, some extreme dilapidation, but also charming streetscapes, vintage trams and elegant architecture.
The most striking thing you notice are many buildings covered in azulejos, the beautiful blue and white painted tiles that Portugal is famous for. In fact our arrival in Porto was via the São Bento Railway Station, a tourist destination in itself, with large panels of azulejo tiles depicting this history of transportation and significant events in Porto’s past. We walked around the corner from our Airbnb and ran into Santa Caterina Church and the Church of Saint Ildefonso, both particularly striking examples of azulejos. But pretty tile-work is not limited to public buildings, and is very much a signature of the city.