Design Soda Travel Guide : Porto

July 3, 2019

 

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Usually when I plan a trip I take my dslr camera with me, I have an itinerary of things we must see and do, plus a back up plan for if we have extra time. I know, contain your excitement I am a fun and carefree traveller!  My husband is very used to citybreaks that feel a little like a bus mans holiday, and he doesn’t seem to mind too much. Actually, I’ve always been like this, well before blogging days, I guess I’m less of a natural flaneur and more of a control freak (with high expectations from a holiday). This time though we took our 4 year old Ted with us, on our first summer holiday that could be categorised as a city break. We weren’t positive he was going to enjoy it, we had a pool at the villa we were staying at but aside from that who could guess if, as a Londoner, he might feel a city trip was a bit mundane?
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As a result I didn’t do my usual level of research for itinerary planning, I knew both my blogger friends Abi from These Four Walls and Cate St Hill had been and written posts on Porto, I had a look at Cereal, Petite Passport and Wallpaper, so there were a few places on my list, but for the first time ever we took each day as it came wandering where our noses led us. There are lots of hip hang outs in Porto, but I can’t say we ventured into many of them with our tiny person, we didn’t want to ruin his experience! Still, there was lots of inspiration, and I think the UNESCO city of Porto, with its close proximity to beaches, is quite possibly the perfect location for a family city break. I visited one place which was jaw-dropping-ly special, which I will be blogging about separately over the next few days, but for now here are a few picture postcards of the things we did and the places we really rated (all captured on iPhone but hopefully not too grainy!).
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Do: Wandering the Old Town
Porto is a truly beautiful city, full of pattern laden art nouveau detail and tiles. Just following your nose around the central districts of Vitória and Ribiera is a true joy for the senses. An architour without destinations, though you really must see the Igreja do Carmo, an ornate church with stunning azulejos tiles, ditto the station at Sao Bao which has to be one of the most ornate train stations in the world. If you have the stomach for it, you will queue (for at least half an hour) Porto has the most incredible art nouveau bookshop. Livraria Lello is said to have been the Hogwarts inspiration for J K Rowling, and of course if you put the words Harry Potter next to something madness descends. But despite the hordes of people this bookshop is worth the visit if you are either a bibliophile or have an interest in design from the Fin de Siecle. With a smogsaboard of elaborate carved wood fittings and central winding red leather staircase this was a must for us. There is an entrance fee of €5 euros but the cost of ticket is redeemable on purchases and the store has a reasonably well stocked selection in most visitors languages.
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Do: Take a Tram and Visit The Coast
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Actually there are two parts of the coast we absolutely loved and only one is accessible by tram. The first that we visited was a twenty minute train from Sao Bento station in Porto to Miramar. The Praia do Senhor da Pedra  is a really special place, rated one of Europe’s most beautiful beaches in 2015, it is a lovely sandy part of the coastline which Porto residents often use as a beach escape. However, the main reason to visit it in my eyes is the slightly unusual resident building right by the shoreline. It is reasonably often that I have seen a chapel on a hill overlooking the sea, but one built onto the very rocks of the shore where the tides lap around the chapels base never. This is a really special spot and climbing the stairs above the chapel to look out over the waves beneath was one of the most magical parts of our trip.
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Slightly more usual for the tourist trail is the fisherman’s villages surrounding the town of Foz do Dourno. There are a few routes down to this part of the coast, including the 207 bus which we took back to Carmo (all STP buses in Porto have WiFi btw), but surely the most picturesque is the tram from Infante in Ribiera. Our little person was dying to travel on one of these museum pieces we kept seeing around town (often heaving with passengers). The best times to catch them are early morning and early evening if you want to avoid the crowds (and get a seat). The beach is a mixture of sand and tiny shingle, you can find the usual tourist cafes and ice cream parlours here and it’s a lovely line of coast to spend some time in away from the heat of the city. Our only tip really is to make sure you keep walking when you alight the tram as the beaches really open up a little further down from the tram terminus.
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Eat: Epoca & Cafe Vitória
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Whilst we weren’t going to subject Ted to the bustle of Porto’s hippest restaurants and bars we did make space for two eateries I had read good things about. The first is probably the best place I have eaten breakfast. Epoca is a vegetarian brunch cafe that serves hearty healthy fare with a twist of interest. Ted had an amazing rice pudding breakfast sweetened with pear, cacao drops, hazelnut butter and raspberries (it was as incredible as it sounds). I had some very perfect buckwheat pancakes served with yoghurt, almond syrup and sliced apple, Dan went for an insanely good Parmesan scrambled eggs on homemade sourdough. All of these breakfasts (we all dug in to each other’s) were absolutely delicious and we really rated this place, if we’d found it sooner I have no doubt we would have walked to breakfast here each day!
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As my husband celebrated his birthday whilst we were out in Porto I did a scan of trendy spots that weren’t too formal but where the food was amazing which would suit us all. I became vegetarian a few months ago but with the caveat that occasionally I will eat fish. I traded in my pescatarian voucher for the month and booked us in to the restaurant at Cafe Vitória in downtown Vitória. This place is really special, there’s a lovely bar with lots of botanical details and a cute outdoor patio, and a cafe at the front that serves food all day. Upstairs is a beautiful pared back restaurant including balcony seating for two, that serves a limited but incredible menu. Again we tried each other’s dishes, the menu included seared tuna on sea asparagus and pea, mussels in squid ink with peppers, mackerel with melon and cucumber vinaigrette and the anchovy butter served on sourdough starter with freshly picked capers was divine.
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Shop: Unique Boutiques in Porto
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One can’t really do a city tour without a little jaunt around the stores unique to location. Alongside the usual chains you’ll find in any European city there are a few more interesting ones to see. A Vida Portuguesa has two branches, and having visited its Lisbon outpost this was a must. Expect beautiful well made homewares from small often artisan brands alongside bits of vintage and lots of amazing packaging. If packaging is your bag you also can’t be disappointed by a visit to either Couto apothecary (one of the first makers of toothpaste in the world and incidentally a subject that I featured in a design crush way back in 2014) or Loja das Conservas, a store entirely dedicated to Sardines and other preserved fish.
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Stay: Apartments Carregal
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There are many lovely places to stay in Porto dependent of your particular wants and budget. But if you are going with a young family I wanted to make note of the lovely apartment we stayed in located in a 150 year old building. BN Apartments Carregal are well designed, kitted out with a not unstylish selection of Ikea pieces, have a pool, are cleaned daily, and are very competitively priced.
Come back next week for a tour of a pink concrete Art Deco mansion slightly out of town!
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