There’s floodwater outside my window, a grey curtain has come down over Edinburgh and I’m thoroughly enjoying a pastel de nata as I write for what feels like the first time in forever. At last, I’m back with a story about port, custard tarts and a pink house in Portugal.
Porto is steep with lots of Hollywood-style signs glowing on the Gaia hillsides, marking the spots where port cellars bottle up some of the tastiest spirits in the country. On the Porto side of the river, restaurants, bars and colourful buildings are stacked on top of each other with the faint sound of melancholy fado (Portuguese singing) filling alleyways beside the Douro.
Josh and I arrived by the newish, somewhat confusing metro, to a quiet street just beyond the city centre. With our priorities straight, we ducked into a tiny supermarket where over half the shelves were lined with alcohol. We needn’t have, our hosts left a tasty bottle of red on the table for our arrival!
After waking up, I just knew it was a pastel de nata kind of morning. I’d been craving an authentic pastel de nata since Faro last year. It’s such an underrated pastry! After an encouragingly cheap breakfast, we crossed the Douro to Calem to get our Port education. Did you know they sell their used barrels to Scottish whisky distilleries? And, in the past, when the Douro flooded you’d see barrels full of port rising out of the cellars and bobbing along the river. We sampled our first drinks of the trip and controversially for me I preferred the white port over ruby and rose. It’s sweet and refreshing, and goes amazing with tonic.
That evening we found what was to be our favourite rooftop restaurant of the trip, Intrigo. Picture a sunset, blankets in a basket and fancy sausage rolls! We could have sat there for hours. Instead, we stumbled across an outdoor party with trippy music near the city’s most famous bookshop, Livraria Lello. Amazingly, we didn’t visit the bookshop, mainly because of the hordes of tourists and the queue to get inside.
So, with books out of the picture, we took an old school tram to Foz to see my dream home: Serralves. Best. Decision. Ever.
This was hands down the highlight of our trip, although little did I know I was coming down with a case of shingles at the time! I brushed it off as a little heat rash…whoops!
Never mind, the trip must go on. So, going against our better judgement, we even tried fado one night. A young waiter scoffed at us and said it was ‘for old people’. We sure felt like old people when he said that…yet, if there was one thing I could undo about our trip, this would be it. It’s touristy for sure.
Speaking of touristy, I did try the famous francesinha for the first time: a plate of meat and cheese sandwich with egg on top, swimming in sauce. It looked and sounded awful, but I ate every single bit. It was amazing!
Our favourite neighbourhood was Aliados and Bolhao – it had the hipster feel of Leith in a Grassmarket setting. When I’m next back, I’ll stay here in a place called Selina, a great hostel we found with live music and a real artsy vibe. I bought some vintage sailing prints for my flat and ate squid in the sun.
We spent our last day exploring Jardins do Palácio de Cristal which was a park that completely caught us by surprise. We were expecting a generic park, certainly not peacocks, an art gallery and stunning views of the city!
With a little more time to kill before our flight, I may have broken my no-franchises-on-holiday rule to experience the fancy McDonald’s Imperial – supposedly the world’s most beautiful McDonald’s in a 1930s art deco building. It even has chandeliers! And, rest assured, you can get a pastel de nata and coffee to go. Just don’t forget the cinnamon.