LAST month Pillow Magazine jump-started summer with a sunny city-break in Portugal. We began our holiday in the wonderfully calm and charming city of Porto, then spent two nights in the middle of the scenic Duoro countryside.
The four night trip fulfilled all our expectations and more; we were able to indulge in our love of travel while taking a much needed rest from upcoming deadlines at home. Whether you’re in need of a break from your workload, keen to travel the world or perhaps even seeking a romantic getaway, a flight to Portugal might just be the way forward.
Porto was so serene that we found ourselves lounging in the city square, Avenida Dos Aliados, within the first hour. Our time was spent alternating between lazing around and exploring the city, absorbing the softly-warm, European sun and admiring the architecture. Portugese cities are so picturesque because their buildings are adorned with Azulejos, a style of painted tile work that dates back to the 15th century. Perhaps our best find however, was the Jardins do Palácio de Cristal, an unusual public park and unexpected cache. As night began to descend we were exploring twisting paths and turns among fancy landscaping and Peacocks. Our first day in Porto was befittingly finished with a local beer in hand among flowers, fountains, a handful of locals and perfect views across the River Duoro.
The next day we took a two hour train deep into the Duoro Valley, the home of Port wine and a listed UNESCO World Heritage site. Mustering what Portugese we could, we located a taxi to drive us from the station at Regua to our hotel in Tabuaҫo. On our arrival, we checked in and ventured out through the small, quiet village and eventually settled into a quintessential little bar where we shared a beer with the locals and enjoyed the Porto vs. Benfica football game. Only at half time did we realise we had made the error of buying a Superbock beer, sponsor of the Porto team, when the locals were supporting Benfica and drinking their Sagres lager. That night, and indeed the next, was spent wining and dining on the local produce. We ate ’till we were full and drank far more than we could handle but we were able to walk it off by exploring the area and climbing hills then rest ourselves in the tranquil ambience and beaming sun.
The Hotel Duoro Inn was pleasant but simple. It offered a small balcony, an inviting bath and a delightfully giant king-sized bed, but it was just that; a bed. In Porto however, the Tattva Design Hostel is a tourist attraction all in itself. The staff beamed with hospitality, even supplying us with conditioner as we had forgotten ours. With a well-stocked breakfast from 8 till 11, a balcony full of chairs and beanbags that sometimes didn’t close till 3am and such a delightfully welcoming ambience, it was almost difficult to leave the hostel and venture into the city.
So what else should you tick off your list?
Your days in Porto should be spent roaming its streets and exploring its alleyways.
One moment you can discover some fantastic view across the river, counting the Churches dotted in the city landscape, and the next you can be eyeing up the goodies in a Flea Market, Vendoma or a lesser-well-known alternative.
As with almost every other city, Porto has access to a high tower -heights not for the faint-hearted- called the Torre Dos Clérigos which you can climb in order to behold the ultimate view of the city.
Hidden among the art galleries of Porto is the Bugo Art Burgers restaurant which serves possibly the best burgers that Pillow Magazine have yet to try, fusing international cuisine with Portuguese character.
Use one day to catch a bus to west of the city where you can wander casually along the coast or bathe on a beach. Ibar on Praia do Aquário was a brilliant little café with fresh fish and scrummy ice cream. Post-food-baby, you can lounge on the deck chairs but, as we learnt the hard way, be careful not to fall asleep and wake up sun-burnt two hours later.
The best cuisine however was back along the river and was found at Casa de Pasto da Palmeira, a characteristic restaurant which, although an hour’s walk or 10 minute drive from the city centre, was a favourite by far. With friendly staff to rival our hostel’s, Casa de Pasto da Palmeira offers a delectable tapas-like menu so that you gorge ’till you are full. Highly recommended are the swordfish cutlets with asparagus and macadamia nuts, smoked chicken spring rolls with mango dip, braised tuna steak, and a sort of Portuguese sausage in a spring roll called ‘Queque de Alheira’.
Tabuaҫo is a little quieter but it requires a similar approach.
Hours can be spent reading in a tiny, picturesque garden in the centre of town or by the pool when it is open in the busier months.
As you wander around, be prepared to venture a little out of the village, take advantage of any beckoning view spots and get ready to climb.
You are surrounded by vinyards and it is therefore your obligation to drink wine with every meal, but if you wish to become truly immersed in Duoro Valley’s wine culture you can take part in a local wine tour.
As for the food that this little village offers, sadly it cannot compare to Porto, however just up the road from the hotel is an authentic little local café called Cascata where you can sit outside and over indulge in their delicacy; a giant hotdog smothered in their special sauce.
All in all a trip to Portugal is a refreshing break and we relished the weekend away. Both Porto and Duoro breathe culture, cuisine and charm and as passionate travellers we enjoyed exploring the two very different regions, although Porto was definitely the highlight of the weekend. Portugal is highly underrated as a tourist destination and here at Pillow Magazine we cannot advocate it as a holiday destination enough.
EasyJet flys to Porto from £100 return.
Tattva Design Hostel has private rooms from £40 per person, based on two sharing, booked through Hostelbookers.
Hotel Douro Inn has rooms from £40 based on two sharing, booked through Hostelbookers.
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