Europe editor Kenneth Kiesnoski embarked on a walking tour of
Porto, Portugal's intriguing, but often overlooked, second city.
His report follows:
espite the near-cultlike status
Porto's dockside wine cellars enjoy among the world's port-wine
aficionados, Portugal's scenic second city -- also known as Oporto
-- offers much more than just that famed, fortified fruit of the
On a recent visit the day of a high-profile soccer match between
home team F.C. Porto and and archrival Lisboa Sporting, I navigated
the energetic crowds of "football" fans that clogged newly
scrubbed, city-center streets to take in some of Porto's
architectural, cultural and retail highlights.
It was just steps from my base at the Pestana Porto Carlton
Hotel -- on the city's oldest square, Praca da Republica, in its
oldest quarter, the riverside Ribeira -- to the remains of the
city's oldest medieval gate, a fitting start to a tour of historic
Casa do Infante, the relatively modest 14th century house
reputed to be the birthplace of Portuguese explorer-king Henry the
Navigator, was nearby.
Around the corner, a retail shop run by the Regional Center of
Traditional Arts (CRAT) raises funds for the restoration of 2,500
of Ribeira's historical structures, which -- despite the desirable
addresses -- house mainly poor and working-class families.
At CRAT, which is open daily save Mondays and holidays, I
selected a handful of Moorish-style azulejos, or hand-painted
tiles, from shelves crammed with Portuguese folk art.
Local crafts in hand, I crossed the Rua do Infante and entered
the Sao Francisco church, one of the most ornate houses of worship
Its austere Gothic facade was deceiving, as some 1,000 pounds of
gold coat the baroque interior, a popular venue for weddings and
concerts, although regular services are no longer held there.
Of particular note is the 18th century Tree of Jesse wood
carving, which traces the biblical lineage of Jesus Christ with a
literal family tree.
The church adjoins the Palacio do Bolsa, or stock exchange
building, built in 1842.
Daily tours explore its myriad rooms, including the standout
Arabian Hall, a polychrome copy of a room in the Alhambra Palace in
Huffing and puffing, I next scaled the winding streets up hills
behind the Bolsa, pausing to gaze back admiringly over the Ribeira,
which is framed by the graceful arch of the Ponte Dom Luis I --
surely Porto's most photographed icon.
The double-decker span, designed by a student of Gustave Eiffel
-- builder of the Eiffel Tower -- soon will be closed to foot and
auto traffic, reserved for commuter trains crossing the Rio
Farther along, on the Rua das Taipas, looms the 18th century
Torre dos Clerigos; at 246 feet high, the tower -- open daily save
Wednesdays -- is basically an Enlightenment-era skyscraper, and
remains one of Porto's tallest structures and best vantage
I passed on scaling its 240 steps and headed for the Rua da
Galeria de Paris, a pedestrianized retail street upgraded for
Porto's reign as a European Union cultural capital in 2001.
Nearby is the Livraria Lello bookshop, regarded -- by locals --
as the most beautiful in the world; the claim is not without merit,
as the shop's gilded woodwork swoops overhead in sumptuous art
nouveau curves, gracefully blending two streams in Porto's
Around the corner at Praca Dona Filipa de Lencastre 62, lies
Porto's priciest hotel, the Hotel Infante de Sagres, where
year-round rates range from $180 per night, single, to $1,000 for a
Built in 1952, the modernist structure is plain from the
outside, but its sumptuous interior lobby and large suites attract
top-notch clientele from around the globe.
After a quick tour of its eclectic rooms, I hustled myself over
to the Rua de Santa Caterina, a retail esplanade notable for two
reasons: First, it's home to the Via Caterina shopping center,
which -- although your standard-issue, overpriced mall -- is open
on Sundays, a rarity in Porto, and it houses an F.C. Porto fan
shop, predictably crowded the day of my visit with souvenir
Second, the street is also where I found the circa-1921 Majestic
Cafe, the culinary equivalent of the Lello bookshop; both a
cafeteria and a proper restaurant, the beautifully decorated cafe
is a stereotypical smoky Old World haunt of intellectual and artist
I made another retail pilgrimage stop at A Perla do Bolhao,
another art nouveau edifice housing an upscale grocery store.
Two must-see historic sights remained on my agenda, the Sao
Bento train station -- which features early-20th century azulejo
murals depicting the history of travel -- and the fortress-like
cathedral, or Se.
On display at the cathedral is one of the few medieval statues,
controversial to this day, of a nursing Virgin Mary.
Negotiating around both attractions took some skill, as the
run-down -- and by night, dodgy -- Cathedral District is a jumble
of dilapidated structures under renovation and torn-up streets
being laid with track for the city's new subway and light-rail
Other transit improvements include the scheduled debut later
this year of a funicular from the foot of the Ponte Dom Luis I
uphill to the Sao Joao National Theater near the Se, and the
expansion of the restored historic tram service that now runs west
along the Rio Douro from Sao Francisco church.
For the time being, Porto offers extensive bus service by way of
public transit; I hopped Bus 78 from the city's historic center to
a more modern addition to Porto's roster of attractions, the
Serralves Museum of Contemporary Art.
The museum, a radical modern structure by Alvaro Siza Vieira
that features exhibition space for art created after 1960, shares
the grounds of the parklike, 45-acre Serralves Foundation estate
with the art deco-style Casa de Serralves.
After touring the museum, I strolled through the seaside Foz do
Douro district on the Atlantic, popular for its beaches, bars and
restaurants, and dined at Cafeina, a trendy little coffeehouse cum
restaurant steps from the beach.
For more information on planning client stays in Porto, contact
the Portuguese National Tourist Office in New York at (800)
PORTUGAL, (800) 767-8842, or visit www.portugal.org.
Room key: Pestana Porto Carlton
Address: Praca da Ribeira 1, 4050-513 Porto, Portugal
Phone: (011) 351-22 340-2300
Fax: (011) 351-22 340-2400
Reservations: (011) 351-22 361-5678
Manager: Carla Sa Chaves
Rates: $99 to $230, double, per night; specials
Built: 16th to 18th centuries; renovated in
No. of Rooms: 48
Location: On Douro River, in Unesco-protected city
Facilities: Restaurant, bar, meetings rooms
Noteworthy: Fantastic views, central location,
Not worthy: Noise, obstacles from reconstruction