The Ellie & Co team of two have just got back from a fascinating mid-spring long weekend break in Porto, including a day trip to the Douro wine region and since we had such a great time, we thought we might share a few travel notes from our curious finds…
1. Stay in an old antique shop turned guesthouse
Spotting the elegant facade of Maison des Amis on Booking.com is one of the reasons I started planning a trip to Porto. Set in one of those typical old Porto townhouses, it’s stylish and authentic and only £70/night. There are just four rooms, each one light, airy and chic mixing traditional antiques with sleek modern design. I love curious and quirky accommodation, especially if it has a story to tell, and this place has.
The lovely owner, Isabel, told us the house belonged to her furniture-maker grandfather which he used as his showroom, until it closed 10 years ago, left to gather dust. Until Isabel quit her teaching job, that was, and together with her architect sister, brought the place back to life, turning it into this magical guesthouse filled with all their grandfather’s handmade antique furniture. This was our gigantic city-view room… each morning you could look down from the balcony and see the old trams rattling past.
We were the only ones staying on our first night and had the house all to ourselves! Each morning, a lovely spread was laid out for us in the breakfast room which looked out onto the pretty garden…
I highly recommend a stay at Maison des Amis!
2. Wander the cobbled streets filled with time-capsule homes and shops
We arrived in Porto early in the morning and were eager to meet the city, the allure of its cobbled streets filled with beautiful old-timey shops with their faded signs and flickering neon too much to resist. We pretty much dropped our bags as soon as we arrived and set out to get our bearings – Porto is compact and the perfect place for wearing down your shoe leather.
3. Have an authentic lunch in a charming neighbourhood cafe
We were greeted with smiling faces at the door when we arrived at Casa do Evaristo, a very cosy lunch spot, on our first day. It was the perfect introduction to Portuguese home cooking – the food is simple but tasty with the fresh ingredients and a homemade feel. Perfect for a nice, tasty and cheap lunch.
4. Discover abandoned Porto
It’s not long after arriving in Porto you begin to notice the sorry state of many of Porto’s beautiful tiled houses. I honestly think I spent most of my time in Porto trying to get over the shock of how many stunning abandoned buildings there are.
To discover Porto’s abandoned heart, a company called The Worst Tours – yes, that really is their name – run by three architects take you around Porto to discover its derelict buildings that tell a story about the city’s history. They even take you to an abandoned village which we attempted to visit on our own (because we didn’t book the tour in time…).
5. Go Azulejo tile hunting
To be fair, you don’t have to hunt too hard to find these delightful scenes. There are several azulejo-tiled buildings around Porto which you easily spot. They also make for a good photo backdrop and I like to think of this as my Porto money shot, Mr Ellie & Co strolling past the Capela das Almas on Rua da Santa Catarina (close to Casa do Evaristo), completely covered in these blue tiles that depict stories in the lives of various saints.
Don’t miss a peek inside the Sao Bento train station for more tiles and people watching.
6. Discover the up-and-coming neighbourhoods
Porto isn’t really one of those cities where it’s hugely obvious which neighbourhoods are best to explore, or where to find the quirky shops and restaurants, but squeezed in between the abandoned façades, you will spot lots of cool new places opening up. A wander along Rua do Almada is a good place to start; a long uphill street filled with pop-up shops and design shops, like this one called Workshops Pop Up, stocking plenty of traditional Portuguese products like cushions and rugs, all really well priced, as well as pottery and the colourful tins of fish you see all around.
A bit further along the street you’ll find Casa Almada, a treasure-trove of delightful mid-century design pieces all crammed into a beautiful townhouse, a peek outside the back revealing a view over the crumbling Porto rooftops.
7. To try the world’s best pork rolls from a honest food gem
I honestly believe that some of the best food around the world comes from the most unassuming hole-in-the-wall places, like this gem we discovered wandering Porto’s streets. Called Casa Guedes, turns out it’s well-known across the city for its delicious pork rolls. I promise you, all other pulled pork creations are imposters once you’ve tasted one from this honest food gem.
The crispy brown rolls are warm straight from the oven, and packed full of succulent meat that simply melts in the mouth when you bite in. TIP: This place is so popular, it’s not unusual for the queue to snake out the door and around the corner every day, so I’d highly recommend getting two when you go in, just in case you want more and don’t want to queue!
8. Go wine tasting in a train station
The little town of Piñhao was our first stop on a day trip to the Duoro wine region, about 1.5 hours out of Porto. You can arrive by train here, but our rental car was waiting outside… Anyway… as well as a photogenic spot, there’s also a wine house attached to the side of the station operating out of the old ticket office and offering tasting and nibbles right on the platform.
Picnic tables line the azulejo tiles overlooking the train tracks and there’s a private room and a museum inside, providing a little background of wine-making in the region since the 19th century– not your typical setting for a wine tasting.
It’s a recent addition to the picturesque station as part of a rehabilitation project by one of the local wineries, Quinta Nova de Nossa Senhora do Carmo. They also have a beautiful hotel on their estate in the hills if you prefer to sleep among the vineyards during your stay in the Douro Valley.
9. Dinner after dark with the cool crowd
We found Miss Opo not far from our guesthouse in the maze of alleyways up from the Ribeira, the UNESCO old town part of Porto, close to the River Duoro. It has a stylishly rough-around-the-edges look and serves delicious small plates made from a teeny tiny kitchen.