Porto is the new Berlin, according to travel trend people. Or something.
Actually it’s nothing like Berlin, it reminded me on my recent visit with middleagedad, of a cross between Tokyo, Brooklyn and Margate. There’s a bleakly brutal, almost Soviet style architecture to some of the modernist buildings, which contrasts interestingly against the gloriously decorative churches and houses. These older buildings are often clad in gorgeously coloured, geometric ceramic tiles and there are wrought iron balconies everywhere, it’s THE place to go if you’re about to embark on decorative ironwork around your house.
There are lots of young creative people doing interesting things with community spaces and food, which are well worth seeking out, and there’s a sense that gentrification has just started (Christies property division has luxury -apartment banners on lots of the beautiful old buildings being renovated).
It’s also – according to the 2017 Global Peace Index- the fourth most peaceful place to live on the planet, so that’s something of a draw currently. The people we met were SO friendly and chilled and really, if you live overlooking the river Duro, twenty minutes walk from the sea, what’s not to be happy about?
Here are a few highlights or our trip, incase you find yourself going in the near future.
Best Shops – Claus Porto
I know I’m biased, but the exquisite Claus Porto store, featuring this 130 year old brand’s beautiful assortment of soaps and perfumes, is an absolute gem. It opened last year and is light, bright and over two floors displays the heritage of the super- popular Portuguese brand.
The perfumed soaps are wrapped in geometrically printed papers that turn them into tiny jewels -and make an ideal present – there’s even a scented soap wall to Instagram. British perfume star Lyn Harris (of Perfumer H and formally of Miller Harris) helped create the newer soap scents and the beautiful Le Parfum limited edition fragrance. A joy. Just around the corner was one of our fav restaurants too, LSD at Largo de Sao Domingos.
A Vida Portuguesa
As a quick stop for stylish and not too expensive gifts, A Vida Portuguesa is perfect. I bought the brightly coloured plastic kitchen wares and was tempted by the fish ceramics, the soaps and the baskets. If I’d’ve had a bigger bag, I would have gone a bit mad here.
Coracao Alecrom is lovely lifestyle shop selling pretty local clothes designs -mostly linen shifts and simple floral print dresses – and local ceramics in artful colours and shapes. Ceramics, linen, leather and baskets are good local buys everywhere and anything wrapped in the glorious geometric designs the Portuguese are so good at, they are really good at patterns.
There are lots of good little shops in this area, but this one is doing fantastic things with its Local Food Lab concept, which encourages local food suppliers and chefs to show off their beautiful product. There is a test kitchen in the store which looks very promising if you are there when it’s got a workshop/event on. When we visited, they’d put a long trestle table on the pavement, laden with simple local product and encouraged passers by to stop, chat, eat and appreciate.
The Art District.
I’m not going to list all the stores in the cool art district, but this is really where you need to spend time if you want to pick up what the young Porto designers, photographers, foodies and plantsmen are up to. The area stretches from the along the Rua Miguel Bombarda, it’s not massive so easily walkable and is worth meandering around.
A highlight was the CC Bombarda courtyard mall, which on Saturdays has a mini food market (cheese, biscuits, bread, fruit and black pig pork sausages came back in my suitcase) full of good fare. There’s also a vinyl store – obvs!- and a couple of great cafes. I also loved the gardener Manel Jardineiro’s shed-store, where he was selling Kokedama hanging plants for a very good price. I bought one for plant-loving youngest son and Manel, who is experienced at understanding the peculiarities of each transit carrier’s views on plants as hand luggage- carefully wrapped it up in robust packaging for us to take back on the plane.
There’s a selection of Saturday markets worth seeking out if you are here, but if you come from the UK (or maybe France, thinking of you Sue Evans) then manage your expectations. These are not super-amazing or huge, and are often peppered with local crafts. Nothing wrong with them, they are good to amble through, but if you are an experienced vintage trawler (ahem, me) then you’ve probably seen better.
We did visit a great and huge warehouse-come-restaurant-come-cafe-bar called Armazém, which is great for local junk and antiques and serves a great expresso and pastel de nata.
We didn’t have time to do the port lodges, but they are very popular and all along one side of the Duro, I’d guess that at least half a day could be lost here. I drank white port while I was there and I’d encourage you to do the same.
We stayed at the Torel Avantgarde hotel, which has just won a ‘best of’ gong from the 2018 World Luxury Hotels Awards, and it was great. It’s very close to the art district and the view from the balcony – where you have breakfast and supper of an evening – is AMAZING. I took the top image while sipping one of those white ports and you’d have to work very hard to find a better place to sit and stare. But there are plenty of other good places. We were at the top of a very steep hill, so great for keeping your daily steps rate up, but it’s worth noting if you are not great at getting around that Porto is very hilly.
Food is great, we just ambled into local restaurants and ate really well. We ate far too many cakes, which I think the Portuguese are brilliant at. You all know Pastel de Nata but have you ever tried King’s cake? And we’ve not even started on the beaches, further North but absolutely doable from Porto town and really lovely. It’s a great place to go.