Glass travels to the northwest coast of Portugal and explores Porto and Viana

ON the northwest coast of Portugal, on the right bank of the Douro River lies the city of Porto. Although it’s the second largest city in the country, I sense there’s a slight rivalry between its inhabitants and those who live in Lisbon, the capital. “They derogatorily refer to Porto as ‘the countryside’,” I’m told by wounded Portoans. Although the city is rich in stunning landscape features, particularly the wide river which disconnects the city except by way of six prominent bridges, Porto is not exactly primitive. It was proclaimed a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1996, and visitors can find a blend of contemporary and historical buildings, along with world-renowned architectural landmarks by some of modernity’s most celebrated architects, including Rem Koolhaas’s Casa da Musica and Alvaro Siza’s Contemporary Art Museum.

Porto view from the seaPorto view from the sea

Mentioning the word Porto implies sophistication. The city has earned a reputation at an international level for its production of port wine, and after a visit to the Sandeman distillery one can easily see why. Sandeman smells of authenticity. A tour of its facilities is a memorable spatial experience where visitors learn about the port wine production process while being guided through a series of stone arches with ambience lighting, working well with the wine’s branding as a “taste of a contemporary and sensual lifestyle”. Large overhead spot lamps project circles onto the floor, echoing the shape of the barrels while compartmentalising the cellar into a set of magnificent spaces. Added to the physical texture of the building materials is the smell of wood, must and undertones of sweet wine transpiring from the French Oak barrels.

Porto culturePorto culture

But there’s more to Porto than just wine. Its history is impregnated in the walls, and walking through its streets is as pleasant as it is intriguing. Certain areas of the city are run down and have deteriorated because the structures are so old that the government does not always know who the properties belong to and thus cannot intervene. But despite some derelict-looking areas, the city doesn’t feel dangerous. Instead, it feels authentic and pleasant. In its disparate architectural textures one can see undeniable beauty.

At times, the city feels cluttered, but rather than being overwhelming, the mismatch and disorganisation create fantastic geometric compositions which can be appreciated at street level, as well as from the terraces of Porto Cathedral, an astounding 12th century monument which overlooks the city from a podium-like hill.

In a city of contrasts, one goes from the dark, monolithic and solemn Romanesque cathedral to a commercial street buzzing with consumerism-hungry people. Santa Katerina is one of those streets where there’s a little something to tease everyone. Amidst a seemingly endless street of shops, a charming place called Majestic Café seduced me into paying it a visit. Inside, its interior is decorated with large, ornate mirrors and intricate detailing on its glass windows. With pink walls, walnut-stained wood decorative finishes and black marble columns topped with gold leaf, Majestic Café sits somewhere between the Baroque and Art Nouveau. Like its renowned pastry, the rabanada, a French toast of sorts topped with walnuts, the café is a bit much, but still too good to miss out on.

Although there’s so much to see and do in Porto, it is worth venturing out to the surrounding cities and seeing what northern Portugal has to offer. Braga, a small city that boasts 47 Catholic churches, is largely composed of structures dating back to the 11th century. With large streets meant for strolling and small alleys that give it an intimate feel, and coffee shops and restaurants galore, it provides a fantastic location to spend a day and experience the less touristic, authentic quality of life in Portugal.

Porto flowersFlowers in Porto

A short drive from Braga, in Ponte do Lima, wine lovers will find Quinta do Ameal. A long canopy of blossomed wisterias welcomes guests to the 20-year-old winery, which grows their grapes organically and focuses on having a low quantity of bottles with high quality white wine; perhaps why the wine is featured in 30 Michelin-starred restaurants around the world. The property, dating back to 1710, features a small number of newly refurbished bedrooms and apartments for guests who wish to escape the buzz of the city and retreat to the natural setting of the Lima Valley.

If it’s countryside serenity, a stunning view and proximity to shops that you are looking for, then the ideal location lies in the municipality of Viana. Built during the reign of Prime Minister António de Oliveira Salazar in the mid-20th century, Pousada de Viana do Castelo evokes the charm and elegance of a small, countryside palace, together with one of the most stunning views in Portugal. The luxury boutique hotel is situated on the side of a mountain and is located opposite the magnificent Santa Luzia basilica, a sanctuary inspired by Sacré Coeur in Montmartre, Paris, mixing neo-Gothic and Byzantine architecture. Pousada de Viana do Castelo boasts tea terraces, balconies, gardens, and bedroom windows that open towards the magnificent view.

Porto foodFood in Porto

The bar, lounge and restaurant are all outstanding. But perhaps even more memorable than the scrumptious steak served at dinner, is entering your bedroom at night time and looking out. From atop the mountain, you’re guaranteed to feel a sublime high. Directly ahead, the basilica becomes a dormant gargantuan, begging both silence and reverence, while in its darkened splendour the spiritual aspect of the building is enhanced by an air of mystery. Below, Viana is covered in an eerie mist and the faded sound of the ocean waves crashing on the shore give the impression that the only beings awake are the Atlantic Ocean – and yourself.

by Regner Ramos

Pousada de Viana do Castelo Monte de Santa Luzia , 4901-909 , Viana do Castelo Porto e Norte
Reservations email:
Tel: +351 258 800 370

TAP Portugal flies directly from London Gatwick to Porto 12 times a week, return fares starting at £121 including all taxes and surcharges. For further information and to book, visit or call 0345 601 0932.


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