Oporto is Portugal’s second city and makes a wonderful place to rent a holiday villa. It has beautiful sandy beaches nearby, a charming Old City with tiny cobbled streets in the UNESCO-listed Baixa (Lower Town), great shopping and some interesting attractions.
Known as Portugal’s Capital of the North, Oporto is totally different from the more staid city of Lisbon where many of the historic buildings were lost in the 1755 earthquake. Often known as Porto, the city was founded by the Romans as a commercial port. During the 17th century, port wine began to be made further inland in the Douro Valley. The wine was transported down the Douro River to the coast in flat barges, known as barcos rabelos and stored in the port lodges beneath the city buildings until suitably aged and matured. It was then exported around the world. The area of Vila Nova de Gaia is still the centre of the port wine trade with over 50 port lodges still operating today. Visitors can take a tour of the cellars and then taste the port.
A boat cruise up the river is a pleasant way to view the city from the water. The buildings are traditionally whitewashed and topped with red tile roofs, making a very pretty sight on the hillside. Sail beneath some of the six bridges that span the Douro River. The oldest is the Dona Maria Pia railway bridge which was built in 1877. It was designed by Gustave Eiffel who also built Paris’s Eiffel Tower. Incidentally, the best place to view a sunset in Oporto is from the mouth of the river estuary, at the Foz do Douro.
The Ribeira is the old waterfront area which is a delightful district to wander around and discover for yourself. Many of the houses have the traditional hand-painted tiles decorating the pastel painted walls. The tiles are usually blue and white and are called azulejos. You may find some in the old antique shops and they make beautiful souvenirs of your visit.
Further up the hillside above the river is the cathedral or Sé, which was originally built as a defensive fortress church. It has an exceptional rose window dating back to the 13th century and 14th century cloisters which offer scenic views.
The Palacio de Bolsa is the Stock Exchange building which was completed in 1842. It is well known for its stunning Arabian-style room which is decorated in similar style to the Alhambra Palace in Granada, Spain. One final recommendation to visit in Oporto is the Fundacao de Serralves Museum of Contemporary Art. Even if you are not a fan of modern art, the Art Deco villa and gardens are a pleasure to explore and you can have lunch at the restaurant or teahouse in the grounds.