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Viagens do Verão: Porto, Portugal

Leg three of my summer journey took me to Porto, Portugal. It located in the estuary of the Douro river, in northern Portugal. The city of Porto is comprised of 15 civil parishes. The historic center, or centro, of Porto was declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1996. It’s absolutely stunning, and is hopping at night, particularly after 1 a.m. One of Portugal’s most internationally famous products, Port wine, is named after the city because it is produced in, and shipped from the area (or, more precisely, from Vila Nova de Gaia, a city just across the river which belongs to the same conurbation.) In 2001, Porto shared the designation European Culture Capital. Deservedly.

I don’t have many images of the city center. Mostly because I tended to stay at the pool of the Freixo Palace where I stayed. It’s an amazing hotel, great pool and lovely setting. It’s one of Portugal’s Pousadas de Portugal, a wonderful innovation. The Pousadas de Portugal are a chain of luxury, traditional or historical hotels in Portugal. Formerly run by the state, they are now run by the Pestana group, which in September 2003 won a public bid for a 40-year running concession.

The Pousadas were envisioned and created in the early 1940s by Government Minister António Ferro, also a poet and playwright, who had the idea of creating hotels that were both rustic and genuinely Portuguese. His first Pousada was built in Elvas, in the Alentejo, which would be the first of what Ferro called “small hotels that look nothing like hotels.” This Pousada is still in use. There are now 44 Pousadas installed in historic buildings.

I also ate at what may be the best restaurant I have ever had the priviledge to dine in, Foz Velha. Had the Invicta IX tasting menu. Unbelievably reasonable price. Just fantastic. ONE OF THE BEST RESTAURANT STAFF I HAVE EVER ENCOUNTERED IN A RESTAURANT. PERIOD. If I lived in Porto, and believe me, I could, I would eat there once a week and never be bored. Quail eggs in cornbread, cold peas cream soup with mint foam . . . I could go on and on. The only bummer? Some idiot is erecting a building across the street which is totally out of place in this beautiful seaside neighborhood, Foz.

I’ll let the pictures, what few I have, do the talking.