We managed to grab a few days in Portugal this month and haven't stopped thinking about it since. As always, we love to share the love so here's our two-part guide to good times in Porto and Lisbon. To be honest, you'd have to be dead inside not to have an amazing time in either of these terrific cities, but hopefully this blog post will save you a few hours of Googling to find the best food, beer and fun.
Lisbon gets all the love right now - not without merit, as you'll see in the next installment - but Porto is a rather unfairly overlooked gem. The best way to appreciate its dilapidated majesty is to get up high - and with no shortage of hills, all you'll need for this is a sturdy set of pins.
Porto is nestled on the banks of the Douro river - on one side you have the old town; on the other, the port wine warehouses of Vila Nova de Gaia. In between, spanning the river, are a series of magnificent bridges. Be a tourist and walk up the waterfront to the Ponte Dom Luis I bridge - head up the steps to reach the top crossing. It's stupendously high and you may get hit by a train at any moment, but the views (and the vertigo) are astounding.
For beer, make a beeline to Letraria, the taproom for the Letra brewery. The beautiful beer garden is one of the most zen places you will ever drink, and it offers a great introduction to the local craft scene - when we visited the board featured beers from breweries such as Bolina, Dois Corvos and - our favourite - Passarola. The Portuguese craft beer industry is fairly young and not every beer hits the mark, but there's a real excitement to it. It feels like something awesome is about to happen...
For wine, we spent a wonderful few hours at Wine Quay Bar, looking out over the river as the sun started to sink. Wine Quay Bar is on the Ribeira riverfront, but because it is set up above the tourist throngs, you can avoid the madness below.
Portuguese wine is - like Porto - a bit underrated here in the UK. Someone told us it's because Portugal tends to keep the best stuff for themselves - and why the hell not? The selection at Wine Quay Bar is exceptional across the board, with a big focus on the local wines from the Douro (as well as other Portuguese regions), and the service is fantastic - warm, welcoming and attentive. (NB: the Portuguese approach to service is generally pretty laidback and as such can seem frustratingly slow for time-poor Londoners, so make sure you allow yourself a bit of time for eating and drinking - and, well, you know, RELAX.)
We also loved exploring the late night wine bars around our downtown apartment - Pipa Vilha in Rua das Oliveiras was a particular highlight, dark and divey in the very best way. Choose the Meandro if it's on the wine list...
And of course it wouldn't be a visit to Porto without port. Someone gave us the excellent advice to head up the hill rather than go to one of the more easily accessible port warehouses on the tourist-packed waterfront so we headed up to Graham's Port Lodge in an ideal location at the top of the hill, with views across the river back to the old town. Tours of the facility are available by appointment, which we were too late for, so we settled for a couple of glasses of local wine and a selection of tinned fish, before making our way through the port menu. A delightful way to spend an afternoon, and it certainly made the walk back a lot more fun.
Head here for Part 2 - our Lisbon guide...