Although I generally prefer to spend time in nature, I also try to find ways to enjoy a city and its culture. I found myself one weekend in Porto with two whole days to explore the city. Possibly one of my favorite European cities solely for the vast number of unique tiles displayed on the sides of every building. Many of the tiles were simply two tile widths wide running adjacent to a door frame and others manifested an entire façade. But seriously, I got so excited about my tile pictures that I actually printed them out on 4×6 immediately.
On my first day in Porto, I wandered from street to street, following the ones with the most tiles, as if I were a cat chasing a laser pointer. Speaking of which, there were also many stray cats and most were quite friendly and curious.
As a baker, I’m drawn to local pastries. Growing up, I’ve had egg tarts before, but I knew I had to try the original version of the Portuguese egg tart, called pastel de nata. Literally every bakery, from a little family-owned store to a commercialized cafe, offered these tarts. But, pro-tip: find the little family-owned bakeries and you can get fresh tarts for much less than 1€. Eating natas are a perfect way to spend time while waiting for the rain to pass or for restaurants to open up. So, among all the natal I’ve tried, my favorite was a freshly baked one that was warm and soft. The crust was perfectly flaky and the custard was well sweetened. It just melts in your mouth!
Another delicious local pastry was the bolinhos de laranja, which are basically little orange cakes. These are also heavily egg based, unlike pound cake, which is based on egg whites. Instead, these cakes have extra bounce to them and a touch of orange flavor.
When traveling, I think it is hard to plan around the sunlight when there isn’t enough time to wait for the perfect moments, but I was fortunate to have found a beautiful sunset after a rainy afternoon. The sunset made the whole city glow. As I was wandering, I stumbled upon one of the many churches in Porto, the Clérigos Church and Tower. Recently, I have been searching for a tower to climb; maybe this comes from my ever present yearn to be on top of everything from mountain summits to city towers. So I was glad to climb this tower.
To get to the top, you first walk around the church and see it’s gold-ornate interior. Then, it begins the narrow spiral staircase with viewpoints along the way up the 76m tower. The top of the tower has two levels, both with 360 views of the city and the Duoro River, which flows from the port wine agriculture region into the Atlantic Ocean. I took two laps around the tower, squeezing past other tourists, so I could truly soak in the views. Sometimes a second pass is needed to appreciate something. The sunset tour continued as I walked down to the river side and watched the colors in the sky change from blue to a golden hue. Across the river, there was a Venetian feel with the colorful buildings lined up along the river.
Sunset over Douro River
One of my favorite restaurants was one I found accidentally. There were so many great restaurants to choose from, but as I towards one I had decided on using google maps and reviews, I passed by Mito. It was one of those hidden restaurants where the neighborhood wasn’t exactly spectacular, but the interior had a contemporary vibe. I took a second look and could not have been more decisive when I saw that a 3-course lunch menu was only 10.8€. What a steal!
It was easy to get seated by myself and my first order of business was the sautéed mushroom appetizer with confit yolk. I think there were at least 5 different mushrooms in that dish, but each flavor melded together into one amazing flavor. My main plate was a pork belly dish with stew cabbage and fondant potato. I wasn’t sure what a fondant potato was when I ordered it, but it was possibly the most scrumptious and soft potato I’ve ever eaten. The pork was rich in flavor and the cabbage balanced all the flavors out. Ah, take me back! And for my final course, I had persimmon cheesecake. Well, it was more of a deconstructed cheesecake. The cake came in a log dusted with the crumb crust, on a layer of persimmon, topped with a scoop of ice cream. It was a wonderful way to end a hearty lunch.
I ended the trip with a visit to the famous Livraria Lello. It was actually a much smaller bookstore than I had anticipated, but it did not let down. I loved how intricate the staircase was and how the walls were lined entirely with colorful books. There’s something magical about this bookstore, and I can see how JK Rowling might have gotten some inspiration here for the Harry Potter series. Everything in the store was designed with such beautiful intention. This would have been a lovely place to study or to simply sit and read a book. Just one of many reasons to visit Porto!