When I finally left San Sebastian en route to Porto, I realized I had no expectations for the city of fortified wines, other than anticipating images of the long Douro River laced with French oak barrels aboard flat bottomed boats. I had no honest idea of what the city itself would offer, and after 5 days of guzzling kalimotxos in Spain, I wasn’t sure if my liver could handle a valley famous for candy-like wine with an 18 percent alcohol increase.
Lucky for my punished liver and my waistline, there’s much more to do and see in the northern Portuguese city than roam through cool cellars and sip glasses of brandied grape juice on terraces (Although, few activities sound more delightful).
When I reached Porto, my more than generous host, Henrique (a lovely native of Portugal) picked me up from the station and took me out for lunch along the river. As I’m sure you’ve noticed my gluttonous eating disorder by now, I’ll try to refrain from writing a short novel about my first meal in Porto. I’ll simply tell you it was magical… And deep fried. And rice and beans may have been involved. (The omission of the details is killing me, but I fear my writing is slowly turning into a Foodnetwork special written by the fatty-pants version of Giada De Laurentiis.)
So instead of a close-up shot of my battered bacalao, I’ll give you an image of the view just outside the restaurant.
After lunch, I gave my filtering organs a pep talk and entered a vintner for a small dose of education and a hearty tasting of Port wine.
If you haven’t yet experienced the absolute splendor of completing a meal with a small glass of Port, you’re missing one of the greatest treats in the world of gastronomy. This mystical digestif is the champion of dessert boozing, and that is saying a lot from a religious Frangelico gal. Port is made only in the Duoro Valley, where 29 grape varietals are grown and married in the process of making this truly original wine. Each wine contains at least 3 of the 29 varietals and can range from a white, chilled apertif Port to a boisterous and oakey tawney, aged for decades in small oak casks.
Once again, I found myself tapping glasses with new friends and planning my future endeavors to Australia and Canada with potential hosts.
The beautiful gothic city is a compilation of beaux-arts architecture, medieval relics and bell towers. Walking along the water or crossing one of the many bridges, you can find traditional barcos rabelos (flat bottomed boats) lining the banks, carrying a small number of casks up river. This is just a charade to entertain the streets of tourists, as most of the dark bottles are moved in rusty trucks along paved roads now.
Porto was just the beginning of my adventures in the most underrated European country. I’ve been in Portugal less than a week and I’m already in love. I may have to alter my plans a bit and stay a while…