A Memorable Port Wine Tour

Porto, as the name suggests, is the birthplace of Port Wine. So on a recent visit to Portugal’s second-largest city, I could not pass on the opportunity to tour the famous wine cellars and of course enjoy copious tastings of this delicious grape juice.

Set on the hillside of Vila Nova de Gaia, in the heart of the historic area and across the river from the old city centre, the wine cellars of Porto are truly picturesque.

Porto Wine Tour op 10 things to do in Porto

The Famous Port Wine names seen on the hillside of Vila Nova de Gaia

With their world-famous names in giant neon signs making it hard to miss, the port wine tasting tours at the cellars have become one of the most sought after attractions in Porto.

Taylor's Port Wine Cellar Tour portoTaylor's Port Wine Cellar Tour porto

Accessing the cellars is very easily accomplished if you work your way up from the river bank. The Rabelo boats that once brought the wine from the Alto Douro wine region to Porto can still be seen casually bobbing along the banks of the Douro River – a reminder of the days of old. The Porto cable car, brimming with tourists, glides smoothly past overhead. Along the banks, the famous cellars of Sandeman, Ferreira and Ramos Pinto sit proudly, steeped in their traditions.

Taylor's Port Wine Cellar Tour portoTaylor's Port Wine Cellar Tour porto

If you’re prepared for the uphill climb, you can venture on to some of the other prestigious cellars: Offley, Cockburn and Taylors.

Taylors Port wine cellars sits on Rua do Choupelo, and by the time we reached the vine-covered entrance I was out of breath.

While Taylors have various vineyards across the country, the cellars at Villa Nova de Gaia houses most of the company’s reserves of wood aged Port as well as their Vintage Port, in tunnels below the cellars.

We found a table (cleverly in the shape of a wine barrel) in the Library room, and amidst the dusty books and aging bottles we got to work on the menu. As we waited for the next English tour of the cellars, we ordered some port by the glass; a good mix of the vintage, tawny, ruby, late-bottled vintage (LBV), and dry white.

Taylor's Port Wine Cellar Tour porto

SONY DSCTaylor's Port Wine Cellar Tour portoTaylor's Port Wine Cellar Tour portoWe would have loved to have enjoyed the famed views from the terrace over the city of Porto, but alas, the rain kept us indoors. We did however envy the peacocks lazing about outside.

The tour commenced with some basic history about Port wine, and then delved into the fascinating history of the House of Taylors. We then entered the cellars itself: long cool, dark warehouses with thick granite walls and high ceilings to help keep out heat and maintain temperatures throughout the year.

Taylor's Port Wine Cellar Tour portoTaylor's Port Wine Cellar Tour portoSurrounded by thousands and thousands of barrels, our tour guide talked about the conditions under which port wine is made, and the aging processes.

Taylor's Port Wine Cellar Tour porto

We learned that ‘casks’ are seasoned oak barrels which usually hold around 630 litres of wine. As cask ageing encourages contact between the wine and the wood, it intensifies the ageing process which is used mainly for Tawny Ports.Taylor's Port Wine Cellar Tour porto

The most impressive for me was the sight of the giant oak vats which normally hold around 20,000 litres of wine. In these mammoth vessels, there is less contact between the Port and the wood and this ageing method is therefore used mainly for the fruitier styles of Port such as Taylor’s First Estate Reserve or LBV.

Taylor's Port Wine Cellar Tour porto

As mentioned, below the cellars, lay tunnels in which the Vintage Ports age in bottle, lying horizontally to keep the corks moist.  While we did get to see some ports ageing in bottles we didn’t get the opportunity to slip into the depths of the tunnels (not sure if I would have enjoyed that!)

Taylor's Port Wine Cellar Tour porto

The entire tour took no more than 30 minutes, and was truly an interesting and informative session where I learned a lot about the history and process of making Port wines.

Afterwards, it was on to my favorite part of the tour: more tastings! As part of the tour, we were invited to taste three very different Port wines: Chip Dry – Extra Dry White, Late Bottled Vintage (LBV) and the 10 year old Tawny.

Taylor's Port Wine Cellar Tour portoTaylor's Port Wine Cellar Tour porto

At 3€ per person, I would highly recommend a tour of the Taylor’s cellars when in Porto. Get there early like we did, and sample your favorite port wines before the tour! The by-the-glass menu is wonderfully priced, and hopefully, the sun will be shining as you take in the terrace views.

Taylor's Port Wine Cellar Tour porto

For more information visit the Taylors website.

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Top 10 things to do in Porto

Portugal’s second largest city is built into its hillside cliffs, overlooking the Douro River. Charismatic and picturesque, with an endless supply of nooks and crannies waiting to be discovered by the avid traveler, the city is best unearthed on foot. Filled with history and monuments, as well as a thriving, cosmopolitan downtown area, the charming city of Porto is well worth a visit.

Top 10 things to do in Porto

Here are the top ten things to do when visiting Portugal’s ‘capital of the North’.

1. Stroll the Historic City centre

The historic centre of Porto is a UNESCO World Heritage Site that sits proudly above the Douro River, like a colorful popup town. Portugal’s second largest city (after Lisbon) is characterized by rugged, tumbling houses, baroque churches and faded storefronts piled on top of each other in a seemingly haphazard fashion. Strolling along the narrow winding streets and up and down the rickety staircases is a must, to truly unearth the essence of the city.

Top 10 things to do in Porto Historic centre

The delightful, crumbling facade of the Historic City centre

 2. Cross the Dom Luis Bridge

Opened in 1886, the Dom Luis Bridge once held the record for the longest iron arch in the world. Built by Gustav Eiffel, many people find the bridge reminiscent of the Eiffel Tower itself. The bridge sprawls across the Douro, connecting the historical centre of Porto to Vila Nova de Gaia. The upper level is where the metro runs, but cars and tourist may cross on the lower level. Walking across the bridge is an experience well worth the incredible views.

Dom Luis Bridge Top 10 things to do in Porto

Porto’s most famous bridge

3. Tour a port wine cellar

On the hillside of Vila Nova de Gaia stand some of the most prestigious Port wine cellars known around the world. Many are open to the public for wine tastings and inexpensive tours that take you into the heart of the cellars. Private tours or those for large groups can normally be accommodated upon request, and if you want to buy port wine, dedicated personnel help answer all your port-related questions as you browse. With the famous names of port wine all in such close proximity, the most difficult part will be choosing which cellar to visit!

Porto Wine Tour op 10 things to do in Porto

The Famous Port Wine names seen on the hillside of Vila Nova de Gaia

Porto Wine Tour op 10 things to do in Porto

Port Wine Tastings

4. Beat the photo ban at the Livraria Lello

Certainly the oldest, easily the most interesting, and arguably the most beautiful bookstore in Portugal, if not the world – Livraria Lello is located in the city centre of Porto. The bookstore is widely tipped to have been an inspiration for parts of Harry Potter’s magical world, since JK Rowling lived in Porto prior to writing the books. Taking pictures inside the bookstore is prohibited, and those caught snapping shots are often asked to leave…but that doesn’t stop those hoping to seize a souvenir of the bookstore’s famous staircase.

livraria lello bookstore porto

The wizardly staircase of Livraria Lello (Source: travel.nationalgeographic.com)

 5. Tempt a heart attack with a Francesinha

Porto’s most famous sandwich is quite frankly a coronary on a plate. The name Francesinha literally means ‘Little Frenchie’ as it is thought to have evolved from the croque monsieur. The signature lunch time dish comprises of two toasted bread slices, filled with three types of meat – wet-cured ham, linguica (fresh sausage) and steak. The entire concoction is covered in cheese, drenched in a tomato-beer sauce, and served on a plate of french-fries. Locals and tourists alike will argue over where to find the best Francesinha, often citing the sauce as the key secret ingredient in the success of the sandwich.

Francesinha top ten things to do in Porto

A mouthful of Francesinha (Source: oportocityhostel.com)

 6. Ascend to the heights of Torre dos Clérigos

One of Porto’s most characteristic symbols, the baroque façade of the Clérigos Church and its bell tower can be seen from most places in the city.  Built by Italian architect Nasoni and completed in 1763, the church and its tower are open to the public. Those braving the climb -240 steps in total- are rewarded with breathtaking views over the city. (I recommend the climb after trying the Francesinha!)

Torre dos Clerigos Top 10 things to do in Porto

The dizzying heights of the Torre dos Clerigos

7. Ride Tram # 1

Porto’s tram #1 is one of three heritage line routes (the others being #18 and #22) Line 1 connects the city (at the Infante stop) to the seaside district of Foz do Douro. The ride is almost exclusively along the river bank and makes for wonderful views along the way.  The ride itself – in a rickety antique tram car – adds to the all round experience of the tour. Although the line operates on a schedule, it arrived considerably late during our wait so I’d recommend allowing plenty of time for this activity. The tickets are sold on board and cost 2.5€ per person.

Tram Tour Top 10 things to do in Porto

The charming heritage tram of Porto Line #1

 8. Feel the ocean breeze in Foz do Douro

Foz do Douro literally translates to ‘mouth of the Douro’ and is the seaside spot where the Douro River meets the Atlantic Ocean. This area is one of the most expensive places to live in Porto and is as such, inhabited by the city’s most affluent people. The main boardwalk is lined with palm trees and upmarket cafes and there is a lively vibe at night with the Felgueiras Lighthouse – which is situated at the edge of the Douro’s river mouth, creating a spectacular backdrop. Also worth visiting in the area is the Castelo do Queijo, a fortress dating from 1661, and Parque da Cidade, the largest park in Porto.

Lighthouse Foz do Douro top ten things to do in Porto

The crashing waves of the Atlantic ocean against the Lighthouse of Foz do Douro

Promenade  Foz do Douro top ten things to do in Porto

The chic promenade of Foz do Douro

 9. Soar above the city in the funicular

With unsurpassable views over the Ribeira, Douro River and Vila Nova de Gaia the Funicular dos Guindais is well worth the 2€ price tag. The journey is quite short, approximately 3 minutes – and at the top, travelers are treated to a panoramic view of the city and the Dom Luis Bridge. Whilst the funicular shuttles its fair share of tourists up and down the steep incline from Batalha to the quayside at Ribeira, it’s also frequented by locals who avoid making the steep climb by foot.

Funicular dos Guindais top ten things to do in Porto

The Funicular dos Guindais making an easy feat of a steep climb

Funicular dos Guindais top ten things to do in Porto

The incredible view upon disembarking the Funicular dos Guindais topside

10. Slow it down with a boat tour on the River Douro

Whether it be an hour-long trip along the banks of the city, travelling under the famous six bridges; or a longer cruise from Porto to a nearby town like Regua or Pinhão, cruising along the Douro offers a unique perspective of the Portuguese landscape. Some tours can last much longer – up to a week, and there are various tour operators in the area ensuring that prices are competitive.

Boat cruise Douro River top ten things to do in Porto

An alternative view of the city: from the river looking up

Spa Review: The Spa @ Sheraton Porto Hotel, Portugal

Stepping off the elevator, we’re greeted by the minimalistic lobby of The Spa (aptly named). In case we’ve forgotten which floor you’re on, the words are engraved onto a bronze plaque on the floor.

The Spa Sheraton Porto Hotel and spaA friendly face at the reception desk takes our room number and then shows us the dressing rooms (separate male and female).

The spa at the Sheraton Porto Hotel is a sprawling level, consisting of various water and heat therapies. The dressing room was elegantly appointed with wonderfully lit vanities and digital lockers. I slipped into a soft, creamy toweling robe and donned the rather strange looking rubber slippers. The main room, also the largest relaxation area, contains a wonderful heated vitality pool, big enough to still feel spacious when at capacity. In front of the ample pool are arranged several ergonomic loungers covered in bright orange towels.

The Spa Sheraton Porto Hotel and spa

We choose two loungers at the far end and settle into them, adjusting the backrest to our perfect specifications via the handy remote.

The Spa Sheraton Porto Hotel and spaBut it isn’t long before the lure of the tranquil swimming pool calls out. Slipping into the warm waters is heaven. The pool is virtually deserted, and perfect for lap swimming, if you’re so inclined.

The Spa Sheraton Porto Hotel and spa

I much rather preferred to try the hot tub. The hot tub was very popular, and several people lazed inside; some applying the traditional jet therapy to their backs and necks, whilst others preferred the more efficient hydromassage from the gushing showerheads at the center of the jacuzzi.

As the crowds in the jacuzzi swelled, we decided to try some of the heat therapies. We made our way to the herbal sauna. The room was dimmed to perfection and eerily quiet. The only sounds appeared, like clockwork, when the wooden bucket tilted to release a burst of water onto the hot stones below creating a hiss of herbal steam.

The Spa Sheraton Porto Hotel and spa

There is also the option to enjoy a more traditional steam room, but much preferring dry saunas to steam rooms; we quickly showered and opted to try the salt inhalation laconium next. This was by far my favorite heat experience at The Spa.

Much cooler than the other saunas, the room gave off an oriental feel, and the dim lighting and red mosaic tiled couches welcomed us. Breathing deeply into the salty air, I felt myself totally relax. When too hot, we hosed off with cool water and continued in our meditative state. After 20 minutes in the laconium, I felt completely rejuvenated, and the niggling muscle aches I’d been carrying around that week evaporated.

The Spa Sheraton Porto Hotel and spaThe Spa Sheraton Porto Hotel and spa

Apart from these wonderful water and heat experience The Spa at the Sheraton Porto Hotel also features a fully functional gym with state of the art workout machines. Our time at the hotel did not permit us to try the gym, but I would have loved to have tried one of their Fitness by Core Performance classes.

There is also a yoga room, and a small but beautiful Zen Garden – complete with soft wicker couches and a trickling waterfall to totally relax your mind and soul.

The Spa Sheraton Porto Hotel and spaThe Spa Sheraton Porto Hotel and spaThe spa treatments at the Sheraton Porto Hotel are reasonably and wonderfully priced, so we booked massages for the next day. Being a huge fan of the ESPA range we opted to try their ESPA body treatment – an hour long aromatherapy massage.

We arrived at the spa the next afternoon after a very long day of sightseeing around Porto, and we were really looking forward to a relaxing afternoon at The Spa. My legs were sore from walking endlessly around the city, and I felt in desperate need of a good massage. My therapist was simply fantastic. Welcoming and extremely friendly, she led me to the treatment room where I prepared for my massage.

The next hour went by in a blur, but to be honest, as a person who has had her fair share of massages in her lifetime – I can truthfully say this was by far the best massage I had ever experienced. From the perfect pressure to the quick responsiveness of my therapist, I felt complete and utter bliss for a full hour as she worked on my tired muscles. Afterwards I felt like a new person, deeply relaxed and completely peaceful as I sipped on green cinnamon tea. We were shown to the relaxation room were we spent a good half hour, eyes closed, reveling in the wonder of The Spa.

The Spa Sheraton Porto Hotel and spa