Portugal Trip 2018 (3): A rainy day’s Port lodge crawl in Vila Nova de Gaia, and an inaugural Francesinha sandwich.


I’ve prefaced the travel narrative of our visit to Portugal (which has been backdated) with a series called Focus on Portugal, which provides background on a European destination that’s scandalously little known to Americans. Previously: “São Bento Railway Station, Mercado do Bolhão, Jardim da Cordoaria and a big Liverpool win.

For breakfast, we stopped at the Mercador Cafe on Rua Flores; prices are reasonable across the board, and the Eggs Benedict a pure delight.

Once again heavily draped against the rain, our route led through the Ribeira to the lower level of the Dom Luís I Bridge, and access by foot to Vila Nova de Gaia for a few hours of aimless Port samplings at the many companies doing business there. Some of them are centuries old, and embody timeless rituals of imbibing.

At various times, we stopped into Kopke, Ramos Pinto, Ferreira and Quinta do Noval — famous brands all — and the latter was the clear favorite.

The 557-mile long Douro River flows from east to west, from Spain into Portugal, and emptying into the Atlantic Ocean at Porto.

The Douro vinhateiro (winegrowing), an area of the Douro Valley in Portugal long devoted to vineyards, has been designated by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site. Traditionally, the wine was taken downriver in flat-bottom boats called rabelos, to be stored in barrels in cellars in Vila Nova de Gaia, just across the river from Porto. In the 1960s and 1970s, dams with locks were built along the river, allowing river traffic from the upper regions in Spain and along the border. Nowadays Port wine is transported to Vila Nova de Gaia in tanker trucks.

Porto was, and remains, the river-to-sea transit and finishing point for Port wine. A couple dozen lodges/cellars are situated on the the hillside in Gaia; they offer tastings, tours and retail sales. There’s nothing quite like sipping on Port wine on a rainy, misty morning, not as an exclamation mark following a fine evening meal, but as the prelude to lunch.

At midday, right by the river in Gaia, we enjoyed our first Francesinha sandwiches, which I previously explained here.

In case you’re wondering how the view from Gaia back toward Porto varies on rainy days …

 … as opposed to sunny ones:

Filters don’t hurt, either … but Porto probably never looks quite this good.

We hit a few curio shops on the way back to the hotel.

It was a quiet and early night; Diana didn’t eat again after the massive sandwich, and had only a nibble across the street at the Italian eatery. We’d be rising on Friday morning at 4:00 a.m. to hop a cab to the airport for the flight to Funchal, Madeira, and so for my nightcap, two 10-year Tawny Ports at the hotel bar worked far better than sleeping pills.

Next: A visit to Madeira.