Porto - Abbey Travel, Ireland

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Welcome to Porto


Bridges and port wine are what characterises Oporto, Portugal's gracious northern capital and second largest city after Lisbon. Oporto sits astride a great gorge at the point where the River Douro enters the Atlantic, and although it is mainly industrial, the city centre has plenty of charm with some art treasures, medieval cathedrals and museums, along narrow streets sporting wrought-iron balconies and bright splashes of potted geraniums.

The main reason tourists visit Oporto is to sample its legendary port wine, processed, blended and aged in the various lodges of the Vila Nova da Gaia district across the river from the city, via the spectacular two-tiered Dom Luis bridge. Visitors can tour the lodges and finish up with a tasting session. The city also has an historic riverside district called Ribeira, which is undergoing restoration and has been classified as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Within easy reach of Oporto there are numerous coastal resorts and fishing villages on the Atlantic coastline, well known for their seafood restaurants. It is possible to cruise down the River Douro to take in the scenic splendour of the area.

Information & Facts


Oporto has a Mediterranean climate with warm, dry summer weather and mild, wet winters. The average summer temperature is 68°F (20°C) but can rise as high as 104°F (40°C). Winter temperatures typically average at about 50°F (10°C) but occasionally drop below 32°F (0°C) at night. Weather-wise, best time to travel to Oporto is probably between June and September, when temperatures are comfortable and rainfall is low.

Getting Around

Oporto has a comprehensive bus network, and a limited underground Metro which serves mostly the outer suburbs. Taxis are plentiful and cheap.

Portuguese is the official language, but English is widely spoken and understood.

Portugal is a member of the European Union and its official currency is the Euro (EUR), which is divided into 100 cents. There are numerous banks, bureaux de change and ATMs available in main cities and tourist destinations. Foreign currency can be exchanged at banks, bureaux de change and automatic currency exchange machines. Banking hours are generally 8.30am to 3pm Monday to Friday. Major credit cards are widely accepted, as are travellers cheques.

Local time is GMT (GMT +1 from last Sunday in March to Saturday before last Sunday in October).

In the remote northeast Portuguese province of Tras-os-Montes lies traditional farming country where rural communities provide a getaway destination for those who enjoy exploring off the beaten track. The small provincial capital, Braganca, lies close to the Spanish border and is slowly being discovered by tourists, mostly because of its fine local museum and the small medieval village and castle on a hillock overlooking the town. The interesting feature of the castle is the pillar beside it that rises from the back of a carved granite pig ('Porca'), which is believed to be a fertility idol from prehistoric times. Between the medieval citadel and the cathedral is the garden of the Museum do Abade de Bacal, containing not only tombstones but also numerous representations of the 'porca' idol. The museum itself houses a collection of sacred art and watercolours painted by Alberto Souza. In the medieval citadel is the Domus Municipalis, a pentagonal 12th century civic building which is unique in Europe.

This historic town is regarded as the birthplace of Portugal, because it was here in 1128 that Afonso Henriques became the first king of the country, which was still largely under Moorish control. The town has many medieval buildings and fortifications, and has been declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site. One of the main attractions is the tiny Romanesque church where Afonso was allegedly baptised, and the imposing Palace of the first Duke of Braganza, built in the style of a French chateau. There are numerous other Gothic, Romanesque and Baroque delights to discover in walking around the town. There are also two excellent museums: The Museu Alberto Sampaio, south of the castle, contains religious art and relics and is housed in a monastery, while the Museu Arquelogico Martins Sarmento displays the finds from a nearby Celtic hill settlement.

On the Oporto waterfront stands the church of St. Frances, dating from 1383, which, while not very imposing from the outside, has a lavishly Baroque decorated interior that was created in the 17th and 18th centuries. Pillars and columns within the vault are festooned with gold-gilded cherubs and flower garlands, entwined animals and fruit cornucopia. This feast for the eyes is set off by wide Gothic arches made of marble, which soar into the roof.

This extensive art museum opened in 1840, and is today dedicated to Soares dos Reis, the famous sculptor born and bred in Porto. The gallery also houses a foreign art collection which includes works by the Dutch, Flemish, Italian and French masters. There is a large collection of Portuguese 19th century works, including those from the Porto school, and exhibits of ceramics, glassware, gold and silverwork and furniture.

The Serra de Estrela is mainland Portugal's highest mountain range, and - although still relatively unestablished - is fast becoming one of Europe's hottest new resorts for beginner and intermediate skiers and snowboarders. The mountain range itself is formed from a huge granite ridge that reaches 6,539 feet (1,993m) at its highest point, and its unique topography of strangely-shaped crags and gorges, fast-flowing streams, mountain lakes and pristine forests makes it one of Portugal's greatest natural attractions. The ski resort itself - the Vodafone Ski Resort - is still in its formative days, but features five miles (7.4km) of skiable snow, nine runs ranging in difficulty from absolute beginner to intermediate, and a terrain park for snowboarders. The Serra de Estrela makes for a great winter holiday alternative to the over-crowded beaches of the Algarve region, and with its hiking trails, chic restaurants, high-class health spas and outdoor sports opportunities, it is bound to become Portugal's new tourist hotspot for winter vacationers.

Visitors come to Oporto for the port wine. The place to head for samples of every port produced in the region (and also the rest of Portugal) is the Solar Vinho do Porto in the Quinta de Macieirinha. Inside the rose-bedecked villa is a relaxed, upmarket tasting room, staffed by knowledgeable hosts who offer glasses or bottles of port, along with some complimentary snacks and information on the port-making process. Also in the villa is a small museum containing a collection of 18th century furniture and some paintings.

This suburb of Oporto lies on the south bank of the River Douro, on the site of an ancient fortified village. Today it is home to more than 50 wine companies who operate their 'lodges' in the winding narrow streets flanked by red-roofed buildings. Most of the lodges welcome visitors for tours and tastings. Among the best known are Sandemans, housed in a former 16th century convent, and Taylors. The suburb also features a 16th century monastery that has interesting circular cloisters and a terrace where the Duke of Wellington planned his attack on the French in 1809.

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