We covered our three days in Porto on our old blog Bad Sentences, but didn’t have many readers back then. So we thought it would be fun to dive back into that exciting trip with a brand new write-up. I hope you enjoy! (This post contains affiliate links.)
Three Days in Porto
Our trip to Portugal was action-packed. We actually won this particular trip through one of those online sweepstakes you get emails about all the time, believe it or not. I’m still not sure I do. Since we didn’t plan the trip ourselves, our time was limited. But we managed to squeeze in as much fun as we could with just three days in Porto.
Day 1 – Discovering Porto
We landed bleary-eyed and severely under-caffienated in the early afternoon. But there was no time for sleep. We used the remainder of our first day to explore as much of the beautiful city of Porto as we could.
Drinks at The Yeatman Hotel
After checking in at the Sheraton Porto Hotel and Spa (a great hotel, also covered by the giveaway) and pounding round one of caffeine (Portuguese coffee is so delicious), we went to The Yeatman Hotel in nearby Vila Nova de Gaia (Gaia for short), across the Porto side of the Douro River, to take in the endless views of the city below.
We grabbed another coffee on the terrace at Dick’s bar and marveled at the amazing weather (high 70’s during the day, high 50’s at night) and the quiet, peaceful vibe of the area. The Yeatman was probably the most expensive place as far as food and wine we saw in the Porto area, so after sharing a glass of wine we walked down the hill to find some cheaper options.
I was obsessed with the cobblestone streets and stone walls, being as this was my first time in Europe and such an old city in general.
Sandeman Port Wine Cellar
Since we’d never been inside a Port wine cellar, we decided to check out mega-wine magnate Sandeman for a Port wine tour and tasting. Tours run on the half hour, and we were hungry, so we grabbed a bite at their outdoor cafe beforehand.
For the most part, food and wine in Portugal was so cheap I almost felt guilty about it. For around $8 US, we got a half bottle of Mateus Rose, a grilled cheese sandwich and an order of fries. The Mateus wine is kind of a joke in Porto, because it’s cheap and sweet and not of the highest quality, but I’m not too fancy for a cheap fix every now and then. It’s also low in alcohol content, which is a good thing before doing a Port wine tasting.
The Sandeman tour was quick and informative. We walked through the cellars to see the massive barrels where the ruby ports are stored. For ruby ports you want less contact with wood to preserve the fresh fruit flavors. We also admired the hundreds and hundreds of smaller barrels where the tawny ports were aging. Tawny ports need more contact with wood and age longer, resulting in a nuttier, almost honey-like flavor.
Tom is a particular fan of the Sandeman Don graphics located throughout the cellar. The Don was one of the first trademarked company graphics, I believe, representing Sandeman’s Sherry production in Spain (the sombrero) and the Porto production in Porto (the cape). The tour guides also “donned” similar attire.
We also saw the vintage ports aging in the bottles, dating back to as early as 1904. Most ports are blends of wine made from many different years, but vintage ports are composed of only wine from one specific year, declared by the Port Wine Institute as a year of perfect conditions throughout the region, or a perfect port wine from a certain winery and are the only ports that continue to age and improve once they are bottled. All other ports will be the same on the day you open them as they were when they were bottled, regardless of how long they’ve been sitting on your shelf.
After the tour, we got a chance to taste five port wines. We sampled a white port, two rubies and two tawnies.
To be honest, before this trip I was pretty anti-port. I’ve always found it to be a little too liquor-y for me. I’m guessing this is because those ports were either cheap or just not very good, because by the end of the trip I was all about some port wines. Or perhaps my palate has just refined in the past couple of years?
I really liked the Late Bottled Vintage 2009 Ruby Port and the Imperial Reserve Tawny. But after five ports, despite not finishing them all, we were a little buzzed. To be a true port, the wine must have at least 19% alcohol, so… yeah.
To avoid falling asleep, we walked around the riverfront for awhile. Several boats were docked in front of Sandeman with barrels of wine on board. Although much of the wine is now transported in large tanker trucks on the road, the river still serves as a means of shipping the wine from the wineries out in the Douro Valley to the cellars in Gaia and Porto. These cities are better suited to the aging of the wines, due to higher humidity.
Porto and Gaia are famous for being the only European cities with six bridges. I’m not sure which one this was (five ports and two hours of sleep doesn’t lead to high information retention) but it was very pretty.
For dinner, we picked a cute little restaurant on the riverfront crowded with locals. In America, many of the restaurants with great views tend to have sub-par food. Not this place – it was fantastic. I have no idea what it was called, but I don’t think it matters. Here’s what I have to say about food in Portugal.
1. It’s all delicious. I didn’t have a single food item I didn’t like the whole time. There was also a lot of variety.
2. It’s absurdly affordable.
For this dinner, we had about five small dishes and wine (a delicious dry Portuguese red) for 40 euros.
Day 2 – Touring the Douro Valley
I’m not usually a big on taking group tours, because I hate having my day scheduled for me. However, we had such limited time and getting to the Douro wine region is difficult. We ended up booking two tours to make sure we got to see as much of the area as possible. This was definitely the right choice under the circumstances. I do hope to go back again someday and explore at a more leisurely pace.
Our first tour was with Living Tours, Portugal was an awesome way to kick things off.
The jet lag was definitely getting to me on the drive out to the valley, despite the beautiful scenery, I could barely keep my eyes open during the drive. Tom kept elbowing me for the most beautiful sights, which I definitely appreciated. But I still regret not being able to stay awake a bit more.
Quinta do Seixo
Our first stop, funny enough, was Quinta do Seixo – owned by Sandeman, the cellar we’d visited the day before.
The views, as you can see, were incredible. The Douro Valley is both the oldest and smallest wine region in the world. In order to maximize space, vines are planted on virtually every square inch of land possible. The growing conditions in the Douro Valley are ideal for producing wine, due to the warm climate and excellent drainage provided by the steep mountain slopes.
The vines are planted on terraces, shown in the picture, and the grapes must all be harvested by hand. A machine harvester could be used if the rows were made wider, but that would significantly reduce the grape yield.
We toured the large winery at Quinta do Seixa, and then tasted two port wines paired with cheese. It was very interesting to see such a large production.
In between the two winery stops planned for the day, we had lunch in the small town of Peso da Regua at the charming Douro Inn. I had expected the included lunches to be simple – a sandwich perhaps. Instead, we were treated to a three-course lunch starting with a vegetable soup, a choice of whole fish or turkey stroganoff and dessert.
Quinta do Tedo
After lunch, we set out for our second destination, Quinta do Tedo. This boutique winery offers both port wines and table wines (dry wines). Our tour guide was very humorous and gave us a quick tour of the grounds before our tasting. We tried three ports, as well as two dry wines. As far as wine quality and ambience, Quinta do Tedo was top notch.
After we wrapped up the tasting, we left the valley to return to Porto. Tom and I were basically running on fumes, so we grabbed a quick dinner before crashing early.
Day 3 – Douro River Valley by Boat
We left bright and early for another tour in the Douro wine region, this time with CoolTour Oporto, and our guide Jose who was incredibly knowledgeable about the area and kept us entertained all day. The morning was cooler than the previous, with a thick layer of fog settled over the mountains.
Our first stop was for coffee and pastries in the small town of Mesao Frio before continuing on to our first winery, D’Origem, a family owned farm and winery that produces great tables wines, as well as olive oil and honey. The family has made olive oil for over a hundred years across three generations.
After tasting the fabulous olive oil, wines and honey we hit the road again for Pinhao, where we boarded a boat on the Douro River to see some of the region not accessible by car.
The ride was about 50 minutes out and back, with gorgeous weather and views. This was a supplemental part of the tour, but so worth it. Our only regret was how quickly it ended. But we had one more winery to visit, so I can’t really complain.
Quinto das Lamelas
After the boat tour we had a wonderful, authentic Portuguese lunch in Pinhao. Next, we headed to our final winery of the trip, Quinta das Lamelas, another small family-owned winery and port producer. The grounds were extensive, the owner’s entire family is housed on the property, along with the vines and production facility. We were able to try a tawny port, pre-bottling, from a huge wooden vat.
We really enjoyed the wines at this winery, featuring an old white port, a rose port and a ruby we couldn’t leave without buying. CoolTour Oporto is a fantastic choice if you want to explore the Douro Valley, taste great wines and have a fun-filled day outside of Porto.
Looking Back at Porto
Despite fighting fatigue and near delirium, we did everything we could to make the most of our trip and are so glad that we did. From the port wine, to the riverfront dining, the tiers of vines, and the cobblestone streets we couldn’t help but fall for this city and it’s surrounding areas. I am seriously itching for a return trip to Portugal to see more of Porto and branch out to Lisbon, the Azores and beyond!
Want to read more about our wine country adventures? Check out the posts below.
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