Playing tourist in Porto, a must in Portugal

One of the traditional “rabelo” boats used for transporting port wine on the Douro river in the foreground, with the Dom Luis bridge in the background.

Porto is Portugal’s second largest city and a very popular place for tourists. I went there last week for the first time since shortly after moving to Portugal in 2019. Even in November, the city is thronged with visitors from all over Europe and the United States.

But the amount of tourists doesn’t detract from the city’s charm. It is built on the hillside above the Douro river. On the opposite side of the river is the city of Vila Nova de Gaia. Exploring the Porto side inevitably involves lots descents along narrow winding streets to the riverside, and then climbing stairs or narrow streets back up to the main part of the city. But that is all part of the charm.

Along the riverside on the Porto side, you will find many restaurants and bars, all of them catering to tourists with tourist-type prices. There are also many stands offering river tours. I did one in 2018 when I first visited the city and I can highly recommend it as a way to see the city by river and learn a little about the port wine trade.

On the south side of the river are the famous port houses; like Calem, Sandeman, Taylor, Kopke, Grahams etc. If you take one of the open-topped bus tours available in Porto, you can see the huge warehouses used for storing the famous port wines. Port wine as the fortified wine that we now know has a long history. Part of it is about the name of the city, which is often called “Oporto” which really means “the port” in Portuguese. The city is on the mouth of the Douro river, downstream from the numerous vineyards which produce the wines.

Touring port houses

One of the most touted tourist activities in Porto is to do a tour of the Port houses on the Gaia side of the river. This time I did a tour of the Ramos Pinto port house. It is one of the smaller houses, but the tour is fascinating. The company was founded in 1880 by Adriano Ramos Pinto ( who was initially a trader. He eventually got into his own port wine business and developed the first links with shipping port to Brazil.

Barrels of port wine in the cellars at the Ramos Pinto port house in Vila Nova de Gaia.

The tour includes a visit of the old company office which is full of the old advertising posters, Adriano was quite a character and the artwork features a lot of naked nymphs with tantalizing glasses of port.

A 3,000-liter vat of port aging. Some of the vats hold up to 15,000 liters.

The tour costs 15 euros and at the end visitors can taste three ports; a white, a ruby and a tawny port. Our guide told us that the white ports go darker with age while the red ports become lighter. Some of the vintage ports, which must receive that name through a special process, can be aged for decades. Once opened a bottle of decades old port must be consumed quickly. Less special type of ports can be opened and kept with a specific type of cork top.

White, ruby and tawny port wines at a tasting after the tour of the Ramos Pinto port house in Vila Nova de Gaia, Portugal.

Follow my blog to learn about daily life in Portugal. And look for my novel, “The Power of Rain” a mystery set in New Mexico, available in Kindle and paperback on Amazon


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