Day 11: Tuesday, September 19

We got up at about 9:00 this morning, showered and went down to another plentiful breakfast in the hotel’s dining room. After breakfast we returned to our room, collected our day gear and headed out.

Igreja Paroquial de Santo Ildefonso
(Church of Saint Ildefonso)

From the hotel we walked down to the University of Porto area and toured around. On our way we discovered a church with beautiful azulejos on the outside – the Igreja Paroquial de Santo Ildefonso (Church of Saint Ildefonso) – and went in for a look:

The Church of Saint Ildefonso dates back to the 18th century. It was completed in 1739 and includes a framed altarpiece by the Italian architect, Nicolau Nasoni. Nasoni’s work can be found all over Porto including the Torre dos Clérigos (Clérigos Tower), Porto Cathedral and the Igreja de Santa Marinha in Vila Nova de Gaia.

The church was designed in Baroque style and took 30 years to fully construct. The church stands on a slight incline and has a striking façade of over 11,000 blue and white azulejos (Portuguese tiles), added in 1932. The tiles depict the life of Saint Ildefonso and stories from the Gospels.

Outside the church there were several vendor booths set up, selling leather goods and other fun stuff:

Igreja Santa Clara (Santa Clara Church)

Leaving the church we wended our way down near the Douro River. There we paid a visit to yet another church – this one the Igreja Santa Clara (Santa Clara Church). The exterior of the church is largely 15th century in origin and built in the Gothic style. The exception is the main entrance which was remodelled in the Baroque style. Sitting in a courtyard, just off the leafy square, the church has a very peaceful feel to it. You wouldn’t know you were only minutes from Porto’s city centre:

The Santa Clara was austere and humble on the outside, but almost overwhelming on the inside:

You want bling?… I’ll give ya bling!!

Inside, the Igreja de Santa Clara is a study in contrast. During the 17th century the interior was transformed into a masterpiece of gilded woodwork. There is barely an inch of this church that is not adorned with angels, saints, cherubs or some other decorative feature.

Going Down to the Douro River

Taking a break from churches for a while, we then took a long and scenic path down a lot of wickedly-steep stairs to the Douro riverside and lower walkway of the Dom Louise I Bridge. By appearances it was a slightly sketchy area but in actuality was entirely safe and full of character:

Local women had set up mini-marketplaces on the stair landings where they sold their handmade goods:

Almost at the bottom…. here’s the view from the stairs:

This little cafe was nestled into the descending stairs:

Finally reaching the bottom:

Vila Nova de Gaia & Port Wine

We crossed the bridge across the Douro, and reached Vila Nova de Gaia on the other side.

Vila Nova de Gaia is a municipality and city on the other side of the Douro river. Vila Nova de Gaia is known for one thing, and that is Port. In fact this is where all the Port wine in the world originates, and has done since the 17th century. Historically barrels of wine from the upper Douro Valley would be transported by boat to Gaia. Once there the wine would be taken to one of the port lodges that dominate the riverfront to be made into Port.

What Exactly Is Port?

Port is a sweet, red, fortified wine from Portugal. Port is most commonly enjoyed as a dessert wine because of its richness. There are several styles of Port, including Ruby (Red), White, Rosé, and an aged style called Tawny.

While much of the Port we see in the supermarket is of average quality, there are many fine Port wines that are highly treasured and cost several hundred dollars.

Real Port Wine can only be made in Portugal.

The Common Styles of Port Wine

There are many different official categories of Port, but most fall under these four categories:

Ruby (Red) Port: a deeply-colored red Port which includes Vintage, Late-bottled Vintage (LBV), Crusted and Ruby Port

Tawny Port: a very sweet barrel-aged port with oxidative nut and caramel flavors

White Port: made with indigenous white grapes including Rabigato, Viosinho, Gouveio and Malvasia

Rosé Port: This is a new style of Port wine made like Rosé wine with flavors of strawberry, violets and caramel

The river view from mid-bridge:

Porto, seen from the Vila Nova de Gaia side of the Douro River:

“Love Locks” on the Dom Luis I Bridge
Welcome to Vila Nova de Gaia

Arriving in Vila Nova de Gaia

Here’s a little panoramic video I did when we arrived on the Vila Nova de Gaia side:

We went on a long exploratory walk in Vila Nova de Gaia:

Lunch Time!

During our walkabout we sought out a suitable place for lunch. We settled on a place called Restaurante Beira Rio at Av. de Diogo Leite 64.

I had a tuna salad and Coke Zero, while Vince had the pasta with chicken and a glass of white wine. The food was good there, and they had plenty of fish on the menu. It was a great patio for people watching in the busy tourist area we were in. Leaving the restaurant we stopped not once, but twice, for – you guessed it – ice cream (aka Food of the Gods)!

Riding the Teleférico de Gaia (Gaia Cable Car)

Ever since we’d arrived in Porto I had been noticing these cable cars on the other side of the Douro – the Teleférico de Gaia (Gaia Cable Car). I now had a close-up look at them, and they didn’t appear to be that threatening. Chucking aside my fear of the cable support towers snapping in half, sending me plummeting down to a terrifying and agonizing death, we took the cable car across Vila Nova de Gaia. The ride was actually a cakewalk – the cars move so slowly and gently that you barely noticed it. The journey is awfully short, though, given how much it costs (€7 for a one-way trip); the end of the line is reached in no longer than five minutes.

The Mosteiro da Serra do Pilar (Monastery of Serra do Pilar)

After leaving the cable car we hiked up the hill to the Mosteiro da Serra do Pilar (Monastery of Serra do Pilar) – what a fantastic view from here! The locals say this is another excellent vantage point to take in a Porto sunset. The former Monastery takes its name from the mountain range on which it sits, the Serra do Pilar. Together, the monastery, the Dom Luis I Bridge  and the old town were added to UNESCO’s World Heritage List in 1996.

Hiking up to the Monastery:

Construction of the original round building commenced in the 16th century and was completed in the 17th century. Destroyed during the civil war in the 19th century, the structure was subsequently rebuilt. The Portuguese military owns and operates the facility.

The view of Porto and the Douro from the Monastery:

Looking down on the top level of the Dom Luis I Bridge:

After hiking back down the hill, we crossed over the river on the Dom Luis I Bridge’s upper level (it also has a lower level on which to cross):

Having crossed the bridge, we wended our way back to the hotel to rest and regroup.

Rua Santa Catarina (Santa Catarina Street)

About 6:30 we headed out to Santiago restaurant to have Porto’s best Franceshina, according to a local woman Vince chatted with in the Typographia T-shirt store earlier in the week.

If you’d like to read Vince’s TripAdvisor review of the Typographia store, click here.

Prior to going for our Franceshina, though, we first wandered up a very active pedestrian street called Rua Santa Catarina (Santa Catarina Street). As we later learned, this street is the epicentre of shopping in Porto:

On one of the corners of Rua Santa Catarina stands Capela das Almas de Santa Catarina (Chapel of Souls). Its beautiful blue-and-white panels (azulejos) depict scenes from the lives of various saints, including the death of St Francis and the martyrdom of St Catherine. Eduardo Leite painted the tiles in a classic 18th-century style, though they actually date back to the early 20th century:

Dinner Time!

After a walk through Rua Santa Catarina we made our way to Santiago, each having our Franceshinas – utterly delicious, completely filling and bordering on being over the top.

Santiago’s menu cover: gotta love those Franceshinas!
If you’d like to read Vince’s TripAdvisor review of Santiago, click here.

After we consumed our mighty Franceshinas we left Santiago, but we had one more stop to make. You guessed right – yours truly wanted some ice cream to finish off the meal. Vince was also up for it, so we made our way back to Rua Santa Catarina and indulged at an amazing shop called Gelateria Italiana Monalisa, located at Rua de Santa Catarina 505. I give their visual display efforts a definite 10 out of 10, and their gelato and ice cream was beyond awesome:

Day’s End

Feeling incredibly stuffed (can’t think why…), we waddled back to our hotel at about 8:00PM. We rested for the remainder of the evening, and were off to bed at about 10:00PM, exhausted. Another great day in Porto! 🙂

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