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Any Port in a storm


As enjoyable as the Northern European summer was we decided to take a break from the storms and head for the port – of Porto that is; the second city of Portugal, provider of its name and home to many barrels of the good stuff that kept Britain trading and merry over hundreds of years. Porto is a great mix of old and new. It was an outpost of the Roman Empire, an area of Moorish conquests, and a home to explorers ; including Henry the Navigator who kick started the Portuguese age of discovery through to the hordes of modern tourists who navigate the port lodges today.

It’s on the coast, is laid-back and has a lively student population to balance the historic and cultural side. With UNESCO making Porto a world heritage site in 1996 a new focus was given to a city full of beautiful tiled buildings, crumbling architecture and winding streets to get lost in. What more did you want? Well - did I mention the port? Wine has been produced in the Douro valley as far back as Roman times and in the 13th century it was already being transported down to Porto in the local flat boats “barcos rabelos”. In 1717 the Brits spotted a good thing and the first English trading post was established in Porto, leading to a gradual takeover of the production of port by a few English firms. Port had become the big thing in England in the 18th century as war had stopped England getting its hands on French wine. As the sea journey back to Blighty was much longer than the average Dover – Calais booze cruise, the wine often spoiled on the journey – so the wine was made into fortified wine, named port to survive the journey. Today you don’t have to wait for any ships to arrive – you can go straight to the port warehouses for your tipple. They are lined up along the river side of the city across the river from Porto – Vila Nova de Gaia. Here famous names including Croft, Graham, Sandeman, Taylor have tours of their wine cellars and tastings of 2 or 3 ports for a few Euros. Visit a few of these, add in some cheese and chocolate samples on the way and you have your afternoon well planned. We tried a few of them on a few different visits just to make sure we had understood the difference between ruby and tawny, vintage and LBV. To get to Vila Nova de Gaia just cross the famous iron bridge over the Douro from Porto – it was made by a student of Gustave Eiffl and as such has a mixture of the Eiffel tower and Newcastle’s Tyne Bridge – now who would have thought of a Geordie / Parisian design statement! By Joslyn Adcock

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    Happy memories for myself and my husband. Please publish more travel stories on your site.

    Jen Birchall

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