Food and drink, Francesinha - a sandwich Porto style

Francesinha – a sandwich Porto style

Porto (0309)

The francesinha (which translates to something like ‘little French thing’) is a typical sandwich found in Porto and it is best described as comfort food. It comprises bread filled with various meats, including ham and sausage, and covered with melted cheese and a tomato and beer sauce. It is served with a plate of chips. The quality of the francesinha can vary from café to café, depending on the type and quality of meat that is used. If possible, ask a local to recommend their favourite francesinha café.

Porto, Porto Cathedral and the Episcopal Palace

Porto Cathedral and the Episcopal Palace

 

Porto Cathedral (2)
Baroque loggia and statue of Vímara Peres, Porto Cathedral

Porto Cathedral (Sé do Porto) is a simple and austere building, comprised of a Romanesque exterior dating from the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, dominated by two square towers topped with eighteenth-century cupolas, and a dark and sombre interior, brightened up by a thirteenth-century stained-glass rose window, an ornate altarpiece and a bronze bas-relief of the baptism of Christ by the sculptor José Joaquim Teixeira Lopes (1837-1918) in the baptistery. Beside the main church there is the gilded Capela de São Vicente, fourteenth-century Gothic cloisters and, on the first floor, a chapterhouse. Both the cloisters and the chapterhouse are decorated with azulejo (decorative tiles) panels, depicting bucolic scenes, episodes from mythological stories and the story of the Virgin Mary.

In the eighteenth century the building was renovated and Baroque features were added, under the guidance of Nicolau Nasoni. José Saramago in his wonderful travel book Journey to Portugal (Viagem a Portugal), published in 1990, notes what the physiognomy of Porto and the north of Portugal owes to Nasoni, the Italian architect who also designed the Baroque Clérigos Church and Tower and Igreja da Misericórdia on Rua das Flores. It is fair to say that his involvement in the alterations to the Cathedral and the neighbouring Episcopal Palace (Paço Episcopal) in the 1720s and 1730s have resulted in the buildings we see today. He added the Baroque loggia to the side of the exterior of the Cathedral and inside the Cathedral he designed the frescoes on the walls of the apse and the staircase to the chapterhouse. He drew up designs for the Episcopal Palace building, which was to replace the existing twelfth-century palace, although his original designs proved too expensive to complete and what we see today is a scaled-back version. The Palace, which was the former palace of the Bishop of Porto, dominates the Porto skyline, particularly when looking at Porto from the Vila Nova de Gaia side of the river. Positioned on the higher part of the city, above the Ribeira area, the white rectangular building with distinctive tall windows with rococo frames is attractive in daylight, but even more spectacular when lit up at night. It makes a fitting backdrop to the São João fireworks in June. I had been informed that the building is not open to the public, so we did not visit it, but I have recently learnt that it now offers guided tours around the interior and I will definitely visit it on my next visit to Porto.

In front of the Cathedral is a large bronze statue of a man sitting on a horse carrying a sword and shield in one hand and holding a flag in the other, created by the sculptor Salvador Barata Feyo in 1968. The man is Count Vímara Peres, a Portuguese hero who reconquered northern Portugal from the Moors in the ninth century, although he was Spanish and Portugal was not independent at the time. He was made administrator of Portucale (what is now the Minho and Douro regions) and the territory he and subsequent counts administered continued to extend south to become the territorium Portugalense, until Portugal finally gained independence in 1137.

Statue of Vimar Pere, Porto Cathedral
Statue of Vímara Peres, Porto Cathedral

In the fourteenth century the Cathedral and Episcopal Palace witnessed the politically strategic marriage of Philippa of Lancaster to Dom João I, the king of Portugal. The marriage was blessed in Porto Cathedral on 2nd February 1387 and the wedding celebrations were held at the Episcopal Palace. The celebrations lasted several days, as the marriage brought about an important Anglo-Portuguese alliance against the Franco-Castilian axis.

From the terrace in front of the Cathedral are great views, beginning with the Barredo quarter, immediately below the Cathedral, where houses are stacked in intimate proximity to each other. Further afield the Clérigos Tower dominates the skyline to the north, with São Bento da Vitória Church and Monastery and the Centro Português de Fotografia clearly visible near to it.

Practicalities

Sé do Porto, Largo do Terreiro da Sé, Porto

Entrance to the Church is free, but there is a fee of €3 to enter the museum and cloisters

Opening hours:

Church

Summer: Monday to Sunday 9am–12.30pm and 2.30pm–7pm; Winter: Monday to Sunday 9am–12.30pm and 2.30pm–6pm; Closed: Christmas Day and Easter (afternoon)

Museum and cloisters

Summer: Monday to Sunday 9am–12.15pm and 2.30pm–6.30pm; Winter: Monday to Sunday 9am–12.15pm and 2.30pm–5.30pm; Closed: Christmas Day and Easter (afternoon); Sundays and religious holidays (morning)

 

Paço Episcopal do Porto, Largo do Terreiro da Sé, Porto

For a virtual tour visit the website: http://www.diocese-porto.pt/visitavirtual/

Opening hours: Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday 9am–1pm (last admission 12.30pm) 2pm–6pm (last admission 5.30pm)

Entrance fee: €5 or €6 (depending on the type of visit)

Majestic Café, Porto, Porto

Majestic Café, Porto

Majestic Cafe 2

Majestic Cafe 7
Breakfast, Majestic Café, Porto

The Majestic Café was busy and noisy at breakfast time. The sounds of a coffee machine hissing, crockery clinking and voices speaking animatedly gave us a sense of what the café must have been like in the 1920s, when it became a hub for the fashionable elite, businessmen, intellectuals and bohemians. It opened in 1921 and its original name of ‘Elite Café’ was quickly replaced with ‘Majestic Café’, as it was felt that the word ‘elite’ had too many connotations with the former monarchy. Portugal had become a Republic in 1910 and in 1921 most sectors of society still had feelings of hatred for the former monarchy. The name ‘Majestic’, in contrast, conjured up an image of the belle-époque era.

The café fell out of fashion and into disrepair in the second half of the twentieth century, but in 1994 it was refurbished and reopened. It retains much of João Queiroz’s original opulent Art Nouveau decor of dark wood with ornate plaster sculptures on the walls and ceiling, leaded-light interior windows and large, slightly aged mirrors which give a sense of space, patterned-leather benches, marble tables, and metal and glass light fittings. The front of the building is elaborately decorated above the door with marble panels, sculptures, small wood-framed glass panels and the café’s name in gold. There is a small seating area on the pavement in front of the entrance to the café on the Rua Santa Catarina shopping street, which is always busy. There is also a very small courtyard at the back of the café with a pretty plants and more art nouveau touches, including a staircase flanked by two goddesses, a wrought-iron washbasin with filigree detail and a pretty stained-glass doorway and windows.

Nowadays,  well-dressed customers sit alongside tourists dressed in shorts, T-shirts and baseball caps and carrying the obligatory ‘selfie-stick’, but the standards of the café are still high, with attentive, immaculately dressed waiters and waitress in crisp, white, long-sleeved jackets with silver buttons and long black trousers. The coffee was good and strong and the pastel de nata (custard tart) was large enough to be a meal in itself! Compared to similar breakfasts we had in other cafés in Porto it was quite expensive, but a visit to the Majestic Café isn’t just about the food and drink, it is also about a sense of stepping back in time.

Practicalities

Majestic Café, 112 Rua Santa Catarina, Porto

Open Monday to Saturday 9.30am-midnight for breakfast, lunch, afternoon tea, dinner and cocktails.

Porto, Two days in Porto – from the top of an open-top bus

Two days in Porto – from the top of an open-top bus

Liberdade
Praça da Liberdade, Porto

We are big fans of the open-top bus tours that exist in most European cities, as they are a great way of getting a feel for the layout of the city and which places are worth returning to. So, on our first trip to Porto we bought a two-day ticket which gave us unlimited access to the two routes known as ‘Historical Porto’ and ‘Porto Castles’. The buses are hop-on and hop-off at any of the 28 or so designated stops per route and while we were on the bus we were able to listen to a really informative commentary about the area through the earphones which were provided.

Day one: Historical Porto

On the first day we chose to do the Historical Porto tour, joining the bus at the stop nearest to the Baroque Clérigos Tower. The church and tower were built in the 18th century and the tower is 75 metres high, with 240 steps to the top. The climb is worth it for the aerial views of Porto, Vila Nova de Gaia and the River Douro. Nearby are two pretty gardens the Praça de Lisboa, constructed on the roof of a shopping arcade, and the Jardim da Cordoaria with its lovely sculptures. Standing at the entrance of the Praça de Lisboa is a statue of the former Bishop of Porto, António Ferreira Gomes (d.1989). The statue by Arlindo Rocha is a tribute to a man who opposed the Salazar dictatorship. Nearby is the charming bookshop, Livraria Lello & Irmão with its mixture of art nouveau and neo-gothic styles.

The bus took us down the busy Rua dos Clérigos hill and into the Avenida dos Aliados with its impressive statues and architecture, mainly from the nineteenth century. At the south end of the avenue is the Praça da Liberdade with an imposing statue of Dom Pedro IV on a horse in the centre of the square. The bus continued along the Avenida dos Aliados to the Porto City Hall building, at the north end of the avenue in the Praça do General Humberto Delgado, a building which dates from 1920 and was designed by the architect Correia da Silva.

The bus then went by São Bento station, famous for its azulejo (decorated tile) panels inside the entrance hall, and continued up to Porto Cathedral and the Paço Episcopal (the former Bishop’s Palace). The earliest parts of the cathedral date from the twelfth century and the stunning rose window is from the thirteenth century. Behind the cathedral is the Casa-Museu Guerra Junqueiro, which is the former home of the nineteenth-century poet, Guerra Junqueiro, who collected the artefacts on display.

Cathedral
Porto Cathedral, Porto

The next stop was the Praça da Batalha, to the east of the cathedral, which houses two distinctly different, but attractive, buildings, the São João National Theatre and the Santo Idelfonso Church. The neo-classical theatre was designed by the architect José Marques da Silva and opened in 1920. It is Porto’s main theatre. The Baroque Santo Idelfonso Church has a stunning azulejo-covered façade.

The bus then went past Praça D. João I and along part of Rua de Santa Catarina and Rua de Passos Manuel, which are in Porto’s main shopping area, which includes the lovely Art Nouveau Majestic Café, and passes by the Carmo Church and the Carmelitas Church, which are separated by a very narrow house. The two churches are very different in style: the Carmo Church has distinctive azulejo panels on the façade, whereas the style of the Carmelitas Church is more restrained.

The bus passes the Santo António Hospital, a late-eighteenth-/early-nineteenth-century, neo-classical-style building designed by the British architect John Carr, which houses the Porto Hospital Centre Museum, showing the history of nineteenth- and twentieth-century medicine and pharmaceuticals.

Santo Antonio hospital museum
Tram in front of Santo António Hospital, Porto

Near here is the pretty Jardim do Carregal and the Soares dos Reis National Museum, a museum and art gallery which dates back to 1833, in the former Palácio das Carrancas. The bus continued along Rua D. Manuel II to the entrance of the lovely Jardins do Palácio de Cristal and we could see the distinctive dome-shaped Rosa Mota Pavilion.

Crystal Palace Gardens
Jardins do Palácio de Cristal, Porto

The bus then went around the Rotunda da Boavista, where we could clearly see the column with a lion crushing an eagle on the top, which was built to commemorate the Portuguese/British (represented by the lion) victory over the French (represented by the eagle) in the Peninsular War (1807-14) and the bus continued along the very long Avenida da Boavista where we passed the modern-looking Casa da Música concert hall as well as many hotels and restaurants.

Rotunda Boavista
Rotunda da Boavista, Porto

As the bus turned into Avenida do Marechal Gomes da Costa we entered a very desirable part of Porto, passing the Serralves Foundation Museum of Contemporary Art set in pleasant grounds and also drove past beautiful houses on tree-lined streets. The bus came onto the sea-front at Foz do Douro, a beach area at the mouth of the River Douro. Here we saw the lovely neo-classical Pérgola da Foz, a structure built along the promenade in the 1930s, and the sixteenth-century São João da Foz do Douro Fort (also known as ‘Foz Castle’).

Foz Castle
São João da Foz do Douro Fort, Porto

As we made our way back into Porto along the riverfront road we passed the pretty Passeio Alegre gardens, the Tramcar Museum, the Port Wine Museum and the Word of Discoveries. The Tramcar Museum, housed in an old tram shed, as the name suggests, tells the history of the tram and has old trams on display. The Port Wine Museum, housed in a former warehouse, tells the history of and gives information about port. The World of Discoveries is an interactive museum which re-enacts the journeys of the Portuguese navigators. As we approached the Dom Luís I Bridge we passed the gothic São Francisco Church, the Jardim do Infante Dom Henrique, with the statue of Prince Henry, the Navigator pointing out to sea and the Casa do Infante, which was possibly the birthplace of Prince Henry, the Navigator, but nowadays houses the city archives. Nearby is the Palácio da Bolsa, the former stock exchange building dating from 1842.

As we crossed the bottom deck of the Dom Luís I Bridge to the Vila Nova de Gaia side of the river we got good views of the Serra do Pilar Monastery and Church at the top of the hill in front of us and the Vila Nova de Gaia quay, with its port lodges dominating the view, below, as well as great views of the Ribeira quarter of Porto and the former Bishop’s Palace behind us.

The bus climbed the hill by the Cockburn’s port lodge on Rua de Serpa Pinto and at the top passed the Casa-Museu Teixeira Lopes, an art museum dedicated to the late-nineteenth-century artist who lived in Vila Nova de Gaia. The bus made a stop at the huge popular department store, El Corte Inglés, then passed the Romantic-style Vila Nova de Gaia city hall before turning right at the Jardim do Morro so that we drove along the front entrance of the former Serra do Pilar Monastery, which is now army barracks, complete with tanks on display and a sentry on guard duty; this area was the least inspiring of the whole tour. The bus took us back into Porto along the modern Infante Bridge from which we got a good view of the Dom Luís Bridge to the left and the Maria Pia Bridge (which looks like the Dom Luís Bridge with the lower deck removed) to the right. The bus returned to the Clérigos Tower repeating part of the route from earlier in the day.

Day two: Porto Castles

The rather misleadingly named Porto Castles tour covered some of the same places that we had already seen on the Historical Porto tour, namely the Clérigos Tower, Porto Cathedral, the Praça da Batalha, Praça D. João I, the Carmo and Carmelitas Churches, the Jardim do Carregal, the Tramcar Museum, the riverfront, the São João da Foz do Douro Fort, the beach area in Foz, the Serralves Foundation Museum of Contemporary Art, Avenida da Boavista, the Casa da Música and the Rotunda da Boavista. The main difference with this tour was that it took us all the way out to the beach and port area of Matosinhos (to the north-west of the city), starting with the strangely named Castelo do Queijo (Cheese Castle), a star-shaped fort dating from the fifteenth century, whose actual name is São Francisco Xavier Fort. The nickname derives from the cheese-like boulders that it was built on.

Castelo do Queijo
‘Castelo do Queijo’, Matosinhos, nr. Porto

The bus went on to the Sea Life aquarium and then past the wonderful sculpture of a huge fishing net known locally as ‘Anémona’ (‘Anemone’), but whose proper title is She Changes, a sculpture from 2005 by the American artist Janet Echelman.

anemona
‘She Changes’ sculpture, Matosinhos, nr. Porto

We then continued into Matosinhos, past the very modern-looking Matosinhos City Hall building designed by the architect Alcino Soutinho in 1987 and then past the stunning early Baroque-style Bom Jesus de Matosinhos Church, dating from the early-eighteenth century, and the white and glass building of Matosinhos market dating from the 1930s. The market is still very much a working market and is famous for its fresh fish.

Matosinhos Church
Bom Jesus de Matosinhos Church, Matosinhos, nr. Porto

We then continued to the Porto Leixões Cruise Terminal, which on paper doesn’t sound very interesting, but is of architectural interest due to the white, tilted, spiral structure on the top of the terminal, designed by Luís Pedro Silva in 2015. We continued back towards Porto via Matosinhos’ beaches.

cruise terminal matosinhos
Porto Leixões Cruise Terminal, Matosinhos, nr. Porto

 

Matosinhos beaches
Beaches at Matosinhos, nr. Porto

We then turned into Avenida da Boavista past the Parque da Cidade, which is the largest park in Porto. Opposite the Parque da Cidade is the Dr. António Cupertino Miranda Foundation, a modern white building which, among other things, contains the Paper Money Museum. We continued on to the Praça da República, a pretty square with trees and sculptures surrounded by former mansion houses. Near here is the neo-classical Nossa Senhora da Lapa Church, built between the mid-eighteenth and mid-nineteenth centuries. An interesting fact about this church is that the graveyard, which was built as a result of a serious cholera epidemic, is the oldest in Portugal. As with the Historical Porto tour, the bus returned to the Clérigos Tower via a city centre route it had covered earlier in the day. We got off the bus with a really good sense of the geography of the city and environs and set off to a bar to make a list of the places we intended to return to and spend more time at.

Practicalities

Yellow bus
Yellow Bus open-top bus tour

We went on two tours with the Yellow Bus company, but the City Sightseeing company also does similar tours.

A two-day ‘hop-on and hop-off’ ticket costs €15 (as of June 2016) and gives access to two routes: Historical Porto and Porto Castles (each tour takes 1 hour 50 minutes). There are approximately 28 stops on each route. The ticket includes a free tour and tasting at the Cockburn’s port lodge, plus discounts on entrance to certain attractions.

Historical Porto tour: runs October to May 9.30am-5.30pm and June to September 9.15am-6.15pm daily; buses run every 30 minutes.

Porto Castles tour: runs 10am-5pm daily; buses run hourly.

Elevador de Santa Justa, Lisbon, Lisbon

Elevador de Santa Justa, Lisbon

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Elevador de Santa Justa by night, Lisbon

One of the most iconic and popular tourist attractions in Lisbon, the Elevador de Santa Justa (Santa Justa Lift), was built to provide a way for residents to get from the lower Baixa district up to the much higher Chiado district without having to climb a steep hill or flights of steps and it continues to be part of the Lisbon public transport system to this day. The Neo-Gothic structure was designed by the engineer Raoul Mésnier du Ponsard and it opened in 1902. The cast-iron latticework tower with a delicately ornate filigree top section holds two large lifts that transport passengers between the Rua do Ouro in the Baixa district and the Largo do Chiado. The lifts, with their opulent wood-panelled and brass interiors, which even have benches and a lift operator, give a sense of what this journey would have been like in the past.

 

From the Baixa the lift took us 32 metres up to the walkway which runs over the shopping street of Rua do Carmo and comes out beside the ruins of the Convento do Carmo, with its gothic-style arches. The Convento do Carmo was partially destroyed in the famous earthquake of 1755 and it was decided that the ruins should remain as a reminder of the earthquake. It did cross my mind while walking along the walkway whether it was safe. Well, at the beginning of the twentieth century King Carlos (the penultimate king of Portugal) rode his horse across the walkway to prove it was strong enough to bear the weight of a horse and it is still standing today! Before crossing the walkway we climbed the narrow spiral staircase to the viewing platform at the top. From here we got wonderful views of Lisbon, including Rua do Ouro and Rua de Santa Justa directly below us, with Rossio square, Rossio station, the Restauradores obelisk and Praça da Figueira nearby, and a bit further away the Avenida da Liberdade, Eduardo VII park, Graça church, St George’s Castle, Lisbon Cathedral, the River Tejo and São Cristovão and São Lourenço church.

 

I have to confess to having one reservation about the lift and that is the exorbitant price of €5 to enter the lift. Despite that, there are always long queues at the Rua do Ouro entrance and it can take over 30 minutes to get into the lift, which means it is no longer a practical means of transport for local residents. A useful tip to remember is that if you have a Lisboa Card or a Viva Viagem (or similar) card you can enter the lift from the Chiado entrance, where there are no queues, and travel down in it for free. You can also cross the walkway and go up to the viewing platform from here without going in the lift. Even better, we discovered that late at night on the day we were there the spiral staircase was unmanned and we were able to climb up to the viewing platform for free and get fantastic views of Lisbon by night in virtual peace and quiet!

Practicalities

Elevador de Santa Justa, Rua do Oura/Rua de Santa Justa (Baixa) and Largo do Carmo (Chiado)

Opening hours:

Lift: March to October 9am-11pm; November to February 9am-9pm

Viewing platform: March to October 7am-11pm; November to February 7am-9pm

Tickets can be bought at the Rua do Oura/Rua de Santa Justa entrance

Price for the lift and viewing platform: €5 (valid for 2 trips); €1.30 one-way with rechargeable 7Colinas or Viva Viagem card; free with Lisboa Card, Yellow Bus ticket, Lisboa Viva and 24-hour 7Colinas or Viva Viagem cards

Price for the viewing platform only: €1.50 or free with a lift ticket, Yellow Bus ticket or Lisboa Card

 

Jardins do Palácio de Cristal, Porto, Porto

Jardins do Palácio de Cristal, Porto

Porto (0399) - Copy
Rosa Mota Pavilion, Jardins do Palácio de Cristal, Porto

The Jardins do Palácio de Cristal (Crystal Palace Gardens) are a perfect retreat from the hustle and bustle of the streets of Porto. Located just over 1 km from the historic district, with all its tourist activity, it is a peaceful oasis of shady tree-lined paths, cooling ponds, pleasing flower beds and wonderful views. Finding the entrance to the park took us two days, as we tried to find a side entrance on Rua Jorge Viterbo Ferreira on one evening, with no luck. We decided to use the main entrance on Rua Dom Manuel II to enter the park the next day and finally discovered the side entrance on our departure. I can only assume it had been locked the previous evening.

The park was created in the 1860s by the German landscape gardener Émile David (who also designed the Jardim da Cordoaria) and was named after the glass and steel construction which was built in the park in 1865 and based on the Crystal Palace in London. The original Crystal Palace was demolished in 1951 and replaced with the distinctive dome-shaped structure of the Rosa Mota Pavilion (nicknamed O Cogumelo (The Mushroom) by locals), designed by José Carlos Loureiro, that is used as a sport and concert arena. With the word ‘Porto’ spelt out in giant letters in front of it, it was the first thing we noticed when we entered the park. Walking past the pavilion and the very modern Almeida Garrett library, which opened in 2001, we entered the rest of the park, whose nine-hectare gardens are arranged in themed areas, such as aromatic plants and roses. The walk took us past well-tended flower beds and into an area of trees, with strategically placed picnic tables, which was lovely and cool in the shade. In the centre of the park is a charming small stone chapel dedicated to King Carlos Alberto, the King of Piedmont and Sardinia, who died in exile in Porto in 1849 (he lived in the nearby Quinta da Macieirinha, which is now the Romantic Museum). The chapel is currently used by the Lutheran Church as a place of worship.

 

Around the park, ponds and little nooks contained classical sculptures, including one of Venus, the four seasons and, my favourite, the Fonte da Fauna e Flora, which captured a moment in time of two girls gossiping while fetching water. The unexpected surprise at the furthest end of the park was the sweeping view of the River Douro, the Ponte Arrábida to the west and Vila Nova de Gaia including the Serra do Pilar Monastery to the east. The gardens were a lovely place to take some time out of our busy sightseeing itinerary and just be.

 

Practicalities

Jardins do Palácio de Cristal: the main entrance is on Rua Dom Manuel II, but there is also a small entrance gate on Rua Jorge Viterbo Ferreira (but beware that this gate isn’t always open).

Opening hours: April to September 8am-9pm; October to March 8am-7pm.

Entrance is free.

Porto, Porto and Vila Nova de Gaia from the air

Porto and Vila Nova de Gaia from the air

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Cais da Ribeira, Porto

The Teleférico de Gaia (Gaia Cable Car), which opened in 2011, may be a touristic indulgence, but it does offer some truly spectacular views over Porto, Vila Nova de Gaia and the River Douro. We took the cable car from the station on the Vila Nova de Gaia quayside to its terminus near the top level of the Ponte de Dom Luís I (Dom Luís I Bridge). Yes, we could have walked up the hill and saved ourselves €5 each, but we got a unique view of the activity on the Vila Nova de Gaia quay and the river below and the opportunity to approach the church of the Serra do Pilar Monastery from the air. Most of all it allowed us time to really appreciate the tiered old town and the distinctive buildings on the Porto side of the river.

The journey started with a photographer taking a photo of us inside the cabin of the cable car and then the cabin door closed and it began its smooth ascent, accompanied by some light classical music. We were soon able to look down on the Avenida de Ramos Pinto where street vendors had laid out their wares and then over the port lodges, with the company names spelt out in large letters on the roofs (names such as Barros, Borges, Cálem, Cockburn, Croft, Ferreira, Fonseca, Graham, Kopke, Offley, Quevedo, Ramos Pinto, Sandeman, Taylor and Vasconcellos). We had a wonderful bird’s-eye view down onto the wooden barcos rabelos on the River Douro, still loaded with port barrels as they were in the past, but now for the benefit of tourists rather than as cargo. As the cable car climbed, the views of the Porto side of the river changed aspect and from various angles we were able to see the Cais da Estiva, the churches of São Francisco, São Bento da Vitória, Paroquial da Vitória, São Lourenço and Nossa Senhora da Lapa, as well as the Clérigos Tower, the Palácio da Bolsa, Porto City Hall and the pretty 19th-century buildings on the Avenida dos Aliados. Dominating the view was Porto Cathedral and the Paço Episcopal (the former Bishop’s Palace) standing proudly above the charming coloured houses on the Cais da Ribeira. The Ponte de Dom Luís I was imposing with its two-tier metal-arched structure which links the lower and upper parts of Porto with the lower and upper parts of Vila Nova de Gaia. The bridge was designed by Théophile Seyris, a former partner of Gustave Eiffel, and was opened in 1886. Its total length is 385 metres and it is 44 metres high. As we approached the cable car station at the top of the hill we could see one of Porto’s modern Metro trains running across the upper deck of the bridge.

Five minutes after leaving the ground the cable car arrived at the end of its 600-metre journey and we climbed out of the cabin, deciding not to buy the photograph taken of us at the start, and continued on foot to the Serra do Pilar Monastery a little further up the hill. The monastery is another distinctive landmark, best seen from the Porto side of the river, particularly at night when it is lit in shades of gold. The monastery was completed in 1670 and is now used as army barracks and is not open to the public. The perfectly circular Serra do Pilar Church, at the very top of the hill, is, however, still used as a place of worship and is open to the public, boasting a heritage room, a pretty cloister and a dome, the top of which can be reached by climbing 100 steps. We didn’t visit it on this occasion but instead enjoyed the views of Vila Nova de Gaia and Porto from the viewing area in front of the church. From here we could have caught the Metro from the nearby Jardim do Morro Metro station back into Porto, but we chose to make the easy walk back to Porto along the upper deck of the bridge enjoying more spectacular views, this time for free and without a glass panel between us and the view.

Watch the video here.

Practicalities

Teléforico de Gaia (Gaia Cable Car), runs between Avenida de Ramos Pinto and Calçada da Serra, Vila Nova de Gaia

Runs 10am-7pm daily, except 26th April-24th September 10am-8pm and 25th October-23rd March 10am-6pm

One-way ticket: €5 (as of June 2016)

 

Serra do Pilar Church, Largo de Avis, Vila Nova de Gaia

Open Tuesday-Sunday (not public holidays) 9.30am-5.30pm, except March 9.30am-6.30pm and July-August 9.30am-7pm

Entrance fee: Heritage Room and Cloister €1; Dome €2