Jamie Ndah samples the very best that the Portuguese city has to offer.
Porto, which gave its name to a wine enjoyed all over the world, was again elected Best European Destination in 2014. With its splendid geographical location on the mouth of the river Douro and an architectural heritage of exceptional quality, the historic centre of Porto is a World Heritage Property declared by UNESCO.
When discovering Porto, you will find a traditional welcoming and conservative environment, but also a contemporary and artistic city. This is shown in the streets, in the architecture, monuments and museums, and in the lively terraces, restaurants and leisure areas. Luxury doesn’t come finer than the stunning Yeatman Hotel and it didn’t let me down. The Yeatman is located in the historic heart of Vila Nova de Gaia next to the ancient ‘lodges’ where Port houses have aged their wines for over three centuries.
The eighty-two magnificent guest rooms and suites are among The Yeatman’s most impressive features. Each room opens onto a large private balcony enjoying a dramatic and unobstructed view across the River Douro to the historic centre of Porto, Portugal.
Rooms are exceptionally spacious and their large enclosed private terraces create a sense of privileged seclusion. All accommodation is decorated in an understated classic style providing an atmosphere of relaxed sophistication. Special care was taken to harmonise textures and colours in order to enhance the feeling of comfort and wellbeing. Authentic and original details, such as the use of traditional Portuguese ceramic tiles, provide character and a sense of place. Individually appointed and decorated, each room is discretely themed with intriguing artefacts and pictures contributed by a different Portuguese wine producer. The large and airy bathrooms are fitted to the highest standard. The luxurious amenities include skincare products from the exclusive Caudalie skincare range which are also available at the Vinothérapie® Spa by Caudalie at The Yeatman. Traditional louvered shutters can be opened to give each bathroom a stunning view of Oporto.
The Spa facilities are an oasis of calm and wellbeing, where you can enjoy a unique range of facial and body treatments based on beneficial natural ingredients extracted from the grape, renowned for their antioxidant properties. On offer are two exclusive panoramic infinity pools. The indoor pool with direct access from the spa features a post-treatment relaxation area. Surrounded by gardens, the outdoor pool enjoys spectacular panoramic views from its spacious sun terrace. The Yeatman experience is designed to allow you to depart restored and refreshed in body and mind.
I took a gentle stroll through the Historic Centre of Porto, a UNESCO World Heritage Property. As I ambled leisurely along the ancient streets and medieval lanes, I visited some of the most important monuments of Porto such as the Clérigos Church and the Cathedral, right through to the downtown, with the rhythms of city life has an intensive expression of the baroque.
In sharp contrast, in the Serralves Park, there is the sheer modernity of the building housing the Museum of Contemporary Art, and the romantic, shooting surroundings of the leafy park, as well as the Casa da Musica (house of music) a new icon of Porto and a gorgeous Portuguese cultural space. In the busting and colourful markets and unique typical shops and cafés I discovered the authentic heart of Porto, is in its people.
The next stage of my splendid break allowed me to venture to the North of Portugal to explore the Douro Valley wine making region and it was simply breathtaking.
The valley is spectacularly beautiful with the hills falling steeply down to the water’s edge becoming more and more sparsely populated and wild the further inland one travels, with more of the land being given over to terraces of vines and, to a lesser extent, olive groves. This is port country and was, in fact, the world’s first demarcated wine region being established in 1756. Evidence of the port industry can be seen along the valley with all the famous company names – Ferreira, Cockburns, Taylors, Sandeman and others – appearing on large placards on the hillsides. The colour of the land changes throughout the year as the vines mature. I then enjoyed the most picturesque train line journey in Portugal which took me from the village Régua to Pinhão.
Pinhão is considered to be the geographical centre of the Douro demarcated wine region, and it is here that many of the Port wine estates are to be found, some of which offer accommodation under the system of rural tourism. Worthy of particular attention here is the railway station, built at the end of the nineteenth century, the inside of which is entirely lined with panels of azulejos (Traditional Portuguese blue tiles). You can not leave from Pinhão without visiting the centre of the industrial arts, the workmanship; you will find several shops with traditional arts from Pinhão. My adventure didn’t stop there and from Pinhão I boarded upon a traditional Rabelo boat which proceeded to take me on an enchanting cruise of the Douro Valley.
The boat is a replica of a traditional Rabelo boat that, for centuries, carried casks of young wine from the Douro Valley downriver to the lodges in Vila Nova de Gaia. From there one can see some of the mythical Quintas producing great wines and part of this unique landscape. Whilst onboard the Rabelo boat, it was evident that I was amongst some of the most magnificent scenery offered by the Douro Valley.
I reached my destination of Quinta da Pacheca and I was fortunate enough to have a personal guided visit of this marvellous estate, wine tasting and an exquisite lunch followed at the world famous Port and Douro wine producer. The family owned Quinta da Pacheca (wine estate) has a history that goes back until the 15th century. The vineyards have an average age superior at 40 years and the wine estate keep the tradition of winemaking of Douro and Port wines. The welcoming includes the familiarisation with the history of the estate and its environment. The typical cellar of the house includes granite-treading tanks (lagares) that are still used for winemaking today during September / October.
For any wine or port enthusiast, Quinta da Pacheca is a wonderful location that will have you coming back for more. Available was a wine tasting extravaganza that consisted of sampling 5 wines in total: 3 Douro wines, a Tawny Port and a Vintage Port Lunch at the Quinta da Pacheca featured a superb three course menu based in the rich traditional food, in a delightful elegant and casual ambience.
After a delicious meal, I took a further tour of the wine estate and had the opportunity to purchase wine and port at the Quinta da Pacheca. My final evening in Porto was rather special and saw me visit the Yeatman’s Restaurant which provided an environment of classic comfort, where discreet and understated service blends with the warm welcome for which Porto is famous.
For those seeking an unforgettable experience, an exclusive and individually tailored dinner or tasting can be arranged in a private dining room which recreates the atmosphere of a wine cellar. In the classic comfort of The Yeatman restaurant, guests experience inspired cuisine with the accent on fresh local produce and on the imaginative pairing of food and wine. The Restaurant at The Yeatman is the only restaurant in Porto to carry a Michelin Star which was awarded to this eatery in November 2011.
All in all, Porto and the North region is a truly magical experience consisting of memorable locations, culture, food, wine and of course, exquisite port. I thoroughly recommend this spectacular destination that will have you coming back year after year.
To experience a luxury trip to Porto and the Douro Valley, or for more information, visit www.vinitur.com.
Photos courtesy of http://visitportoandnorth.com and www.the-yeatman-hotel.com.