Port of call: Fortified wine proves a strong draw in Portugal

view gallery VIEW GALLERY

The historic Portuguese city of Porto, situated on the mouth of the river Douro, is famous for the most renowned export of the area, its port wine, which courses through its veins.

Historically the success of port wine is due to several factors, including the naturally predisposed conditions of the nearby Douro Valley, where the grapes are cultivated in huge swathes of hillside and valley, whose lush green landscape boasts a microclimate perfect for cultivating the renowned port grapes, and almonds and olives among other produce.

The port of this region of Portugal has a very supportive ambassador: the English nation. The tipple ‘du choix’ of the 17th-century elite during the glory days of the British Empire, the drink quickly gained in popularity and frequented the bourgeois soirées thrown by monied citizens. Port wine as we now know it was born in the second half of the 17th century when brandy started being added to the mix to fortify the wine for its long journey, by sea, to England.

Many port houses in Porto, or, to be accurate, in Vila Nova de Gaia, where the port is stored in barrels in centuries-old cellars are still owned by English companies; in the early days of the port trade, the English, not its expected Portuguese owners, dominated most of the port business.

On a stroll around the city of Porto, it quickly becomes apparent that there are many constructions with a distinctly English architectural influence to them. The conjunction of Portuguese and English style is embraced in this city, to unusual effect.

Another recognisable feature in Porto are the tiles, or Azulejos, that line some of the buildings, including the city’s cathedral and a fine example at the San Bento railway station. There are many striking examples of Azulejos in the Douro region, but the tiles are commonly used throughout Portugal. The towns of the coastline, such as the historically significant Vila Do Conde, just outside Porto, often utilize tiles on the outside of buildings, as the building will be better protected from the salty sea water with enforcement than without.

The town's famous bridge ‘Dom Luis I', designed by Leopold Valentin, a protégé of Gustav Eiffel, architect of the Eiffel Tower in Paris, that divides Porto from Vila Nova de Gaia, is intersected with a population of Rabelos, the traditional Portuguese boats that port wine was transported down the river in by the barrel to its resting place, the caves, or cellars, where ports of the future would be left to mature.

Portugal’s Douro region holds the prestigious title of being the second, after Hungary, protected region of wine growing in the world. Similarly recognised is Porto’s historic town centre, which is a World Heritage Site.

Vila Nova de Gaia is the place to go to visit the famous caves; two willing Portuguese and one very enthusiastic Greek friend accompanied me in my pursuit of Porto’s best port offering.

There is a selection of about 35 different port houses in Porto, many of which are spread out on the riverside. The better known ones, such as Dow’s, Taylor’s and Graham’s, give multi-lingual guided tours of the port cellars and the drink's history, and for an unportly sum, you can sample a whole host of different port wines, from the bold sweet reds and tawnies to the drier whites.

If, after this strenuous exertion, you subsequently find yourself crawling along the banks of the river at Vila Nova de Gaia in a stupor, console yourself that you will, at least, be looking at one of the finest panoramas in Portugal. With the wonderful tableau of the Eiffel-esque bridge, Porto’s red-roofed buildings and the elegant Rabelos bobbing around on the Douro stretched out before you, it may be a while, especially if you have taken a decent camera on your visit, before you are able to tear yourself away from this place.

Suggested Topics
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    Recruitment Genius: Transportation Contracting Manager

    £33000 - £38000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A global player and world leade...

    Recruitment Genius: Hotel and Spa Duty Manager

    £18000 - £24000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: If you are friendly, sociable, ...

    Recruitment Genius: Payroll and Benefits Co-ordinator

    £22300 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This museum group is looking for a Payro...

    ICE ICT: Lead Business Consultant

    £39,000: ICE ICT: Specific and detailed knowledge and experience of travel sys...

    Day In a Page

    Seifeddine Rezgui: What motivated a shy student to kill 38 holidaymakers in Tunisia?

    Making of a killer

    What motivated a shy student to kill 38 holidaymakers in Tunisia?
    Ajmer: The ancient Indian metropolis chosen to be a 'smart city' where residents would just be happy to have power and running water

    Residents just want water and power in a city chosen to be a ‘smart’ metropolis

    The Indian Government has launched an ambitious plan to transform 100 of its crumbling cities
    Women's World Cup 2015: How England's semi-final success could do wonders for both sexes

    There is more than a shiny trophy to be won by England’s World Cup women

    The success of the decidedly non-famous females wearing the Three Lions could do wonders for a ‘man’s game’ riddled with excess, cynicism and greed
    How to stop an asteroid hitting Earth: Would people co-operate to face down a global peril?

    How to stop an asteroid hitting Earth

    Would people cooperate to face a global peril?
    Just one day to find €1.6bn: Greece edges nearer euro exit

    One day to find €1.6bn

    Greece is edging inexorably towards an exit from the euro
    New 'Iron Man' augmented reality technology could help surgeons and firefighters, say scientists

    'Iron Man' augmented reality technology could become reality

    Holographic projections would provide extra information on objects in a person's visual field in real time
    Sugary drinks 'are killing 184,000 adults around the world every year'

    Sugary drinks are killing 184,000 adults around the world every year

    The drinks that should be eliminated from people's diets
    Pride of Place: Historians map out untold LGBT histories of locations throughout UK

    Historians map out untold LGBT histories

    Public are being asked to help improve the map
    Lionel, Patti, Burt and The Who rock Glasto

    Lionel, Patti, Burt and The Who rock Glasto

    This was the year of 24-carat Golden Oldies
    Paris Fashion Week

    Paris Fashion Week

    Thom Browne's scarecrows offer a rare beacon in commercial offerings
    A year of the caliphate:

    Isis, a year of the caliphate

    Who can defeat the so-called 'Islamic State' – and how?
    Marks and Spencer: Can a new team of designers put the spark back into the high-street brand?

    Marks and Spencer

    Can a new team of designers put the spark back into the high-street brand?
    'We haven't invaded France': Italy's Prime Minister 'reclaims' Europe's highest peak

    'We haven't invaded France'

    Italy's Prime Minister 'reclaims' Europe's highest peak
    Isis in Kobani: Why we ignore the worst of the massacres

    Why do we ignore the worst of the massacres?

    The West’s determination not to offend its Sunni allies helps Isis and puts us all at risk, says Patrick Cockburn
    7/7 bombings 10 years on: Four emergency workers who saved lives recall the shocking day that 52 people were killed

    Remembering 7/7 ten years on

    Four emergency workers recall their memories of that day – and reveal how it's affected them ever since