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?
Travel
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
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

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

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    Guru Careers: Dining Room Head Chef

    £32K: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Dining Room Head Chef to work for one of ...

    Guru Careers: Pastry Sous Chef / Experienced Pastry Chef

    £27K: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Pastry Sous Chef / Experienced Pastry Che...

    Ashdown Group: Technical IT Manager - North London - Growing business

    £40000 - £50000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A growing business that has been ope...

    Recruitment Genius: Technical Supervisor

    £24800 - £29000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: As one of London's leading Muse...

    Day In a Page

    General Election 2015: ‘We will not sit down with Nicola Sturgeon’, says Ed Balls

    'We will not sit down with Nicola Sturgeon'

    In an exclusive interview, Ed Balls says he won't negotiate his first Budget with SNP MPs - even if Labour need their votes to secure its passage
    VE Day 70th anniversary: How ordinary Britons celebrated the end of war in Europe

    How ordinary Britons celebrated VE Day

    Our perception of VE Day usually involves crowds of giddy Britons casting off the shackles of war with gay abandon. The truth was more nuanced
    They came in with William Caxton's printing press, but typefaces still matter in the digital age

    Typefaces still matter in the digital age

    A new typeface once took years to create, now thousands are available at the click of a drop-down menu. So why do most of us still rely on the old classics, asks Meg Carter?
    Discovery of 'missing link' between the two main life-forms on Earth could explain evolution of animals, say scientists

    'Missing link' between Earth's two life-forms found

    New microbial species tells us something about our dark past, say scientists
    The Pan Am Experience is a 'flight' back to the 1970s that never takes off - at least, not literally

    Pan Am Experience: A 'flight' back to the 70s

    Tim Walker checks in and checks out a four-hour journey with a difference
    Humans aren't alone in indulging in politics - it's everywhere in the animal world

    Humans aren't alone in indulging in politics

    Voting, mutual back-scratching, coups and charismatic leaders - it's everywhere in the animal world
    Crisp sales are in decline - but this tasty trivia might tempt back the turncoats

    Crisp sales are in decline

    As a nation we're filling up on popcorn and pitta chips and forsaking their potato-based predecessors
    Ronald McDonald the muse? Why Banksy, Ron English and Keith Coventry are lovin' Maccy D's

    Ronald McDonald the muse

    A new wave of artists is taking inspiration from the fast food chain
    13 best picnic blankets

    13 best picnic blankets

    Dine al fresco without the grass stains and damp bottoms with something from our pick of picnic rugs
    Barcelona 3 Bayern Munich 0 player ratings: Lionel Messi scores twice - but does he score highest in our ratings?

    Barcelona vs Bayern Munich player ratings

    Lionel Messi scores twice - but does he score highest in our ratings?
    Martin Guptill: Explosive New Zealand batsman who sets the range for Kiwis' big guns

    Explosive batsman who sets the range for Kiwis' big guns

    Martin Guptill has smashed early runs for Derbyshire and tells Richard Edwards to expect more from the 'freakish' Brendon McCullum and his buoyant team during their tour of England
    General Election 2015: Ed Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

    Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

    He was meant to be Labour's biggest handicap - but has become almost an asset
    General Election 2015: A guide to the smaller parties, from the the National Health Action Party to the Church of the Militant Elvis Party

    On the margins

    From Militant Elvis to Women's Equality: a guide to the underdogs standing in the election
    Amr Darrag: Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister in exile still believes Egypt's military regime can be replaced with 'moderate' Islamic rule

    'This is the battle of young Egypt for the future of our country'

    Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister Amr Darrag still believes the opposition can rid Egypt of its military regime and replace it with 'moderate' Islamic rule, he tells Robert Fisk
    Why patients must rely less on doctors: Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'

    Why patients must rely less on doctors

    Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'