Porto and Matosinhos, hanging out and enjoying the area.

We spent almost two weeks just checking out the Porto area this time. The plan was to make some day trips, explore the city some more and generally enjoy the rhythm of the area. We took random rides on the bus, walked a lot and checked out a number of local restaurants and shops. The weather was mild for November, with some rainy days and plenty of sun. We walked along the beach, visited the Holiday Market and sampled the cherry liquor that is served as a shot in a chocolate shot glass. Dan let me do the sampling after the first booth, and I can report that there are differences. My favorite had a hint of cinnamon to spice up the cherry flavor. This post is as all over the place as our time, enjoy!

One day we caught the bus to the Balhao Market in Porto. When we were here in May the Market was under renovations and the temporary space was a nicely laid out area in the lower level of a small shopping center nearby. The historic market is a lovely building with very clean lines and a nice open courtyard for the vendors. There were fruits, vegetables, nuts, baked goods, butchers, fishmongers, cheese mongers, candy, coffee, and much more. They are still working on some of the space which looks like it will hold restaurants, so lots of reasons to go back. It is so new and nicely renovated that it was almost too “clean,” but the many folks who will visit and drip and drop will make it feel more like it should soon.
One of the days we walked around Porto we ended up on a street high above the banks of the Douro – if you know anything of Porto, this describes quite a few of them. We came across this sculpture paying homage to the “Carquejeiras” or Gorse women of Porto. These women transported 40 to 50 kilos (88 to 110 pounds) of gorse (a plant with several uses and is edible) from the banks of the river up the steep bank into the city center. They were not celebrated, but they contributed to the local economy.
We visited the Casa do Infante part of the City Museum. The building, built on top of an even older Roman building, began life as the customs house for the bustling port, and was the birthplace of Henry the Navigator while his parents, the Kind and Queen were in residence in the 16th Century. There were several exhibits, but for us the star of the show was the building. There were plenty of placards describing the building features and a very good display walking through the various activities and tools used for counting, weighing and taxing the goods coming through the port. In addition, they minted coins here. This photo is looking toward the main entry hall.
During excavation of the building, which had been sold in the 1800s to a prominent family, but had come back under the possession of the government and was being restored, they found remains of a mosaic floor in the original Roman building with which is shared part of the foundation. They restored and recreated the details of the floor.
A statue in the square near the museum. Yet another location the gulls view as being put there for their use.

We learned a lot about the port making process during our stay in Pinhão, and a big part of that process is the aging of the port which takes place down the river. While the grapes are grown, stomped and initially fermented on the quintas (farms or vineyards) further inland along the Douro Valley, the port is stored and aged in cellars known as caves on the shore opposite the city of Porto in Vila Nova de Gaia. Originally the location was selected to avoid taxation, but the riverfront is much less steep and easier to move the cargo and the environment proved to be ideal for the storage and aging. We toured the Grahams Cellar because several folks had recommended it, and it did not disappoint. The location had a great view, the guide was knowledgeable and entertaining, and the tasting introduced us to some very good port. Many of the major Port companies are British owned, and this is one of them. British ownership of port companies goes back to the early 1700s.

The tawny port ages in the smaller barrels shown here, which hold about 600 litres each. These barrels previously aged wine and this also adds to the port process. The smaller barrels mean the port spends more time in contact with the wood which impacts both the flavors and the colors.

The process to make port involves getting the grape juice from several varieties of grapes, then stopping the fermentation after a few days with a distilled alcohol (77%). The alcohol is a standard, required by the entity that oversees the certification of the ports and is a distilled white wine that is neutral in flavor and smell. It turns out that it is produced in Spain, so if you can get someone in Portugal to give you that information it is often accompanied by an eye roll. The alcohol volume of port is 20%, so based on the alcohol level of the fermenting juice, the amount of the distilled alcohol is determined. The stopping of the fermentation keeps the sweet flavors, and then barrel aging process adds other flavors, finally they blend different barrels and years, or not if it is a vintage, and you get port. Well, there’s actually a lot more to it, some science and more art, but that’s the outline. Like beer and wine, we are finding the more we know about Port the more we like it.

Our awesome guide standing in front of the barrels used for the ruby port, these hold 73,000 liters of port, so there is much less contact with the wood, and rubies also don’t age as long. This cellar holds nearly seven million liters of port aging in barrels. That’s a lot of port. Grahams still has one barrel full of port that has been aging since the mid 1800s. There was evaporation and a small leak, so they topped it off with another barrel from the same year and bottled what was left in the opened barrel. Port, especially tawny port, improves with age both in the barrel and in the bottle. Grahams keeps a cellar of bottles dating back at least one hundred years, and some of those bottles are from famous vintage years. We did not have a chance to ask what the insured value of the grape juice in that port cave was.
One of the people who recommended Grahams said they had a great view. We were not disappointed as we came out after the tour.
There is a teleferico from the bank of the river up to the hill where the metro stop is, so we jumped on that and got some more great views.
I didn’t manage to get a good photo of our Grahams tasting, but we did another tasting a few days later and got a good photo from Calem. We got lots of recommendations about which port to taste, so we tried to follow everyone’s advice!
Matosinhos is on the Atlantic coast, has a nice beach and there is a walking/biking path that will take you back into Porto along the water. We spent a lot of time walking that, watching the waves and shipping.
The holiday decorations were out!

There is a gothic church in Porto with catacombs that can be toured. The church has a long history in the city and the interior decor is amazing. There are no photos allowed in the baroque church, alas, because the wood carving was amazing. The catacombs are under a chapel and administrative building that now houses a museum and is lovely space.

This is the chapel, more classical less ornate than the church, so you can just imagine how fancy that is, despite the lack of photos.
The catacombs. There is no explanation of what the numbered wood panels are, but given that one woman very carefully avoided stepping on any, my guess is they are associated with the ossuary. There were bones visible (barely) under one small, scratched plexiglass plate, so that is also a clue. There are several rooms with tomb lined walls under the arched ceilings. All in all, not nearly as dark and creepy as one would expect.

2 thoughts on “Porto and Matosinhos, hanging out and enjoying the area.”

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s