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davidx Porto - A travel report by David
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Porto,  Portugal - flag Portugal -  Castelo Branco
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davidx's travel reports

Porto, Douro railways and North Portugal

  16 votes
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Old saying: ‘Braga prays, Coimbra studies, Lisboa shows off, Porto works.’ Certainly Porto is one [though only one] of the North Portugal places that can make a great centre for exploring the area with so many unspoilt scenes.

Bridge and old port boats, Porto
Bridge and old port boats, Porto
If you treat Porto right, you may be in danger of getting a cricked neck as it is its towering skyline of commercial and industrial buildings as well as churches that will attract you. The principal single sight is its wonderful two-level bridge, designed by a disciple of Eiffel and very reminiscent of the Eiffel Tower. It is well worth finding a bus map at the tourist office and taking on of the buses that crosses on the top road, returning by the bottom – do it this way unless you are feeling in great need of exercise. Just to the south of the bridge are a number of old boats, once used for transporting the port, from which the city got its name. There are a number of port merchants’ buildings on this side of the river which are open at times for visits, the times being available at the tourist office just near the old boats. You are hardly going to be racking your brain for trips out, more likely on what not to do. You could easily do two separate trips by rail up the Douro without undue repetition and it is worth seeing the [not over touristy] coastal town of Vila do Conde. Then, in the north-westerly province of Minho, there are sights galore – the cities of Braga [the one that prays] and the first capital city of Guimaraes, the attractive resort of Viana do Castelo and the wonderful area inland from there up the Lima and Vez rivers, with terrific unspoilt mountain and valley scenery. I have not made it yet to the Peneda-Gerẽs National Park [Sunday service on All Saints Day!] but I’m sure it should be added. Then there is the frontier river of the Minho itself. If you want to combine Galicia in Spain with Northern Portugal [a splendid thought] from a single base [less inspired], you are better staying in the Spanish city of Tui [or Tuy] as the trains work better for you that way. Then in the remote north-eastern province of Tras os Montes lies Bragança with its Cidadela area like an almost separate village, a fascinating and interesting city.

Favourite spots:
The aqueduct a Vila do Conde - 99 arches for one fountain!
The aqueduct a Vila do Conde - 99 arches for one fountain!
I’m picking out a few lesser known but very good places here. Vila do Conde: an old lace-centred town by the sea with a picturesque old quarter, a large market and a former convent fed by a mighty aqueduct [for one tiny fountain!] Valdevez: a very scenic town reached by bus from Ponte de Barca or Ponte da Lima. Guimaraes: former home to Salazar and the Dukes of Bragança, the last royal line. Former capital and great buildings. We were very short of time and would have been better off skipping Braga. So would you unless you want a very religious city. Caminha: Where the rail and road from Porto leave the coast to follow the Minho. Easily reached by bus in time to eat if you are getting the late train back to Spain. Valença do Minho: An Eiffel rail bridge connects the line with Spain – if you find a way to pay for the stretch between Valença and Tuy you beat me!

What's really great:
One trip from Porto is terrific. You start at São Bento station, a treat in itself because of its fine mosaics. You take the train up the Douro valley and change at Livração [don’t blink or you may miss it!] for the one-coach train to Amarante up a steep and scenic branch line. You can laze here for a bit and enjoy a café lunch or eat a picnic, looking across the lovely river Tâmega. When I was there I watched yellow wagtails galore, some dippers and a group of women washing immensely long hall or stair carpets in the river and laying them out to dry. The next stage of your journey is a bus to Vila Real [where, if you need a taxi to the station, as we did, agree on a price first, as we didn’t!]. The bus ride is almost as beautiful as the train trips. Next, you follow the Corgo river down on another branch line to Peso da Régua on the Douro which is just about where the vinho verde area gives way to the port area. [continued by cheating on the ‘Sights’ area below]

Ponte da Lima
Ponte da Lima
[Douro rail trip continued] The scenery of the Corgo river is only marred slightly by the fact that the sun is now blindingly against you but judicious use of the curtains may help.
From Peso da Régus you are back on the main Douro line and you do the stretch by the river itself, one of the great European river tour areas, before the light fails, leaving you only the return stretch from Livração, relatively uninteresting anyway, to do in darkness.

São Bento station, Porto
São Bento station, Porto
Hotel Peninsular - very near São Bento station in Porto. It is very conveniently placed, comfortable, friendly, good English, reasonably cheap and it has the oldest lift in Porto - splendid - but the coffeee pots always spill onto the breakfast table!
Rua Sa de Bandera 21 phone: 200 30 12

Unique, Cidadela area, Bragança
Unique, Cidadela area, Bragança
I can’t remember the name of the one in the Cidadela area at Bragança but you can’t miss it and it’s great. However don’t order side dishes unless you’ve starved for at least two days!

Other recommendations:
Melgaço is a lovely bus ride away from Valença do Minho, following the river most of the way. There is a huge Friday market and on the same day there is a mid-day bus up to the Peneda-Gerẽs National Park [other days very early bus only] unless it happens to be a public holiday.

Bragança can be reached by bus from Zamora in Spain, itself a lovely and underrated city. In the Cidadela area are, among other things, a unique Romanesque pentangular council chamber and a preaching cross rising from a prehistoric pig.

Published on Sunday January 2th, 2005

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Tue, Jan 04 2005 - 10:18 PM rating by italian-link

Very well done, report. Nice pics too. You have a lot of good specifics.

Tue, Jan 04 2005 - 02:48 PM rating by mtlorensen

Terrific report which will be a handy and organized guide for my future trip to Portugal!

Mon, Jan 03 2005 - 04:20 PM rating by nedkelly

nice one david, good to see you getting your teeth stuck in to being a very active member well written and I love the pics too

Mon, Jan 03 2005 - 09:36 AM rating by victorsglobe

Great report!! Choc full of very useful info! Thanks!

Sun, Jan 02 2005 - 06:41 PM rating by bootlegga

Great job! You've put up a bunch of really good reports in the last week. Keep it up!

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