Enchanting Porto

Enchanting Porto

The beautiful Islas Cíes behind us, we crossed the border to Portugal at midnight. The wind was very light at the start of our journey, but there was a big swell. We had the wind with us, a very unusual occurrence indeed. During this year we’ve experienced at least some downwind sailing, but during the first 1700 nautical miles – to our winter base in Brittany – we only sailed downwind for 3 hours. This miracle happened along the inland waterways of Holland, on the lake Markermeer. Now the swell made our boat roll a lot, not very comfortable, but at least we were making good speed.

Our happy buddies, the dolphins, accompany us on every passage these days. Their jumping tricks are far too fast to capture on camera!

Based on advise from people who have sailed in Portugal, we kept a polite distance to the coast, because it’s full of fishing nets and crab pots. As we were nearing Porto after sunrise on June the 29th, we could see flags and buoys all around us, as soon as the water depth rose above 100 metres. We sailed to the harbour of Leixões, where there’s also an anchorage. Leixões is one of Portugal’s main ports, a very industrial container and chemical harbour – but there’s also a small marina. The anchorage is just a little nook, tucked in a corner outside the marina, next to a great breakwater. But there was very good holding in the muddy bottom, it was a sheltered place, and when we dinghied into the marina and left our little tender at the pontoon, nobody seemed to mind.

Leixões is not picturesque, just a commercial port, but there’s also lively sailing school action, like in this photo taken in a foggy morning.

Leixões is pretty far from the centre of Porto, and there are no tourists besides a few sailors – there’s nothing to see in this industrial suburb. But we found a good bunch of excellent restaurants, very popular among the locals, with mouth watering grilled fish and other seafood. It’s also easy to take a bus downtown, which we naturally did, as soon as we had slept away the travel weariness, been to a launderette, and turned our boat from passage mode back to a cosy home.

Porto is one of those cities that everybody seems to fall in love with. A few times we have travelled to cities that people praise over everything, and found ourselves – well, not exactly disappointed, but definitely not ecstatic. Maybe it’s because we don’t generally enjoy big cities. But Porto stole our hearts!

Porto is an ancient city. That usually means you will find many historical layers, narrow streets and alleys that seem organically grown, and everything in a scale that feels good and natural to a human being. The old part of Porto has all this, and because it has been built on the side of a deep river gorge, it’s also quite dramatic. Some of the charm inevitably comes from the certain scruffiness – next to the famous and one of the most photographed bridges of Europe, the Pont Luis I, there are piles of ruined buildings overtaken by colourful flowery vines.

Back in the age of discovery, Porto was an important trading port and a shipbuilding centre. In the 18th century it grew significantly because of the wine trade that boomed because of the many wars between England and France. The Douro river valley is an ancient wine growing region, but its problem was the long transport to England. To last the journey, the wine was fortified, and so the world famous Port wine was born.

Most of the Port wine houses are situated in Vila Nova de Gaia, on the opposite bank of the Douro River, that is connected to Porto by several handsome bridges. The southern bank of the river is full of wine cellars, white washed and with red tiled roofs. The boats, rabelos, that were used for wine transportation along the river, are anchored in front. They are shallow draught cargo boats steered with a long oar. Today there are also bigger tourist boats of the same looking design, only much bigger.

We did only a day’s visit to the city, but had time to ramble along the narrow streets, where life seemed quite pleasant.

A very good spot to eat!

One of our favourites was the railway station, completely decorated with beautiful scenes made of ceramic tiles. Ceramic facades and endless details abound everywhere in the city.

A nice area to spend time in the shadow of an olive tree – this seemed to be the favourite spot for many above the hustle and bustle of the city.

Then it was time to continue our journey again! The next leg would follow our favourite compass heading, 180°. Then we would have to toss a coin and decide, whether to keep going straight, or turn left – exciting times! (To those of our readers who follow our Facebook and Instagram accounts, the result of our coin tossing is no longer a secret!)

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