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  • Janet Radley

Off the Beaten Path - Porto, Portugal


 The Ancient City of Porto, Portugal The original name of Porto was Calle and it was a small settlement established by the Celtics on the mouth of the Douro River.  The Romans occupied Calle in the 4th century and changed the name to Portus Calle where it became an influential commercial port.  The name Portus itself influenced the name of the country “Portugal”.  The Visigoth’s king Theodoric II invaded in 456 and Portus Calle remained in their control until 716 when the Moorish Muslins invaded.  Alfonso III of Asturias fought against the Muslins and conquered Portus Calle in 868, In the years following Portugal became a political entity.  In 1096 King Alfonso VI of Castile gave the country of Portugal, with Porto being the capital, as a dowry when his daughter Teresa of Leon married Henry of Burgundy.  Portugal’s independence began with Afonso Enriquez, the son of Henry of Burgundy and Teresa of Leon, who defeated the King of Leon in 1139.  A new kingdom was established from the southern part of the Kingdom of Galicia.  In 1143 Afonso Enriquez became the King of Portugal after he became a vassal of the Pope.  John I of Portugal was proclaimed King in 1385 and 2 years later married Henry III of England’s niece Philippa of Lancaster.  After their marriage the Treaty of Windsor was signed which is the oldest military alliance between 2 countries.  John and Philippa had several children, including Prince Henry the Navigator.  Prince Henry was to become an important figure during the Portuguese Empire and the led the Age of Discoveries, travelling to West Africa.  Portugal slowly became an influential commercial centre and its ports grew substantially during this time including Porto.  Porto’s shipyards were renowned and built the sailing ships that Prince Henry the Navigator used for his exploratory voyages. Between 1580 to 1640 the Iberian Peninsula united and was ruled by the Spanish Habsburg kings of Philip II, Philip III and Philip IV of Spain.  Porto and most major cities in Portugal opposed this union and in 1640 Porto backed the riot in Lisbon that would free Portugal from Spain.  Porto did benefit from the Spanish rule and grew in size and stature.  This gave rise to Porto’s Golden Age during the 18th century.  In 1756 Porto rose against Sebastiao Jose de Carvalho e Melo 1st Marquis of Pombal, he wanted to create a British monopoly on the wines of Porto.  Porto became wealthy and important because of its wines.  Many of the Baroque and neoclassical buildings found in Porto are from this time and were built because of wealth made from the wines. Portugal was invaded by the French during the Napoleonic war in 1807 and until the French withdraw in the winter of 1813-1814.  In 1820, a Liberal Revolution started in Porto demanding a constitutional monarchy.  Porto became the capital of Portugal provisionally when Henrique Mitchell de Paiva Couceiro, a prominent member of the Portuguese imperial government tried again to restore the monarchy.  The short-lived revolution called Monarquia do Norte (Monarchy of the North) lasted from January 19 to February 13, 1919.  The immediate Republican reaction put an end to the uprising.  Portugal was ruled by Antonio de Oliveira Salazar a dictator, his rule end in 1974 after 48 years.  A democratic system came into being and Portugal joined the European Union in 1986. Porto is Portugal’s 2nd largest city and was chosen the cultural capital of Europe in 2001. Porto Cathedral is built on the highest point in the city.  The cathedral is the most important religious edifice in the city, and it has been declared a National Monument.  The cathedral was started in the 12th century and has been rebuilt and renovated over the centuries.  Therefore, you will see a mix of Baroque, Romanesque and Gothic architecture.  The cathedral is very close to the walls that once protected the city.

Clerigos Church was built between 1735 to 1748 in the baroque style and it is topped by Clerigos Tower.  It was built by the Brotherhood of the Clerigos in the old town and on the “hill of the hanged men”.  This is where the executed prisoners were buried.  The tower is the tallest campanile in Portugal at 249 feet and if you are willing to climb the 200 steps you will get a wonderful view over the city and the river.  There are 49 bells and you can get quite a fright if you are in the tower when the bells are rung so check the times when they will ring them.

Mercado do Bolhao (Bolhao Market) was inaugurated in 1914 and specializes in meat, fish, fruit, vegetables, flowers, and other products.  The worn appearance is part of the charm of the   market.  The market is a great place to discover the “real Porto”.

Palacio de Bolsa is considered to be one of the most beautiful buildings in Porto.  It was built in the mid-nineteenth century in a neoclassical style.  The building is located in city centre next to St Francis Church.  The building was established on the ruin of St Francis Convent which was burned down in the Liberal Wars.  Palacio de Bolsa was built in 1842 but only opened in 1891.

Livraria Lello & Irma, is considered to be the most beautiful bookstore in Europe and one of the most beautiful in the world.  This neo-gothic building was built in 1906, it is so exquisitely decorated and covered in wood panelling you will feel like you were transported back the 19th century.  You will wish to explore the 2 floors which have books on every wall and they go all the way up to the ceiling.  Climb the elegant wooden staircase in the middle of the building and get a great view of the stained-glass window in the ceiling.  JK Rowling was inspired by the bookstore when she was living in Porto and writing Harry Potter.

Jardins do Palacio de Cristal (The Crystal Palace Gardens) is a garden located in the upper part of Porto where you will get stunning views of the city and the Douro River.  Visit the aromatic plant garden or the medicinal plant garden to name just a few of the gardens found there.

The Casa do Infante (Prince’s House) was built in 1325 but gets its name from Prince Henry the Navigator who was born there in 1394.  The building is the only royal building in Porto where guests of the royal family stayed during official visits.  It now houses a small museum which features an archaeological site and the mosaic floors that once decorated the building.  The house has been rebuilt and remodeled many times over the centuries.

There are many museums to visit in Porto.  Why not go to Museu Nacional Soares dos Reis which is over 200 years old and the oldest museum in Portugal?  The museum is housed in Portugal’s oldest palace, Carrancas Palace.  Many renowned figures have lived there including the Duke of Wellington.  Take a break and relax in the tranquil garden located there before continuing your explorations of Porto.

For the wine lovers a visit to one or more cellars is worth the visit to Porto.  Most of the cellars and wine lodges are located in Vila Nova de Gaia on the other side of the Douro River.  There are number of wine tours available.

Ferreira Cellars is established in an old convent and the cellars are over 300 years old.  It was founded in 1751 by a family of winemakers.    www.winetourism.sogrape.com/en/visit/ferreira-ellars?url=visitas/cave/6

Other cellars are Sandeman Cellars founded in 1790, www.sandeman.com


 Calem cellars founded in 1859, www.tour.calem.pt.

The Ribeira District is the oldest district in the city of Porto.  Wander the narrow, cobbled streets where you will find small bars and restaurants serving classical Portuguese food such as grilled sardines.  Enjoy Praca da Ribeira square which is lined by 18th century townhouses. 

A few places to stay: Hotel Le Monumental Palace www.maison-albar-hotels-le-monumental-palace.com/en/ Welcome to your 5-star second home, a luxury hotel in the heart to Porto.


Infante Sagres Porto www.infantesagres.com/en/ Porto’s most prestigious city centre hotel.


Pestana Palacio do Freixo Porto www.pestanacollection.com/en/hotel/freixo-palace A hotel which is a National Monument with Baroque architecture.

A recipe for Pasteis de Nata (Portuguese Custard Tarts)

For the pasteis de Nata dough 2 cups minus 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour, plus more for the work surface ¼ teaspoon sea salt 3/4 cup plus 3 tablespoons cold water 2 sticks unsalted butter (8 oz) room temperature, stirred until smooth

For the custard 3 tablespoons all-purpose flour 1 1/4 cups milk, divided 1 1/3 cups of granulated sugar 1 cinnamon stick 2/3 cup water ½ teaspoon vanilla extract 6 large egg yolks, whisked

For the garnish Confectioners’ sugar Cinnamon Directions

Make the pasteis de nata dough 1. In a stand mixer fitted with a dough hook, mix the flour, salt and water until a soft, pillowy dough forms that pulls away from the side of the bowl, about 30 seconds. 2. Generously flour a work surface and pat the dough into a 6-inch (15 cm) square using a pastry scraper.  Flour the dough, cover with plastic wrap, and let it rest at room temperature for 15 minutes. 3. Roll the dough into an 18-inch (46 cm) square.  As you work, use the scraper to lift the dough to make sure the underside isn’t sticking to your work surface. 4. Brush the excess flour off the top of the dough, trim any uneven edges, and, using a small offset spatula, dot and then spread the left 2/3 portion of the dough with a little less than 1/3 of the butter being careful to leave a 1 inch (25 mm) plain border around the edge of the dough. 5. Neatly fold the unbuttered right 1/3 of the dough (using the pastry scraper to loosen it if it sticks) over the rest of the dough.  Brush off any excess flour, then fold over the left 1/3 of the dough.  Starting from the top, pat down the dough with your hand to release any air bubbles, and then pinch the edges of the dough to seal.   Brush off any excess flour. 6. Turn the dough 90 degrees to the left so the fold is facing you.  Lift the dough and flour the work surface.  Once again roll it out to an 18-inch (46 cm) square, then dot the left 2/3 of the dough with 1/3 of the butter and smear it over the dough.  Fold the dough as directed in steps 4 and 5. 7. For the last rolling, turn the dough 90 degrees to the left and roll out the dough to an 18 by 21-inch (46 by 53 cm) rectangle, with the shorter side facing you.  Spread the remaining butter over the entire surface of the dough. 8. Using the spatula as an aid, lift the edge of dough closest to you and roll the dough away from you into a tight log, brushing the excess flour from the underside as you go.  Trim the ends and cut the log in half.  Wrap each piece in plastic wrap and chill for 2 hours or preferably overnight.  (The pastry can be frozen for up to 3 months.)

Make the custard 9. In a medium bowl, whisk the flour and ¼ cup milk (60 ml) until smooth. 10. Bring the sugar, cinnamon, and water to a boil in a small saucepan and cook until an instant-read thermometer registers 220 degrees F (100 degrees C).  Do not stir. 11. Meanwhile, in another small saucepan, scald the remaining 1 cup milk (237 ml).  Whisk the hot milk into the flour mixture. 12. Remove the cinnamon stick and then pour the sugar syrup in a thin stream into the hot milk-and-flour mixture, whisking briskly.  Add the vanilla and stir for a minute until very warm but not hot.  Whisk in the yolks, strain the mixture into a bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and set aside.  The custard will be thin, that is as it should be.  (You can refrigerate the custard for up to 3 days.)

Assemble and bake the pastries 13. Place an oven rack in the top third position and heat the oven to 550 degrees F (290 degrees C).  Remove a pastry log from the refrigerator and roll it back and forth on a lightly floured surface until it’s about an inch (25 mm) in diametre and 16 inches (41 cm) long.  Cut it into scant 3/4-inches (18 mm) pieces.  Place 1-piece pastry dough, cut side down, in each well of a nonstick 12 cup mini-muffin pan (2 by 5/8-inch (50 by 15 mm) size).  If using classic tins, cut the dough into generous 1-inch (25 mm) pieces.  Allow the dough pieces to soften several minutes until pliable. 14. Have a small cup of water nearby.  Dip your thumbs in the water, then straight down into the middle of the dough spiral.  Flatten it against the bottom of the cup to a thickness of about 1/16 inch (1.5 mm), the smooth the dough up the sides and create a raised lip about 1/8 inch (3 mm) above the pan.  The pastry bottoms should be thinner than the tops. 15. Fill each cup ¾ full with the cool custard.  Bake the pastries until the edges of the dough are frilled and brown, about 8 to 9 minutes for the mini-muffin tins, 15 to 17 minutes for the classic tins. 16. Remove from the oven and allow the pastries to cool a few minutes in the pan, then transfer to a rack and cool until just warm.  Sprinkle the pastries generously with confectioners’ sugar, then cinnamon and serve.  Repeat with the remaining pastry and custard.  These are best consumed the day they’re made.

JANET RADLEY//Helen Thompson Travel//Telephone 416 967 4404 ext. 134

19 Isabella Street., Toronto, ON, M4Y 1M7

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Helen Thompson Travel 

19 Isabella St.

Toronto M4Y 1M7

Phone: 416 967 4404

Email: htt@httrips.com

Tico # 3014193

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