Our family LOVES a city break. Or at least that’s what my husband Andy and I have always told ourselves during the years when our kids have been young enough to be palmed off with the bribe of ice cream and £5 pocket money for a ten day trip. As they’ve got older and more opinionated there are more rumblings about all inclusives with multiple swimming pools and all you can eat restaurants. So when we adventurously booked an Easter trip to Porto and the Douro valley- I had my concerns.
But - a miracle- they have loved it as much as we have; albeit with hotels that tick the swimming pool, gym and buffet breakfast boxes, but still fit my insta aesthetics. It seems eating their body weight every morning and attempting to do weights while wearing hotel robes and drinking Fanta is a fair trade off for some culture. Here is my top ten from our week in Porto; I’m already planning my next trip.
1. CASA DA COMPANHIA. We stay three nights here in the heart of the old town. Yes initially directed by the fact it’s a. old, and b. has an indoor and an outdoor swimming pool. But we are happy to discover it’s also totally beautiful, built around a Moroccan style courtyard, with state of the art bedrooms. Everyone's a winner.
2. STREET ART. Porto is known for its street art, which is a level up from 'graffiti' and just adds to the city's air of romance rather than detracts from it. We walk the streets of the old town and the lanes of the quirky Ribeira district spotting hidden masterpieces.
3. SHOPS. I manage to throw myself into a few despite the kids protests. Top is the divine Claus Porto where Andy gets a bonus hot towel shave with a cologne purchase. I also stop at excellent independent fashion and lifestyle store The Feeting Room, and an incredible smelling artisan chocolate shop Chocolateria Equador
4. KNICK KNACKS. What can be pure tourist tat in other countries is super stylish in Porto, with market stalls and authentic local stores at every turn. I return home with a Bordallo Pinheiro-esque cabbage tureen, a fish plate for the wall, a huge ceramic cockerel and an artisan embroidered purse. All obviously essentials.
5. SIGHTS. There are too many to see in one visit. We walk across the vertigo inducing Dom Luis Bridge, take a cable car ride above Vila Nova de Gaia (across the river from Porto), stop at the beautiful hilltop cathedral, and ogle train station Sao Bento's beautiful interior. But just as fabulous is the architecture and tiled facades of regular buildings.
6. DOURO 41. We take a two night mini break an hour down the Douro River from Porto at Douro 41, a brilliantly minimal spa hotel that climbs up the river bank and is all clean lines and glass walls. We uber from Porto within an hour and hibernate for 48 hrs. It has both a fancy restaurant ( Raiva) and a relaxed bar with pizza oven so leaving the premises is not required.
7. DOURO ACTIVITIES. The hotel has canoes and paddle boards so we spend a morning paddling down the river (some more reluctantly than others) They also offer boat trips, and wine tasting excursions. But really it’s a place for relaxation, with three fabulous pools, a spa and cinema lounge in the evening complete with popcorn, which allows me to indulge in what Andy considers an unhealthy Ryan Reynolds obsession.
8. CITY AIRBNB. We return to Porto for a final night, and stay in a super cool apartment housed in a building where Porto’s most famous architect once lived, with mid century furniture and the most amazing view of the park. (And the Clerigos tower with its 200 steps to the best view of Porto- that we fail to climb). I immediately develop a Porto property search habit.
9. SERRALVES. I LOVE an art gallery on holiday so the rest of my family are also forced (encouraged!) to. The Serralves Foundation, a ten minute taxi drive from the centre of Porto, has something for everyone: a modernst building for architecture lovers, a quirky collection of art indoors and out, huge gardens for football, and a treetop walk. Oh and an excellent shop.
10. RESTAURANTS. We eat a LOT in Porto, and that’s not including the hotel breakfasts. Pastel de nata cafes are impossible to pass by, and we try the Porto speciality of ice creams in the shape of flowers. For dinner we love the white tiled Traca in the old town, and have a birthday meal at the beautiful Flow.
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