We’re both longtime fans of trains, having traveled extensively throughout Great Britain plus many western European countries, including France of course, using various unlimited passes to see as much of the countryside as we could. We find it so relaxing compared to flying and much less stressful than driving, especially when you can enjoy that afternoon wine and cheese while the landscape goes whizzing by the window. Naturally then, when friends suggested that we visit them in their new home in Portugal, I figured that we would just hop aboard a train and be there in no time. After all, they are just one country down and over a bit. Unfortunately that hop was going to take about 21 hours so we opted for a non-stop 2-hour flight from Carcassonne to the city of Porto, well-known for its port wine.
We rented an apartment with a view over the main tourist area below and directly across the Dourio River to the wine cellars and their tasting rooms, including the oldest started in 1638, Kopke. It was there that we enjoyed 5 samples accompanied by chocolates from the city’s oldest chocolatier. While on that side of the river, we walked up to the hilltop monastery to capture the views of the oldest parts of town and then to walk back across the steel bridge from 1886 designed by a partner of Gustave Eiffel.
Another word that comes to mind when you say “Portugal” is tiles and Porto has these proudly displayed on numerous buildings. These hand-painted blue azulejo tiles cover, for example, much of the exterior of the Iglesia de los Carmelitas and much of the interior of the Sao Bento train station. A short walk from there is the Lello bookshop where its ornate staircases and shelves are said to have inspired the Harry Potter Hogwarts library. Based on the line of people willing to pay the 5 euro entrance fee, which might be refunded if you make a purchase, there are still a lot of fans of the series.
Since Carcassonne has 2 UNESCO World Heritage Sites, we make a point of seeking out those sites in other cities we visit. One of those is the Church of Sao Francisco, started in 1383, that served as a temporary headquarters for Napoleon and his troops during the invasion of Portugal in 1809. Services are still held in the Porto Cathedral from 2 centuries earlier while the Clerigos Church and Tower, provides a great view over the city from the highest point in the old town.
Easily reached by train, and compact and close enough to enjoy as a day trip from Porto, we stopped over for one night in Aveiro. The nickname of “Portugal’s Venice” did the trick to get us there. We stayed right beside the Central Canal that gave us easy access to the Moliceiro boats, Rossio Gardens, and the fish market square. Those same blue tiles that we saw in Porto covered numerous buildings there including the train station and the Misericordia church on the pedestrian walkway.
From Aveiro we continued south to Lisbon and then east to the Roman city of Evora. The next blog post will feature photos from there plus a few tips we learned along the way about traveling in Portugal.