There is an idea that the cities that stand on the rivers are different from all the others. And it’s actually true. Firstly, of course, they differ by its contrasting landscapes, secondly, by the atmosphere that always reigns along the quays, and finally by the way you feel there – free, dreamily and full of life. Indeed, such cities immediately fall into our hearts and remain there forever.
And if only the river transforms the usual urban area that much, then imagine how it frames the city from the one side, as it flows along the historical center, ancient buildings and museums and how it smoothly drains into the ocean, passing to it the baton of intimacy with the shore. Countless yachts, cruise liners, boats and ships complete all this beauty, filling the entire water area.
This is the splendor of the northern capital of Portugal – Portus Cale or modern Porto. The city, founded by the Romans in 1123, later gave the name to the whole country – Portugal. Almost a millennium has passed but the monuments of Roman culture, which form Rota do Românico (that means “romance road”) in the north of the country, still reminds of the distant ancestors of the Portuguese folk.
The Douro River, which so gracefully flows into the Atlantic Ocean, rises in Spain. In Douro valley are produced some of the best wines of Portugal, as well as the pride of the region, and the whole country – the famous Port wine. Six bridges at a visible distance from each other cross the river. Interesting that four of them carry the names of historical figures. Their names in geographical order are: Freixo, São João, Donna Maria Pia, Infante D. Henrique, Dom Luis I and Arrabida. The last-mentioned is recognized as a national monument.
Right behind the bridge, we can see the so-called fashionable district Foz. This is a place where the river smoothly flows into the Atlantic Ocean and the beaches begin. The coastline extends beyond Porto far to the north. Continuing the way we are arriving at Matosinhos – a small town in the district of Grande Porto, famous for its beaches, best fish restaurants and a huge net above the roundabout. This piece of contemporary arts is a work of an American artist and sculptor, Janet Echelman. The name “She Changes” corresponds to the appearance of the net: moved by wind at night, it changes color depends on lighting. The locals give the sculpture various interpretations: some of them say it is a giant fishing net, a symbol of Portuguese fishermen, others compare it to a jellyfish. One way or another, the creation surprises with its size and shape and since contemporary arts always assume the element of a riddle, disputes on the meaning of “She Changes” can be continued forever.
The coast is full of cafes and restaurants, where you can order a cool sangria and admire the ocean while sitting on the esplanade. The coast here is slightly rocky and there is no greater pleasure than breathing that salty sea air and behold the waves, now and then rolling on the rocks and turning into billions of drops glittering in the sun.
Right from here you can go to Boavista – the longest avenue of Porto and another rich area and business center of the city. Here you can easily notice how dramatically changes the atmosphere of serenity and bliss of the seascape to almost an aggressive mood. Everyone is in a hurry, running somewhere as if you suddenly get from suburbs to the capital at the rush hour.
In my opinion, Porto is a city of contrasts. Here, next to the rich building, you can see a modest house of an old resident, and an excellent restaurant does not necessarily look like a Michelin star owner. But believe me, you will for sure receive a warm and hearty welcome and huge portions of delicious food. Especially family restaurants are like that. And this hospitality and generosity reveal all the charm of the Portuguese mentality and traditions.
Closer to the historical center of Porto, this authenticity is diluted by modern institutions and boutiques. But there, where narrow streets intersect with large avenues, still lives the soul of the city – the Portuguese identity…