Porto is a beautiful, historic Portuguese riverside city and a new wine themed attraction makes it an even more compelling weekend destination for Brits

Porto old town skyline from across the Douro River
Image: Getty Images/iStockphoto

We were promised a WOW moment with a glass in hand… it stands for World of Wine in Porto, Portugal’s second city.

WOW is one of Europe’s biggest new tourism projects and is part of the transformation of a place which has quietly been enjoying a renaissance as a holiday destination during the last decade.

With a name like that it better not disappoint, and thankfully I was suitably wowed.

If Porto has slipped under your radar, you’re missing a treat. It’s more than a great long-weekend city-break destination. It’s also a perfect place for sun lovers and beach-loving families.

To get to the beach you can hop on a bus, but the two-mile walk along the River Douro is nice, with little cafes along the way. The jetty at the end sits above churning water as the 557-mile long Douro runs from deep within Spain and out into the Atlantic.

Sunset over the Dom Luís Bridge in Porto
Image: Getty Images

The city is rarely thought of by us Brits as a beach destination, but it lies at the heart of the Costa Verde, a rugged coastline of golden beaches, rocky headlands and dramatic natural scenery.

But back to the city’s WOW factor. The World of Wine is in Vila Nova de Gaia, across the Douro from the main historic centre of Porto and reached by the iconic double-deck Luis I Bridge.

Further upstream lies the striking Maria Pia Bridge and if it reminds you a little of the Eiffel Tower that’s because it was designed by the very same Gustave Eiffel (one of his students created the Luis I).

All the famous old port families still offer wine tastings in their Gaia lodges, but WOW is something on a far bigger scale.

Built over the five years before the pandemic and costing more than £100million, it covers a huge area of land on several levels. It’s the brainchild of Adrian Bridge, whose family have run the Taylor’s Port company there since 1692.

The original premises of Taylor’s remain alongside the World of Wine. And as modern wine cooling and storage techniques evolved and some of the old lodges fell into disuse, Adrian came up with his vision for WOW on a beautiful 13-acre terraced site looking down across the terracotta rooftops and spectacular bridges, with the best view of the historic centre.

Colleen Smith explores Porto

WOW opened in the midst of the pandemic in 2020 and is only now getting into full swing (it’s a free-to-enter district, you only pay when you buy a ticket to enter one of the museums there).

Inspired by the history and beauty of this great winemaking country, the sprawling cultural district feels like Disney meets Willy Wonka via the Louvre – with lots of wine, port and chocolate-tasting thrown in.

In other words, it’s a great city holiday destination for anybody who loves the finer things in life.

If you’re a bit of a wine buff – or would like to become one – take one of the courses in the highly regarded Wine School where small classes get personal attention from the professionals. Or go on a wine-tasting tour on a walk-in basis where you can try either three or five wines, cheese and wine pairings or chocolate truffle and wine pairings.

I took part in a Level 1 Demystifying Wine workshop, which costs €30 per person. By the end of the two hours I had learned how to taste five different wines like a pro, first checking the colour and smell, before swirling and smelling again. Next came the slurping and spitting. The spitting is optional. You can drink if you prefer – and yes, of course I did!

In complete contrast, we spent a fun girly afternoon at the Pink Palace, exploring the world of rosé wines. It would make the perfect hen party location.

Cheers! A tasting at Porto’s World of Wine
Image: DAILY MIRROR

As we toured the museum, glass in hand, we tried five wines: Quinta Vale do Bragão Rosé, AIX Rosé Gran Vin de Provence, Mateus Rosé, Vértice Rosé Bruto and Croft Pink rosé port.

And we dived into a pink ball pool, popped out of a giant bottle of fizz, got behind the wheel of a pink Cadillac and… well, to be honest the whole thing got a bit psychedelic and hazy after that. But it was definitely fun!

My personal highlight, however, was the Chocolate Story Museum where we took part in an incredible three-hour Port and Chocolate Pairing workshop led by chocolatier and chef extraordinaire Pedro Araújo.

Pedro has spent the last 10 years of his life finding the perfect cacao beans, and travelling the world to search out ethical cacao plantations where children and slave labour are not used. He has met workers on cacao plantations who have worked their entire lives and never eaten chocolate.

World of Wine’s The Chocolate Story
Image: DAILY MIRROR

At the Chocolate Story you can see the results of Pedro’s quest and his Vinte Vinte range of chocolate bars are made in front of your eyes. I had never eaten chocolate like it.

During the workshop I learned how to melt a tiny square of 70% dark chocolate on my tongue and then find the perfect vintage ruby port to drink with it. It was the kind of dazzling taste experience you could never achieve without expert help.

One last thing – Porto is just a 1.5-hour flight from the UK, and the airport is a short cab ride outside the city. Get an early flight and your holiday is well and truly off to a great start by lunchtime.

The people in Porto have been making wine and providing hospitality to us Brits for hundreds of years.

They exude good old-fashioned family values, warmth and an open-hearted friendliness which makes them the perfect hosts. Expect to be WOW-ed.

WHERE TO STAY

The five-star Yeatman Hotel is the perfect base for a visit to Porto, with every luxury you’d expect from a prestigious Relais & Châteaux group property with a restaurant that has achieved not one but two Michelin stars.

It’s set within seven acres of land, has outdoor and indoor infinity pools and is just a five-minute walk to the WOW district.

As an added bonus it shares those stellar views across the Douro to the historic centre and the Luis I Bridge.

BOOK IT

Entry for WOW cultural district in Porto, Portugal, is free with ticketed attractions from £17 per person. wow.pt

GET THERE

TAP Air Portugal flies from Gatwick to Porto from £80 return. flytap.com

MORE INFO

visitporto.travel visitportugal.com

Source: Mirror