Hi there! As I promised, I’m finally getting to our Portugal recaps and starting things off with Porto and the Douro Valley, on Portugal’s western coast.
You might remember our dear friends S&A – back before they were parents to James’ sweet friend nicknamed Almôndega, (Portugese for meatball) they were some of our very first Geneva visitors and fellow paragliders! We were lucky enough that they were very game to meet us this time as traveling families in Europe this fall, and a spot we were all keen to check out was Portugal. We were all crushing hard on the Algarve Coast, but given the time of year, we decided to focus north and check out Porto and Lisbon with two day trips to the Douro Valley and to Sintra.
I’m going to share Porto and the Valley today with Lisbon and Sintra not far behind! To start, beyond the theft of our laptop computers from our Lisbon Airbnb 🤦🏻♀️, it would only be honest to share that we had a few uphill battles on the trip. There was *lots* of wind and rain, plus a baby tummy bug, tantrums, diaper blowouts, and multiple outfit changes that were stressful, to put it mildly. We have also gotten pretty spoiled with Swiss cleanliness, order, and precision for transportation and public works (and you know, not stealing people’s expensive possessions from their locked personal spaces) which regrettably didn’t hold quite the same standard in Lisbon and Porto. This brings me to my #1 travel trip though – go places with people who you can have a good time with no matter what. We rolled with the punches and made awesome memories together, which is obviously what it’s all about.
Despite all that moaning- we had a wonderful time, and the good news for families is that Portugal loves kids. People were so friendly to our little guys and anytime we were in a line, we were told it was “the law” for babies to go to the front of the queue! A really nice way to save time. We also had great luck in that both our Airbnbs had lots of kid touches – two cribs, bathtubs, toys, etc. and both of our tour guides were happy to provide infant car seats for the Douro Valley and Sintra. While it’s not in my nature, it was a great lesson that there’s never any harm in simply asking if you can be accommodated.
A 2:30ish hour train ride from Lisbon (though not nearly as straightforward as you’d find in Switzerland) is Porto! The last few years has brought a lot of attention to Portugal’s really trendy “second city” full of color, culture and beautiful blue and white azuejlo tile.
EAT & DRINK:
I’ve said before that the content on the blog that’s taken the hardest hit are our previously luxuriously long evening dinners. There were no late nights in Porto, but we did try their famous dish – the Francesinha – a sandwich originally from Porto, made with bread, wet-cured ham, linguiça, fresh sausage like chipolata, steak or roast meat, and covered with melted cheese and a hot thick tomato and beer sauce. You need ONE sandwich for a group served hot – a lesson learned the hard way. Not our favorite and didn’t even take a messy photo, but something to try when in Rome!
We were the guests of the sweetest grandmother who keeps an apartment above her sewing store. It’s this wonderful Airbnb complete with toys, tubs, and cribs! Strongly recommend it as a good spot for families.
While we had difficult weather overall in Porto, we couldn’t do as much wandering as we hoped, but enjoyed our visits to all of the below!
- Livraria Lello – the kinda moody magical Hogwarts-esque bookshop that inspired J.K. Rowling, who wrote much of Harry Potter while living and teaching English in Porto. If you buy tickets in advance (5 euros each which is deducted from any purchase you make), you don’t have to wait in line to get in the shop, which is crowded based on an obsessive focus for Instagrammers, hence there now being a cost to enter. Please support bookstores!!)
- São Bento Train Station – I know I’ve ripped on the Portuguese trains a bit, but Porto’s train station packs a punch! It’s absolutely worth a pop in to the main entry hall which features some of Portugal’s finest azulejos — vivid, decorative hand-painted tiles that show historical and folk scenes from the region.
- Ribera District – the lovely waterfront district. Lots of restaurants and a great place to stroll.
- Palácio da Bolsa – a neoclassical palace built in the 19th century, a UNESCO heritage site, and where the stock market was housed! (Bolsa is “stock” in English) – the Arab Room is the real showstopper here. 45 minute guided tours are mandatory – can’t buy the 9 euro ticket in advance so arrive early to purchase.
Our group’s collective favorite day of our entire trip was was this van tour to the Douro Valley to visit Croft and Quinta da Foz. After Piedmont, Burgundy, and the Douro Valley, James might be in contention for Europe’s youngest wine tour pro? Is this a poor reflection upon his parents?
Along with a great driver, it was complete with a local lunch, and a short boat ride down the Douro River. Croft, famous for its port wines, had the most stunning views and gracious hosts. I can generally take or leave port, but really enjoyed the varities we tried! The vineyards just looked like they were on FIRE.
The backdrop was just too irrestible so we had to take a million photos!
Quinta da Foz was a more conventional winery with wonderful samples and lots of bread, cheese, and olive oil.
And then we took our river cruise down the Douro! We were really lucky that the sun came out and it was just a dreamy afternoon.
Our tour driver couldn’t be nicer, and amazingly, we ran into an acquaintance from Philadelphia, the lone other couple on our tour! They were such a delight and we were really jealous of their “adult” accomodations at this hotel as we drove back to Porto with a screaming baby.🥵
If I were to come back to Portugal, particularly with little ones in tow, I’d love to just rent a home in the Valley and stay for a week luxuriating in the region! It was so gorgeous and relaxing, and East Coast friends, you can get direct (and short!) flights from Newark.
Next up – Lisbon and Sintra!!
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