Visit Portugal – A Cultural Experience

Portugal like other European countries received a bailout for its economic decline, but its chances for success in rebounding from the crisis may be better than many others. It remains a small, beautiful country with a lot to offer as a tourist destination. Besides visiting Lisbon, the capital, there are many other cities, towns, and villages that have attracted film producers worldwide and travelers looking for that special vacation. J.K. Rowling spent time here as an English teacher while writing her first book in the Harry Potter series.

Oporto (or Porto) on the Douro River is a World Heritage Site of monuments and wonderful civil and religious buildings of Baroque architecture and splendid tile work, officially recognized as the European capital of culture in 2001. It is the birthplace of Prince Henry the Navigator and the city where port wine originated. The filming location of Oporto with its mild Mediterranean climate and scenic beauty was chosen for The Dancer Upstairs (2003) starring Javier Bardem and directed by John Malkovich. More recently, scenes from the same general location were used in the 2008 movie Righteous Kill with DeNiro, Pacino, and Penelope Cruz.

Attractions:

Oporto Cathedral – This 12th century cathedral features paintings by Nasoni, silver and golden altars, and 18th century blue ceramic tile throughout. Visitors will have a wonderful view of the city from the north and west sides of the cathedral.

Hours: Open daily (except on religious holidays). 8:30am-12:30pm, 2:30-7pm. Free admission, except for the sacristy, treasury, and cloisters – $2.43

The Crystal Palace Pavilion is surrounded by lovely gardens in a park setting beside the Douro featuring various cultural and sports events. The Romantic Museum on the grounds typifies the rooms in mansions for the rich in the 19th century with a Billiard Room, Dressing Room, and Ballroom.

Hours: Tues-Sat, 10am-12:30pm, Sun, 2-5:30pm. Free admission on weekends.

Built in the 19th century, the Palacio da Bolsa (stock exchange building) is a work of art with a central courtyard, glass paneled dome Hall of Nations, ceiling frescoes, sculptures, and imposing portraits of former Portuguese monarchs. The Arab Room is a main attraction here with its Moorish revival interior seen in the Alhambra in Granada, numerous theaters, synagogues, and temples in cities across the U.S, Europe, and South America. It serves as a reception hall for visiting dignitaries and heads of state. An active business establishment, the Palacio da Bolsa is open daily with guided tours (English, French, Spanish).

Hours: Nov-Mar, 9am-12:30pm, 2-5:30pm. Apr-Oct, 9am-6:30pm. Admission: $7.30 (Adults), $4.88 (under 12).

Beautifully designed on landscaped gardens, the Serralves Museum opened in 1999. The museum houses 14 exhibition rooms of contemporary art, including works by Warhol, Tuymans, and Oldenburg, a library, and café.

Hours: Open daily except Mon. Visit the website for daily schedules. Admission: $6 – museum & park. Free admission on Sunday, 10am-2pm.

Accommodations:

The 5-star Yeatman Hotel offers 82 rooms or suites with all the amenities and each with private terrace or balcony and view of the historic center of Porto across the Douro. Known as the best wine and spa hotel in the city, guests will enjoy gourmet cuisine, wine tasting, and luxurious spa treatments. Enjoy a cocktail in Dick’s Bar and live music on the weekends. The Yeatman offers a variety of packages including an exclusive romantic Wedding Night for $1,327 and a 3-night package for $1,342/dbl.

Porto Palacio, recently renovated in 2006, is a modern tower of 233 rooms and 18 suites on 23 floors. Conveniently located near the commercial center of the city, it is listed as one of the leading hotels in the world. The hotel features a spa and fitness center, several restaurants, bar, VIP lounge, 2 indoor swimming pools, and numerous other amenities.

Rates/dbl: $100 & up (some include breakfast, tickets to the Serralves Museum, city, ocean, or river view.).

Hotel Infante Sagres can be described as elegant, comfortable, and dignified, often frequented by kings and presidents. Rooms are spacious, and the interior decor of the hotel is impressive with stained glass, mahogany paneling, and intricate tile work. Guests can enjoy indoor dining at D. Filipa or outdoors on O Patio, lounges, and the solarium.

Rates/dbl: $170 – $378 (suite), incl brkfst.

Also recommended are the Sheraton, Pestana, and Tiara Park with rates from $280-$730.

Restaurants:

Aqua Douro restaurant is located upstairs in the Pestana Hotel overlooking the Douro River. Recommended for fine cuisine, entrees of seafood or duck, excellent wine list, and 1st class service.

Hours: 12:30-3pm, 7:30-10:30pm. Prices: $28 – $46.

The 2-story Churrascao do Mar specializes in seafood and international cuisine of South America. Dine in one of four rooms, each carefully restored to its original elegance of 1897.

Hours: 12 Noon-3:30pm, 7-11pm. Prices: $25 – $45. Reservations.

Receiving good reviews, the 80-year old Escondidinho is a tavern style restaurant complete with stone fireplace, beamed ceilings, intricately carved chairs with brass studs, and Portuguese ceramics. Grilled steaks, chateaubriand for two, and fresh seafood are specialties, as well as unusual desserts. Excellent service in a charming old world atmosphere.

Hours: Noon-3pm, 7-10pm. Prices: $23 – $40. Reservations.

More to do: Enjoy an all-day tour through the Douro countryside, small villages, and hillside vineyards, lunch and wine tasting included, $115. Visit any one of the 50 port wineries, other museums, and churches. Shop for designer apparel, gifts, and books. Be sure and stop in Lello’s, one of the most beautiful bookstores in the world. Remember to sample a delicious Francesinha (little Frenchie), Porto’s local sandwich specialty, served in bars and cafes. Usually made with ham, sausage, steak, and cheese, covered with a special sauce of beer and tomato.

Upcoming event – June 2013, annual festival of fun, food, and fireworks in celebration of St John the Baptist – Free.

Getting there: One-hour flight from Lisbon to Porto, $180 – $160. Direct train departures (18 a day), 3-hours, $30 2nd class, or by bus, a 3-hour ride, $20.00. Another option is to rent a car and drive from Lisbon to Porto, about 3 hours (a beautiful way to see the area.)

Sharon L Slayton

Filed Under: Travel ideas

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