If you need an additional reason to attend the 23rd EFPT Forum, here you go: Porto is Europe’s best destination 2014. It will only get better in 2015.
Standing atop Douro river, Porto is Portugal’s second largest city and one of the oldest cities in Europe. The Romans called it Portus Calle, and that is the origin of the name of the country – Portugal. Porto is the spiritual capital of the northern part of the country, assuming a very distinct personality and a healthy dose of regional pride. The metropolitan area is a complex web of intersecting cities – like Gaia, Matosinhos, Espinho or Aveiro, a bit further to the south – encompassing around 2.5 million inhabitants. The urban areas surrounding the different cities interlock, the limits are diffuse, and the region feels like a never ending succession of sea side urban communities.
You get a bit of everything, from medieval tiny riverside villas, to modern architecture. The city is home to two Pritzker award winning architects – Álvaro Siza and Souto de Moura – and they are household names. It’s ancient neighborhoods dominating the riverside, together with the remarkable bridges (Arrábida bridge is a engineering masterpiece in it’s own right), form a set of unique beauty, which justifies the World Heritage status given by UNESCO to the historic centre in 1996. The historic centre, is now on a full blown come back, with the streets filled during the day and during the night. New coffee shops and old favorites have brought people back in to the city, in a true generational move that goes well beyond some hipster fad.
Porto can be somewhat cooler and more humid than you might expect, being so much to the south of Europe and close to the Mediterranean. That’s because it is effectively an city open to the river Douro and to the Atlantic ocean. Literally, a port city. What this means, is that lovely white sand atlantic beaches are always less than a 10 minute drive away (really!). Don’t worry: in June it will surely be (very) hot and sunny (30ºC plus, we promise). Just make sure you pack some light summer long sleeve shirt. You may feel an uncontrollable urge to move closer to the water, and perhaps drink some wine at a café. Trust us, the region of the city where the river meets the ocean – Foz – is epic. You will want to come back.
Speaking of wine, the world famous Porto wine is another reference of the city. Don’t skip it: it is sweet, but strong, so try a little bit of the different kinds. And then try a bit more of your favorite. Visits to the wine cellars (at the south bank of the river, in Gaia) are easy to arrange and a must see. Porto wine is not just a drink, it really is part of the cultural DNA of the region.
Porto’s downtown is a bit baroque, making much use of granite stone. The central avenue, Avenida dos Aliados, where you’ll find the beautiful city hall, is monumental and reflects the history of a city that as always been mercantile. The tower from Clérigos church, just around the corner, is perhaps the world’s only example of baroque architecture set in granite stone, standing 80 meters tall. All that granite gives it a reputation for a deep and intense personality. It’s not a joke. The natives are real people: deep proud accent and genuinely warm, inviting and kind personalities, but lively and fierce.
In case of doubt, always remember the city’s motto: “a muito nobre, sempre leal e invicta cidade do Porto” – the very noble, always faithful, and invincible city of Porto.