The Weekend Australian - Travel - - Front Page -

THE flags of Por­tu­gal, Porto and the Euro­pean Union flut­ter out­side the grand dowa­ger Ho­tel da Bolsa. The decor could do with a lift but the ho­tel’s cen­tral lo­ca­tion makes it a firstclass base from which to ex­plore Porto. Bolsa Palace is close by, and from our third-floor room we gaze across the hig­gledy roofs of Ribeira to­wards the Douro and the port lodges in Gaia. Beds are comfortable, with crisp linen; the 36 en­suite rooms have satel­lite tele­vi­sion and in­ter­net ac­cess. Break­fast is in­cluded in the tar­iff and is a boun­ti­ful self-ser­vice af­fair (look for the quince mar­malade, a lo­cal spe­cialty). Rates vary ac­cord­ing to the sea­son; stan­dard dou­bles from about ($123). More: Ho­tel da Bolsa, Rua Fer­reira Borges, 101; www.hoteld­ Jill Hock­ing are piled in tempt­ing pro­fu­sion. A Perola do Bol­hao, a tra­di­tional gro­cery store in Rua For­mosa, gives a taste of food shop­ping, circa 1917. Bas re­lief tiles wreathed in flow­ers, plants and boun­ti­ful har­vests gleam on the art nou­veau fa­cade. In­side there’s olive oil in tall bot­tles, ba­cal­hau (dried salted cod) strung up like wash­ing on a line, ar­ti­san cheeses and for­ti­fied wines of ev­ery hue.

In the nar­row al­leys near the cathe­dral, el­derly black­garbed women watch over cup­board-sized gro­cery shops; in one we see a cat on a blan­ket of news­pa­pers snooz­ing on the scales.

Best lunch: Al­farra­bista opened a few years ago at Rua das Flores 46, a mod­ern ad­di­tion in a precinct of tra­di­tional eater­ies. The cafe-restau­rant fea­tures white ta­bles and moulded plas­tic chairs set against crim­son walls; stairs to the base­ment are painted rain­bow colours. A de­li­cious light lunch of soup, bread, salad and cof­fee sets us back just ($24) for two.

Best din­ner: De­spite its in­con­gru­ously English pub-

Best river­side tram ride: Porto has two tram lines. We take the sin­gle-line No. 1 tram along­side the Douro to its mouth near the Miguel light­house. It’s a lit­tle brown­painted rat­tler, with brass fit­tings and win­dows flung open to catch the cool­ing sea breezes. The tram squeezes within 10cm of shop awnings and passes un­der the wide white span of the Ponte de Arra­bida. To the right, ram­shackle me­dieval houses pitch up the steep hill­side.

Best coastal stroll: From the river mouth we take a con­crete foot­path wind­ing north­west, along beaches and rocky head­lands. Old-fash­ioned cafes sit on the sands next to mod­ern restau­rants of cool white­washed con­crete. There’s an in­vig­o­rat­ing sea tang and a sense of space here.

Fur­ther north is the sea­wa­ter Leca Swim­ming Pool, de­signed in 1966 by Al­varo Siza. The ar­chi­tect set a con­crete-walled pool among the rocks; from the beach the prospect is a per­fect nat­u­ral hori­zon pool and the in­fi­nite At­lantic be­yond.

Best con­cert hall: The bold­ness of Dutch ar­chi­tect Rem Kool­haas’s polyg­o­nal-shaped Casa da Mu­sica, which opened in 2005, is an eye-catch­ing foil to neigh­bour­ing fin de siecle build­ings in the area near the Ro­tunda do Boav­ista. The hol­lowed-out block with a tilted ex­ter­nal wall is fash­ioned from alu­minium, glass and con­crete. Nat­u­ral light pours into the au­di­to­rium through walls of cor­ru­gated glass; at dusk, the con­cert hall glows pink. www.casadamu­

Best palaces: The neo-clas­si­cal Bolsa Palace, the 19th­cen­tury trade ex­change, was built to im­press. The cen­tral Hall of Na­tions is topped by a mas­sive metal and glass dome but the Ara­bian Room is Bolsa Palace’s jewel, a sym­phony of Moor­ish gold leaf, mod­elled on the Al­ham­bra Palace in Granada, Spain.

Porto’s Cristal Palace sits high above the Douro, a 1950s dome that re­placed an 1860s ex­hi­bi­tion and sports cen­tre. The leafy ro­man­tic gar­dens are the draw here: stone ter­races planted with olive trees, scented roses and medic­i­nal herbs spill down the slope. There are grot­toes and splash­ing foun­tains, cheeky rab­bits and swag­ger­ing pea­cocks. The con­vivial cafe is pop­u­lar with city work­ers.

Best day trip: The me­dieval town of Guimaraes, 75 min­utes by train from Porto, is the orig­i­nal cap­i­tal of Por­tu­gal and the birth­place of its first king, Afonso I. Guimaraes’s his­toric town cen­tre is a UNESCO World Her­itage site. We clam­ber over the ram­parts of the 10th­cen­tury cas­tle, built as a fort to pro­tect the monks from the Nor­mans and the Moors, and then wan­der the cob­bled lanes of the me­dieval quar­ter. We eat lunch at Cor de Tan­ge­rina, a Fair Trade or­ganic food restau­rant over­look­ing the 15th-cen­tury Palace of the Dukes of Bra­ganca. My lunchtime tor­tilla bursts with fresh­ness.


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