Some­thing to write home about

Barry Tober­man found his in­ner book­worm in Porto and came home in­tox­i­cated with af­ter-din­ner sto­ries

The Jewish Chronicle - - Life/travel -

LIT­ER­ARY EX­PE­RI­ENCES will book­end a visit to Porto, home to one of the world’s most beau­ti­ful cel­e­bra­tions of the writ­ten word, a cafe of splen­did style with con­nec­tions to JK Rowl­ing and even a top-notch res­tau­rant in a set­ting to tempt the palate of any bib­lio­phile. It is at the fa­mous book­shop, Lello, in Rua das Carmeli­tas, that we start an all-too-brief visit to Por­tu­gal’s sec­ond city.

Lo­cated close to the old Jewish quar­ter, its or­nate wooden carv­ings and grand, sweep­ing stair­case test ob­ser­vance of the “no pho­tog­ra­phy” in­struc­tion to the limit. The higher level af­fords a tan­ta­lis­ing glimpse of cab­i­nets hous­ing rare vol­umes, although there are also main­stream ti­tles and some weird and won­der­ful ref­er­ence works, as well as art­works and dec­o­ra­tive items for sale. I re­ally did not want to leave, only to sub­se­quently re­gret the time spent book and decor brows­ing when hav­ing to rush through the aisles of the A Vida Por­tuguesa (The Por­tuguese Life) depart­ment store a few doors down.

As it sounds, the shop is a show­case for Por­tuguese creative tal­ent and the myr­iad fun and prac­ti­cal items range from choco­late “sar­dines” in ap­pro­pri- ate pack­ag­ing (a per­sonal favourite) to an or­na­ment putting an ironic gloss on the tough eco­nomic times.

This de­picts the Por­tuguese John Bull equiv­a­lent be­ing stran­gled by a snake — a metaphor for the grip of the bankers on the coun­try’s for­tunes. It was in the main shop­ping drag that we found the Ma­jes­tic Cafe, where JK Rowl­ing spent many days while writ­ing Harry Pot­ter and The Philoso­pher’s Stone. It is now re­stored to its orig­i­nal splen­dour, with art noveau decor and gor­geous gilt-framed mir­rors. The wait­ers may be for­mally at­tired but the prices are pleas­ingly ca­sual — a few eu­ros for a cof­fee and 12 eu­ros for an af­ter­noon tea in­clud­ing smoked salmon sand­wiches.

In the premises of a for­mer book­store, the Book res­tau­rant is a new

TAP Por­tu­gal flies twice daily from Gatwick to Oporto, prices start at £54 one way in­clud­ing all taxes. www.fly­tap.com 0845 601 0932

Teatro Porto of­fers dou­ble rooms from 113 eu­ros . (See re­view). www.hotelteatro.pt

Visit on­line guide www.por­tocvb.com ven­ture, owned by the nearby Ho­tel In­fante Sa­gres, a lux­u­ri­ous es­tab­lish­ment where guests have in­cluded royalty and stars of the mu­sic and movie worlds (Bob Dy­lan U2, Pet Shop Boys, John Malkovich, Martin Scors­ese). Although the res­tau­rant ex­udes a mod­ern vibe, there is co­pi­ous ev­i­dence of its lit­er­ary past and, just to make sure, quotes from Virginia Woolf, Mark Twain and Ge­orge Bernard Shaw on the menu.

In a nice touch, books are de­ployed as mats for the en­tree course. And you can feast on the lunch buf­fet for 11 eu­ros. In­ci­den­tally, there seems to be a Por­tuguese predilec­tion for creamy desserts and even on a short stay, I sam­pled di­verse in­ter­pre­ta­tions of creme brulee — all top notch. Again sub­mit­ting to culi­nary temp­ta­tion, I could not get enough of the wafer thin straw chips served with the main course at lunch at a fine din­ing es­tab­lish­ment, D Tonho, by the me­dieval city wall. Walk­ing off some of the calo­ries is a ver­i­ta­ble plea­sure — even al­low­ing for some steep­ish gra­di­ents — as the city has many fab­u­lous his­tor­i­cal and cul­tural mon­u­ments.

Not least is the im­pos­ing neo-clas­si­cal 19th cen­tury Pala­cio da Bolsa, home to Porto’s cham­ber of com­merce and some stun­ning ban­quet­ing venues, of which the un­miss­able Ara­bian Room

View of the Douro River

Bird’s-eye view over Porto as night draws in

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