The Douro River irrigates the terraced vineyards of the Douro Valley in Portugal and clinging to those vines are the only grapes in Europe that can become Port wine. The river also serves as the border between the city of Porto and Vila Nova de Gaia and for generations it transported barrels of wine downstream to Port lodges (cellars) to be stored, bottled and shipped throughout the world.
Port is a red wine augmented with distilled grape spirits giving it a staggering alcohol content of 20%. General table wines are only 8-14%. Adding the spirits to the wine also stops the fermentation process which leaves more sugar in the barrel and that is why Port wine has a sweet taste. The amount of Port that can be produced each year is based on the quality of the grape harvest. The years when quality is subpar, less Port is allowed to be produced and the grapes harvested are made into wine, but not Port wine. One odd thing about the Port lodges is they are not in Porto, they’re in Vila Nova de Gaia, so if you are interested in doing some Port tasting you’ll need to walk across the bridge and up a hill or two.
You could also say Porto is the birth place of another famous product, Harry Potter. In 1991, when J. K. Rowling was 26, she came to Porto to teach English. While there, 1991 to 1993, she fell in love, married, gave birth to her daughter, divorced and wrote some early drafts of Harry Potter. She is said to have been inspired by the carved wood and painted interior of the Livraria Lello (Lello bookstore). Many say it reminds them of the shop where Harry bought his wand. The bookstore is small with a three table coffee bar on the second floor but the dramatic red staircase and fine woodworking is beautiful so I thought the three Euro entry fee was worth it.
If you’re a J.K. Rowling fan you may also want to stop at the Majestic Cafe. It is said she wrote a draft of “Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone” there. But don’t plan on writing more than your signature. It is insanely busy these days with tourists, people like us. When the family at the next table asked the waitress to take their photo she refused, “I’m too busy”, she said. And if you plan on having more than a coffee and pastry bring a stack of Euros or a magic wand.
There are all kinds of things to see and do in Porto. But what I enjoyed finding, totally by chance, were two small camera shops selling film, paper and chemicals. And in a glass case across from the fixer and developer were a healthy collection of film cameras at fair prices. From a photographers point of view Porto is a lively, inexpensive, photogenic city with a pleasant climate. An ideal town for a photographic sabbatical, especially if you like street photography. I guess it’s not a bad place to write a best selling novel either. Sadly in the few days we were there I neither created a masterpiece nor penned a best seller. Sue and I simply tasted Port wines, visited museums, churches and markets, found a tasty Indian restaurant, and checked our hiking gear for the next day. Our real Camino was about to begin. For the next 231 miles (371 Km), from Porto to Santiago de Compostela to Finisterre and ending in Muxia on the Atlantic coast of Spain, we would walk. It would become the most enjoyable part of our travels through Portugal and Spain.