On the last day of February 2020, my hub and I flitted off for a long weekend in Porto. It was in the week that separates our birthdays, and 29th February is a rare date that in itself made us want to make it memorable.
We had no idea how extreme the global coronavirus pandemic was about to become, or that just weeks later we’d be in lockdown, confined for the most part to our own homes for our safety and the safety of others.
For a long time, I thought I’d wait until this is over to publish my travel piece about Porto, and that there was no point in sharing it until people can roam again. But now I realise how important it is to remember what a beautiful, wide and varied world exists beyond the views we see from our windows.
Portugal’s second city is a vivid tangle of streets bisected by the River Douro, with the banks linked by gorgeous bridges and flanked by steep streets lined with colourful buildings housing residents, bars and museums aplenty. It’s the perfect place for a 48-hour escape, with uncommon attractions to feed each of your five senses.
Each Tuesday over the coming weeks I’ll post a new travel guide to Porto focusing on a different sense, beginning with the most evocative – the sense of smell.
Smell – Claus Porto’s fragrance emporium
Claus Porto (Rua das Flores, 22 Porto 4050-262) is a fantastic soap and perfume company founded by German businessmen Ferdinand Claus and Georges Schweder in 1887 in the Portuguese city they loved. Using ingredients sourced from the Portuguese countryside and eventually opening its own lithography company to produce the art gallery-quality packaging, Claus Porto has survived two World Wars, plus dictatorships and revolutions.
The flagship store occupies a typical 19th-century Porto townhouse that used to be a marionette museum and now sports an eye-boggling tiled floor and an exhibition space on the first floor showing off their packaging and historical titbits, including a gold medal awarded at the 1904 World’s Fair in St Louis, USA.
Their packaging is so exquisite that you can now buy matching notebooks – ideal for those moments of bathroom inspiration!
Don’t miss the ‘soap wall’ exhibit mid-way up the staircase.
The ground floor includes an artful array of luxurious soaps, lotions and other products we could only afford to sniff, plus a barber’s station. Natural ingredients range from wild pansy to parma violets to figs to cedar to tobacco blossom. During our brief visit, we grew rather fond of the barber’s dog.
Next week, I’ll introduce you to Porto’s tastiest attraction – port!