Porto in five senses – touch

São Bento Railway Station by James Hainsworth

There’s more to see (and touch) at São Bento Railway Station than trains. By James Hainsworth

In February 2020, my hub and I spent a long weekend in Porto, little knowing that the coronavirus pandemic was about confine us for the most part to our own homes.

In this time, I believe it’s vital to recall the beautiful, wide and varied world that exists beyond our immediate locality, and with this in mind I’ve been sharing a five-part travel guide to Portugal’s second largest city.

Each Tuesday in lockdown I’ve posted a new travel guide to Porto focusing on a different sense, beginning with the most evocative – the sense of smell. Last week was all about the sounds that knit this city together.

Today I’ll guide you through this characterful town via the sense of touch.

Touch – the city walls

Porto is famed of its tiled edifices, one of the finest examples of which is the foyer of São Bento Railway Station (Praça de Almeida Garrett, 4000-069 Porto, Portugal).

Porto tiled boulder by Judy Darley

Even some of the boulders are tiled in Porto. By Judy Darley

I couldn’t help reaching out to run my fingers over the city’s ancient walls. This was before touching became a risk-seeker’s adrenalin sport, don’t forget. The moist atmosphere, which is part of the reason why so many buildings are tiled way and beyond our own bathroom tiling at home, ensures that any uncovered stones tend to sport lichen or lovely moss.

Porto craggy walls by Judy Darley

Stepping inside buildings such as Chocolateria Ecuador (Rua de Sá da Bandeira 637, 4000-437 Porto, Portugal) reveals the textural riches within, as well, in this case, the scent and flavour sensations.

Chocolateria Ecuador by James Hainsworth

Treat your sense of touch, taste and smell at Chocolateria Ecuador. By James Hainsworth

Plus, quite a few shops we visited have their own shop cat mewing out for a consensual stroke.

Porto shop cat by Judy Darley

Come on in to meet today’s special purr-chase. By Judy Darley

Explore Porto’s other sensory offerings

Porto in five senses – smell
Porto in five senses – taste
Porto in five senses – sight
Porto in five senses – hearing

Porto in five senses – hearing

Seagulls above Porto Cathedral1 by James Hainsworth

Seagulls above Porto Cathedral by James Hainsworth

Late in February 2020, my hub and I flitted off for a long weekend in Porto. We had no way of guessing that within a couple of weeks we’d be in lockdown, confined to our homes.

Porto’s attractions may be closed for the foreseeable future, but I believe it’s more important now than ever to remember that a whole world exists beyond our immediate surroundings.

Each Tuesday in lockdown I’ve posted a new travel guide to Porto focusing on a different sense, beginning with the most evocative – the sense of smell. This week is all about the sounds that knit this city together.

Porto busker on Rua das Flores by Judy Darley

Busker on Rua das Flores, Porto, by Judy Darley

Hearing – Porto’s street musicians

While Fado, the Portuguese songs of lament, rolls out from a number of bars as well as part of a Cálem port tasting package, you can’t go wrong with a bit of busker-appreciation in Porto. The streets are peppered with musicians and singers; the more tourist-heavy the route, the more performers you’ll encounter. Even on a breezy day in very early March, people paused to listen to this musician on Rua das Flores.

Porto tram by Judy Darley

Porto tram by Judy Darley

There’s also plenty of ambient noise here – the whirr of approaching trams and the cry of seagulls choosing which monument to settle on are two that seem to sum up Porto’s romantic character.

Explore Porto’s other sensory offerings

Porto in five senses – smell
Porto in five senses – taste
Porto in five senses – sight
Porto in five senses – touch

Porto in five senses – sight

Torre Clerigos views by James HainsworthIn February 2020, my hub and I flew to Porto for a city-break. It’s difficult to imagine how easily we took that freedom for granted before the coronavirus spread into a global pandemic.

For a long time, I thought I’d wait until life goes ‘back to normal’ to publish my impressions of Porto, but I’ve realised how important it is to remember what an extraordinary world exists beyond the homes we’re now confined to.

Each Tuesday over the coming weeks I’ll post a new travel guide to Porto focusing on a different sense,

Two weeks ago I began our five-part journey with the sense of smell.

Last week we tucked into the sense of taste.

This week we’ll explore the sense of sight.

Torre Clerigos by James Hainsworth

Torre Clerigos by James Hainsworth

Sight – climbing high for panoramic views

You can’t beat a tower for views. Torre Clérigos’ lovely, spindly structure has been standing for more than 250 years, but only opened to the public in 2014 following a full renovation. The baroque tower is more than 75m high, with 225 steep winding steps that open up into narrow viewing platforms offering a 360° panorama of the city.

Torre Clerigos church by Judy Darley

Your entrance ticket includes a visit to the church, Igreja dos Clérigos, which is circled by walkways that take you up and up, with openings at all sides and levels to offer views of the church and all its treasures from every possible vantage point. There’s also a museum that includes the exhibition Passion, Journey of Shapes and Images of the Christ.

Torre Clerigos Christs exhibit by Judy Darley

A wall of Christ. Photo by Judy Darley

Reaching the top of the tower takes patience and persistence as there’s only room for one way traffic, which means everything comes to a halt whenever a tourist wants to go down. The steps are winding and uneven, so do be careful, and take your time.

Torre Clerigos by Judy Darley5

On the way up the winding stairs, narrow slits offer glimpses of Porto. Photo by Judy Darley

It’s well worth the spiralling pilgrimage, however. From the highest level you can view everything from the bridges and port houses to the nearby Livraria Lello bookshop (Livraria Lello, S.A. Rua das Carmelitas, 144 4050-161 Porto Portugal), credited with inspiring JK Rowling while she was writing Harry Potter. We decided to pop in (which required more patience and persistence than the tower!), after we’d drunk our fill of the sights from Torre Clérigos.

Torre Clerigos by Judy Darley1

The serpentine queues waiting to enter Livraria Lello are nothing compared to the crush within, where people edge toe to heel with one another through the glorious space where books look on in wonder (I assume). Think the exact opposite of social distancing and you might be able to envision the intensity of the crowds.

Livraria Lello by Judy Darley

Livraria Lello – one of the world’s most beautiful bookshops, even without the Harry Potter fame. Photo by Judy Darley

Explore Porto’s sensory offerings

Porto in five senses – smell
Porto in five senses – taste
Porto in five senses – hearing
Porto in five senses – touch

Porto in five senses – taste

Porto Calem tasting by James Hainsworth

Fortify yourself with a sip of the elixir named after this fair city. Photo by James Hainsworth

Little over a month ago, my hub and I travelled to Porto for a long weekend away. We had no idea how extreme the global coronavirus pandemic was about to become, or that by this time we’d be growing accustomed to life in lockdown.

I considered waiting until this is over to publish my experiences of Porto, but believe a little armchair travel is more important now than ever.

Each Tuesday over the coming weeks I’ll post a new travel guide to Portugal’s second city, one of my favourite places in the world, focusing on a different sense. Last week I guided you through Porto via the sense of smell.

This week I’ll show you around via the sense of taste.

Dom Luis I Bridge by james Hainsworth

The Eiffel-inspired Dom Luis I Bridge. By James Hainsworth

Taste – the port houses

Porto is famed for its port houses, and the rich, sweet fortified wine you might pull out on winter evenings is actually named after the city. To reach it, you can amble down the alleyways from Porto Cathedral to the Ribeira district. The river is crossed by six bridges, the most famous and photographed of which is Dom Luis I Bridge, built in 1886 and designed (you might have guessed this from its familiar structure) by a student of Gustave Eiffel.

The lower level of this one (the road-traffic and pedestrian level) is the one you want, Stroll across to Vila Nova de Gaia, pausing to admire views over the water and the cable cars swooping over Vila Nova de Gaia.

Cable cars over Gaia by Judy Darley

Founded António Alves Cálem in 1859, Porto Cálem (Avenida de Diogo Leite, 344, Vila Nova de Gaia) exported across the Atlantic to Brazil rather than the UK like everyone else. It clearly paid off – within a few years, the business had its own fleet of ships. Today Cálem,along with Kopke, Burmester and Barros, is part of the Sogevinus group, and boasts an interactive museum and atmospheric tours culminating at the tasting room.

Porto Calem museum by James Hainsworth

The museum is a fun starting point, with information on the Douro region where wines are produced before being brought to Gaia to further deepen their flavours with time and patience. My favourite part of the exhibition was a table of smells, where you could take a sniff, try to identify the smell, and then reveal your accuracy by pulling out a drawer. Hazelnut, it appears, has a more recognisable and pleasing aroma than chocolate, which is unexpectedly bitter in scent.

There’s also a chance to watch a curiously relaxing film of skilled artisans crafting a gigantic oak and stainless steel port barrel.

Porto Calem tour by James Hainsworth

The informative tour includes in eerie insight into flooding in the Gaia district, with water heights on marked on a gigantic barrel.

But the highlight, of course, is the tasting, where you can sip the silken white, tawny, ruby and even rosé port, with flavours encompassing plums, sultanas and hints of honey.

Time your visit with care, and you might emerge into the riverside’s glimmering dusk with the sweetness of port still on your tongue.

Rio Douro after nightfall by Judy Darley

Explore Porto’s sensory offerings

Porto in five senses – smell
Porto in five senses – sight
Porto in five senses – hearing
Porto in five senses – touch

Porto in five senses – smell

Claus Porto exterior by James Hainsworth

Claus Porto, Rua das Flores. By James Hainsworth

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 staircase by Judy Darley

Claus Porto’s M.C. Escher-esque staircase. By Judy Darley

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.

Claus Porto soaps by Judy Darley

Claus Porto soaps, not artisan bakery macaroons… By Judy Darley

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.

Claus Porto notebooks by Judy Darley

Claus Porto notebooks accessorise their soap wrappings beautifully. By Judy Darley

Their packaging is so exquisite that you can now buy matching notebooks – ideal for those moments of bathroom inspiration!

Claus Porto soap wall by James Hainsworth

Claus Porto shows off its lithography from floor to ceiling. By James Hainsworth

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.

Claus Porto barber's dog by Judy Darley

Meet the barber’s dog. By Judy Darley

Next week, I’ll introduce you to Porto’s tastiest attraction – port!

Explore Porto’s sensory offerings

Porto in five senses – taste
Porto in five senses – sight
Porto in five senses – hearing 
Porto in five senses – touch

Laments in Lisbon

iew of Lisbon from St George's Castle, LisbonA hush falls as an elegantly dressed woman stalks among the crowded tables, coming to a halt into the centre of the room. A guitar is gently strummed, then the laments begin.

I sit in near-darkness in a room crammed with Portuguese Fado aficionados, all listening intently. Not a single fork scrapes against a single plate. I haven’t experienced Fado before. Part of me was expecting something akin to the explosiveness of Spanish Flamenco, but Portugal’s national song is far more contemplative. I don’t understand the words, but the sentiment is clear, and shivers race up and down my spine.

“Fado translates as fate,” Carmo tells me when the performance ends. “Many of the songs are about beloveds who never returned home from sea.”

Tram, Lisbon cr Judy DarleyI’ve only been in Lisbon a matter of days, but the area around Clube de Fado, the Alfama district, is already one of my favourites. When we return in the morning, only a little the worse for wear, Carmo reminds me that it survived the great earthquake of 1755, so retains a sense of the small city as it would have been long before then, with washing hanging haphazardly between wrought iron balconies and steep, narrow streets. “Many homes here still don’t have their own bathrooms,” she comments, an note that could equally be horror or pride in her voice.

The streets are stacked one above the other another, giving the impression they were built in haste, yet it’s hard to imagine anything here ever being done in a hurry – even the trams amble like commuter-crammed caterpillars.

There’s a curious beauty about the Alfama, with some of the houses beautifully tiled. Most feature at least one small painted tile paying homage to a saint, and keeping the homeowners’ family safe from harm. This is a place where fate is taken seriously – anything you can do to safeguard your family is done.

Castelo de Sao Jorge, Lisbon cr Judy Darley

Above all this sits Castelo de São Jorge, where we wander through dappled sunlight and drink in panoramic views that showcase the city like a painted tableau. Despite the tourists, it is peaceful here – people murmur as they pose beside cannons, and cameras whir gently. Terracotta roofs are stacked above creamy buildings, and the strong, rectangular towers of churches rise above all else.

Far to my left I glimpse a crimson bridge that seems oddly familiar. “It was designed by the same company as San Francisco’s iconic Golden Gate bridge,” Carmo says.

Ah, that explains it. The river it spans is the Tagus, a thread of water that broadens at times into an estuary lake so wide it resembles a sea, yet it narrows as it nears the sea – seeming reluctant to leave.

It’s an impulse I can relate to. I wonder how Portugal‘s explorers could bring themselves to head out to the unknown, knowing they might never make it safely home.

“This is my favourite place in Lisbon,” Carmo says, eyes half closing in bliss. “You know, don’t you, that the city was founded by Ulysses?”

I ask her to repeat herself. Surely Ulysses, the one I’m thinking of, is a fictional hero.

She shrugs, either uncertain or not caring. “I like to imagine him standing here on this hillside and saying, yes, this is good, this is home.”

Castelo de Sao Jorge cr Judy Darley

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