When you tell friends and family that you are going to visit Paris, you'll be bombarded with suggestions about where to go, what to do, things to eat. When you tell people that your next stop is Florence, you'll end up with a laundry list of historical facts and a never-ending parade of photos. When you tell them however, that you're taking a vacation to Oporto, Portugal, they'll go mysteriously quiet. It's not that Oporto has less to do than Paris or Florence and it's not that you won't get the feel of that enigmatic Old World charm in the Douro; it's simply that Portugal has managed to maintain an air of mystery, whereas the rest of Western Europe has fallen prey to tour groups. And believe me when I say that this works to Portugal's advantage.
Oporto is situated on the banks of the Douro River, a few hours north of the capital city of Lisbon. Eponymously named for that most famous after-dinner beverage, Port, Oporto (sometimes called Porto) is the capital of Portugal's wine making region. At a glance, the brightly colored houses perched precariously at the river's edge are reminiscent of Copenhagen, but a stroll down any of the narrow streets suddenly bring other Iberian cities such as Barcelona or Malaga to mind. For food and wine lovers, Oporto is an undiscovered utopia. Forgo the snazzy restaurants that glare at you from the sidewalk and look for hidden hole-in-the-wall style eateries instead. Many of the smaller cafes are family-run businesses that employ their grandmothers as head chef, which gives an authentic flair to their menus that cannot be equaled in any other country.
From Oporto, the wineries located all along the Douro River can be accessed by boat, car or train – if they can be accessed at all. Like many of the family operated wineries in Europe, tasting rooms are few and far between. However, Portugal is a friendlier wine drinking locale than other parts of Europe (I'm looking at you, France) and the majority of the locals are more than eager to help point tourists in the right direction for tasting and pairing wines with food. The wines of Portugal have been dominated by Port in the American market, but just one day in the Douro will introduce you to a number of unique varietals that are unparalleled. From crisp, fizzy whites to dark, sumptuous reds, Portuguese wines are hidden gems that punctuate each meal as the perfect accompaniment. Life in this part of the world is slow, sweet and not entirely unlike a good Port.