Northern Portugal by Helen Pardy-Taylor

I was invited to Northern Portugal for a short 3-night break, as a guest of Kirker Holidays.

11th March

On arrival at Gatwick South Terminal we checked in with TAP Air Portugal and then proceeded to have lunch after finding our flight was delayed for approximately 2.5 hours. Air Portugal economy class was very comfortable and offered more leg room than British Airways, which I had experienced recently. TAP also offer a free in-flight service of a drink and snack.

We were met at Oporto airport by Kirker Holiday’s local agents, Joanna and Malfelda, who organised everything throughout our trip which ran extremely smoothly.

Our first night was spent at The Yeatman, a 5 star Relais & Chateau hotel, which presides over a large area of Oporto’s ‘ Gaia ‘ district amongst the city’s port cellars. All 82 rooms have a large private balcony with unobstructed river & city views. You can reach the city via a 15-minute taxi ride, 35-minute walk or the hotel’s boat which costs 3 Euros per person each way.

After a quick change we had a tour of Taylor’s Port Wine Lodge, located right next to the hotel, followed by a port tasting. Kirker automatically includes a tour of Taylor’s Lodge within their holiday arrangements. We enjoyed dinner at Barrao Fladgate, located beside Taylor’s, which overlooks the city and river. Service was impeccable, food was delicious and beautifully presented. I would certainly recommend reserving a table by the windows for the views, or on the terrace during better weather.

12th March

After breakfast at The Yeatman (fantastic choice, including cooked options), we had a tour of the hotel, which included the ‘ Barrel Suite’ and the ‘ Baccus Suite‘, either of which would be a great option for a special occasion.

We drove into Oporto, set up on the hills with a labyrinth of narrow cobbled streets which meander down to the River’s edge. Good walking shoes are required! Oporto is synonymous with the fortified wine that originated here. The city is not yet over-run by tourism but everyone speaks English very well. Traditional architecture & excellent restaurants await you.

Departing late afternoon we drove to Pinhao in the heart of the Duoro Valley, approx 130kms away. We arrived at The Vintage House in Pinhao, a 4 star deluxe hotel. After checking in, we had a site inspection of the hotel which sits by the River Duoro to the front and the railway line to the rear. The hotel has beautiful gardens with a swimming pool, surrounded by wine growing countryside. The boats dock just by the hotel to offer the opportunity of a river cruise. It dates from the 18th century, converted from an old port storage warehouse and offers 50 bedrooms. The average stay here is two nights and I found it to be very peaceful and relaxing. My standard room at the front had a small balcony overlooking the river and the room was very comfortable. In the evening, we dined at the hotel’s elegant Rabelo Restuarant.

13th March

After checking out, we had a tour and wine tasting at Quinta do Bomfim, approximately a 2-minute walk from The Vintage House. The Quinta is run by the Symington family, whose family’s links to the wines of the Douro span 14 generations.

We drove onto Viseu, famous for its many roundabouts and one of Portugal’s greatest 16th century artists, Vascos Fernandes, was born in Viseu. It was here at a Portuguese restaurant, Casa Arouquesa, where I enjoyed my favourite meal.

We continued to Coimbra for our last night. Quinta Das Lagrimas, my favourite hotel, is a member of Small Luxury Hotels of the World. After check in we had a site inspection. The hotel is set in its own beautiful wooded estate, a 20-minute walk across the river from the old town. The hotel is a mix of an 18th century palace with some contemporary modern additions offering a total of 54 bedrooms. There is a lovely outdoor pool and in the grounds there is a golf academy, a par-3 course and a driving range. The grounds also offer an amphitheatre where concerts and festivals can be held. The original building has an elegant sitting room with honesty bar, an old-world library with 2 levels of books and a chapel.

The front of the old palace section (where the reception is located ), is via a tall set of stairs but staff in reception are always on hand to assist with your bags and will deliver them on arrival to your room and collect them on check-out. My garden room didn’t just have a French balcony, as it was on a corner, but also offered doors leading out to my own garden with a couple of sunbeds and table with chairs. It was very peaceful with just the sound of a small stream running past. I would suggest a minimum of 2 nights to explore the gardens and relax by the indoor and outdoor pools. While here discover the legend of Prince Pedro & Ines do Castro on which Shakespeare based Romeo & Juliet.

Dinner was eaten in the hotel’s restaurant ‘ Arcadas ‘. Food was of good quality.

14th March

After breakfast we took a walking tour of Coimbra, an excellent place to break the journey if travelling from Lisbon to Oporto. Coimbra is a university town which dates back from 1290, and where most students are learning law or medicine. The cathedral is the oldest in Portugal, located in the pedestrianised centre of Coimbra with alleyways of cobbled streets. I would recommend attending a Coimbra Fado at Fado ao centro. The Fado is performed with a Portuguese guitar, classic acoustic guitar and male voices.

Following this we enjoyed a quick coffee break while the rain poured down. After a quick run to the mini-bus we arrived at Republica da Saudade, a traditional style restaurant which I enjoyed. We continued on to Oporto for our TAP flight home which was just as enjoyable as the flight out and nearly on time.

I would recommend Northern Portugal for those who enjoy learning about and tasting port & wine and for the architecture.