3 Flights and Day 1: Epic Travel and First Glimpses of Porto

We’re off! Three flights, no sleep and a couple of cocktails later, and we made it to Porto. It was a very long day of travel – Austin-Minneapolis-Paris-Porto. I took a couple of shots from the plane where you can see crashing waves along the coast and green pastures everywhere.

Bell & Bly arranged for a lovely driver, Diogo, to meet us at the airport, and he will be our driver until he drops us in the Douro Valley in a couple of days.

We checked into our hotel, Le Monumental Palace, and straight away it impresses. The hotel itself is a renovated historic building from the 1920s, and they kept the neo-Gothic exterior. The interior style keeps in line with Art Nouveau and Art Deco including a giant blue Peacock sculpture at the entrance. The style reminds me all of the Poirot TV series, and I love it. There is a library! With a fireplace! Bryan and I sat up there until our room was ready.

Our room is lovely and the sweet team at Bell & Bly left us a welcome gift of traditional Portuguese pastries, Port Wine and the most enormous grapes I’ve ever seen.

The weather forecast for the week showed rain for days, but we arrived to blue skies and brilliant sunshine and headed out on foot to explore and grab a bite to eat. Our hotel is conveniently located in the heart of the city center and is within walking distance to many restaurants and the river. So, we wandered down several windy, cobblestone roads seeing many examples of the Portuguese tile-lined facades of buildings, several churches tons of restaurants and cafes on our way to the Douro River.

We picked a restaurant with outside seating to soak up the rays and enjoy the view of the famous Dom Luis I Bridge and the city across the river, Gaia. The bridge rises 150ft above the river and was constructed in 1877 by Seyrig, a protege of Gustavo Eiffel. There is a cable car that runs from the bridge to the riverfront in Gaia that was fun to watch flying through the air. On our walk back to the hotel, we strolled through the famous Sao Bento Train Station. It used to be a Benedictine convent and the walls are covered in beautiful hand-painted tiles (called azulejos) of historic folk scenes.

After a short rest and refresh, we made our way down to the hotel bar for a quick drink.

And then on to our evening’s main attraction – a 21 course with wine pairing at the famous, Casa De Cha Da Coa Nova. Holding two Michelin stars under Executive Chef, Rui Paula and designed into the cliffs by the famous architect, Pritzker Siza Vieira, the experience plays out beautifully with the crashing waves of the ocean as the backdrop. 21 courses, or moments as they describe them, is no joke. I didn’t capture a picture of every dish, but every single bite was a masterpiece paired perfectly with wines of the region. I think it’s impossible to recreate for you everything we experienced, but a few highlights were watching dough rise while we ate the first course and then cooking it tableside in a tiny stone oven. We played a game where we had to guess the origin country that inspired three different bites and place the plates, that were actually puzzle pieces, onto the map that was actually a tray. We were even invited into the kitchen to sample some port matched with a delightful bite they called Late Harvest. The staff was incredible and service was orchestrated perfectly. It is undoubtably one of the best dining experiences of my life—hands down.

We made it back to the hotel, stuffed, exhausted and grinning ear-ear as we drifted off to sleep. Day 1 in the books…Up next…Day 2: Vista Costa Nova & Aveiro.

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