Zak Smith visits the luxurious and indulgent banks of the Douro and Portugal’s ‘wine mad’ second city.
As autumn starts to make way for winter, there are still places basking in sunshine, and as one of the most underrated European city destinations finally getting the sort of recognition it deserves, Porto, just a short flight from London, is the place to go for a weekend away.
Often overlooked for cosmopolitan Lisbon and the beachy, package holiday vibe, of the Algarve, Northern Portugal has, for years, been an afterthought for discerning travellers. However, the recent boom in Portuguese wine and the opening of luxury hotels along the Douro Valley has encouraged luxury seeking, wine loving, adventurers, to flock to Porto.
Famed for its after dinner tipples, the city is a beautiful, match box, melee of colourful houses adorned with traditional intricate tiling and nestling in the sweeping hills on the banks of the Douro River. With a plethora of design shops, galleries and innovative dining experiences, from local celebrity chefs like Rui Paula to the independent designers on Rua do Almada, Porto has undoubtedly become one of the trendiest cities in Europe.
The best place to take in the city is from across the river at The Yeatman Hotel. A mecca for gastronomes and oenophiles, the hotel is perched in the historic Port wine lodge area of Vila Nova de Gaia, on the south side of the Douro, with masterful views overlooking the UNESCO world heritage city. A destination in its own right, both locals and tourists flock for sunset drinks on the hotel’s balcony, such is the majesty of the view as the amber sky turns dark over the winding Douro river running into the distance.
The Yeatman Hotel houses the city’s only Michelin Star restaurant. Your options are limited to a six course taster menu or the chef’s surprise menu. On first appearances the whole thing seemed unnecessarily rigid, however after a total of nearly fourteen courses, including an amuse bouche in between every course, it was impossible to let the formality of the restaurant detract from a culinary experience that totally lived up to its billing. The food was exceptional, a thoughtful combination of local specialties (the city is gaga for tuna) with an imperious 48 page wine list, which the sommelier arranged by the glass to pair with each dish.
The wine theme courses through the veins of the hotel, with a Vinothérapie Spa by Caudalie, with treatments and products inspired by the vine, a decanter shaped swimming pool and vases filled with corks cementing the hotel as utterly wine mad. So excited is the hotel by wine that their suites are named after different wine producers from the Douro Valley.
And just in case you missed the wine references, the lifts are covered top to bottom in a panoramic image of a Douro Valley vineyard. Porto is a vibrant, cultural and rather indulgent city, where the best wines from the region end up being served alongside the best of local produce, much of it fished from the river that runs through its core. Having won the Best
Accommodation in the Wine Tourism Awards 2015 from Drinks International, as well as Condé Nast Johansen’s Best Dining Experience, Europe & The Mediterranean 2015, Porto is clearly the place to visit, and at The Yeatman Hotel, you are guaranteed an intoxicating, epicurean weekend.