27 Jun Porto: A Tale of Two Cities
Two Sides of Porto, as seen with Portgall.com
Every city has more than just two sides, of course, but on a recent press trip with the new and innovative walking tours company Portgall.com, I was struck by two very different sides to the Portuguese city of Porto, or Oporto.
Portgall’s USP is to offer a combination of tours and experiences that fit together, like lego or jigsaw pieces, tailored to your personal interests and preferences. I was lucky enough to sample a number of those experiences this May, and the two that I’d like to talk about here are An English Family in Porto and The City and The Sea, a visit to the fishing village of Afurada.
One thing that I soon noticed about Porto was its British heritage. Anyone from the UK cannot miss the fact that so many of the Port houses you can see long the banks of the Douro appear to be familiar British names: Crofts, Sandeman and Cockburns spring to mind straight away. Port is a drink that rose to popularity when war with France meant our supply of the usual French vino suddenly dried up. Looking for alternatives, we realised that this deep, rich and fortified wine was more than adequate. This was when a number of British houses and families decided to get involved and make their fortune out of Port.
José Alberto Allen’s family was one of these, and responsible for a notable vintage, 1827 Quinta do Noval. And we were lucky enough to be granted a personal visit to their home, the Quinta De Villar d’Allen, a haven of lush greenery right in the midst of the city. As we drove up to what they call the farmhouse (but we’d say manor house at least) we made our way through fronds and leaves of every hue of green, and into what every filmmaker dreaming of an English garden could only pray for. If a Jane Austen character had stepped out onto the lawn, I would not have been surprised.
We joined José for a restful amble around the garden, where he pointed out trees and shrubs that were native to countries as far afield as North Europe and New Zealand. But what really stands out are Isa’s Camelias and her passion for them. People come from all over the globe to view this diverse collection of camelias and Isa even showed us a book where she is given the accolade of either discovering or creating new varieties (It was in Portuguese so I wasn’t too sure which credit she deserved).
After our tranquil afternoon potter we were invited inside to their family home, where we lounged around in comfortable chairs, sipping port, nibbling on biscuits and listening to the Allen family history. Like every family, they have had their drama: profligate sons, lost fortunes, mothers dying young and children divided amongst relatives. Truly fascinating stuff set against a beautiful background of this house that just breathes out history from every corner.
The Allen’s are extremely gracious hosts. As we sat there amongst family photos and historical curios, with their two dogs playing around our feet, I really felt honoured to meet them.
In contrast, the next day we visited the old fishing village of Afurada, where life could not be further away from the pleasant surroundings of the Quinta. Here, villagers would have faced a hard life where men would head out to sea to fish for months at a time (sometimes they would be away for as much as six months) whilst the women would scrape to make ends meet at home and just pray that their sons, fathers and husbands would actually return.
In contrast to the calmness of the Quinta, this village is bright, colourful, vibrant and alive with smells and sights. Fishy smells and sights, but this is a fishing town after all. We visited the village museum, where the true starkness of what would life would be like here really began to set in. Photos of villagers celebrating the St Peters festival showed no smiling faces, no festivities or jubilation. Indeed, it could have a funeral procession for the seriousness of their faces. But then, perhaps they had little to celebrate, with loved ones out at sea, and what looked like close to poverty here on land.
Despite a warm and relaxing lunch at a traditional fish restaurant, complete with barbecuing fish outside, my trip to Afurada left me subdued and thoughtful. Of course this was a harsher side of life of what been life would have been like in Porto and its surroundings, and far, far removed from that you could imagine the Allens’ ancestors enjoying. Truly, I felt that I had perhaps seen something of the real Porto, as well as the pampered one.
Disclaimer: I was the guest of http://www.portgall.com/en/ for both of these tours