|The Douro River|
Not too long ago I was watching a travel show, Andrew Zimmern’s Bizarre Foods: Delicious Destinations, and the segment I caught was about Porto, Portugal. I knew nothing about Porto, in fact, I’ve never been to Portugal. But after viewing the show I said to myself, “I have to go there!” Not long after that I was contacted by our editor, asking me if I’d like to go to Porto. I kid you not. It took me two seconds to respond back with a resounding, “Yes!” and before I knew it I was on a direct flight from New York to Porto. There was going to be an intense itinerary to follow during this three-day trip to Portugal.
|View of Porto from WOW|
Imagine a destination situated on one of the most beautiful and renowned rivers in Europe, a place where in one area there are 7 museums and interactive experiences, 12 restaurants, 9 retail shops, a temporary exhibition hall, a wine school plus an events space and they are all housed in former historic Port wine warehouses. Now add to that a luxurious wine and spa hotel. Well, stop imagining, because it’s right here at WOW (World of Wine) Cultural Center.
|WOW Cultural Center|
Located on the South bank of the Douro River, the entire complex offers the most amazing views of Porto day and night. And it just so happens that every one of my days of the trip was filled with dazzling and gorgeous sunshine.
I was fortunate enough to stay at the Yeatman Hotel. Technically, the property as well as the cultural center, are located in the town of Vila Nova de Gaia. (Rua do Choupelo, Santa Marinha, Vila Nova de Gaia +351 220 133 100) Locals affectionately refer to the area as “Gaia”. However, it’s a quick walk over the Dom Luís I bridge to reach Porto on the North riverbank but the Yeatman also offers a ferry service.
|Inside the Yeatman|
|View Outside of My Suite|
This wine hotel and spa which opened in 2010, offers jaw-dropping views of the UNESCO World Heritage city of Porto as well as the Douro River from every restaurant as well as every guest room. A member of the prestigious Relais & Châteaux collection of hotels, the stunning property offers 82 guestrooms, all with their own private terraces or balconies. I laughed to myself when I entered the Presidential suite, for the bed is appropriately built inside of a giant wine barrel.
|The Presidential Suite|
The Yeatman offers a substantial nod to the Port industry as well as Portuguese wines and her guests can enjoy a wine shop, wine cellars, wine dinners, master classes and wine tastings. There’s even a chic Caudalie spa on the premises! They have an indoor infinity pool as well as an outdoor which has become an iconic symbol of the area because it’s shaped like a wine decanter.
The hotel is situated on the top of a hill and when I first drove up to it, I thought the premises was all one floor/level. But upon entering the hotel, an enormous staircase surprisingly led downstairs. It’s then that I realized that there were six floors to the building and each level of the hotel cascaded down toward the river, mimicking the terracing of vineyards. Directly below her is the WOW - World of Wine - Cultural Center. What’s even more of a wow, is that the Center successfully opened in 2020 during the pandemic.
|Port Upon Arrival|
Upon checking into the Yeatman, I was generously offered my first taste of Port and I was completely surprised. As many of you may know, Port wine is only Port if it is made in the Douro Valley and its creation must abide by strict rules. The port I was offered is their Taylor Fladgate White Port Chip Dry. Being a Port virgin I was “wow”- ed by the fruity fragrance of which I detected apricot and citrus with a wisp of oak. It had a lovely crisp and dry finish. Not what I expected at all. This was going to be a fantastic visit!
|Morning Cappuccino |
Within the Yeatman you have several dining options. The L’Oranangerie is where I enjoyed breakfast every morning. In fact, they offer the best “hotel” breakfast I have savored in all of my international travels. Omelets made to order, traditional Pasteis de Nata (tarts filled with custard and ridiculously delicious), scores of baked goods, a cornucopia of fresh fruit, worldwide favorites like lox and bagels, any style of coffee, tea or fresh squeezed juice prepared for you. Plus the views!
After an extensive tour of the hotel and grounds with the very entertaining and informative Rita Lima, I chose Dick’s Bistro for lunch. Located within the Yeatman, it’s a casual alternative with a very private club-like feel. The Bistro is named in honor of Dick Yeatman, a famous and much beloved local personality of the Port wine world. Local Portuguese declare that if you come to Porto you must order a Francesinha, at least once. The translation is little Frenchie and originally it was the Portuguese version of the French croque-monsieur. What’s in it? Here goes - layered between bread it is made up of beef steak, pork sausage, Linguica sausage, then ham covered with cheese and then smothered in a spicy tomato sauce and if that isn’t enough, it’s topped off with a fried egg.
I had to order it. It comes with fries which I was instructed to drag through the sauce and for drink, a local draft beer. I managed to eat half of it and it was really very good. Thank goodness there was so much walking ahead of me, I could work it off.
For a more formal dining experience there is the Yeatman Gastronomic. The hotel’s stellar restaurant is a 2 Michelin Star eatery with Chef Ricardo Costa at the helm. The Gastronomic offers a tasting menu with select wines and Chef Costa’s contemporary interpretations of age-old traditional Portuguese recipes coupled with the most fantastic views of Porto, offer guests dining experiences they will remember for a lifetime.
Just steps and stairs away from the Yeatman is the WOW Cultural Center housed in renovated and restored Port lodges. The complex is amazingly expansive yet very intimate. There are 7 museums which are in depth but not over your head and often very hands-on and interactive.
|View Over the Port Lodges|
Offering a very comprehensive history of the city of Porto, I started my tour with the PRATA Museum. PRATA stands for Porto Region Across The Ages and the extremely knowledgeable guide I had was Teresa Coelho. When I first stepped into the museum I had a moment of “awe”. I was caught by the sheer beauty of the design itself as well as the vastness of space. And because of this, the museum never felt crowded even though there were quite a few visitors. It was fascinating to learn what has made Porto the dynamic, historical, resilient and beautiful port that she is. This exhibit will help you to understand Porto’s people, their ups and downs and what the future may hold for them. Teresa was a fascinating walking encyclopedia of everything Porto as well as Portugal.
|Classic Building in Porto|
Still digesting massive amounts of info from PRATA, I moved on to the next museum on my itinerary, The Wine Experience. Enter Manuel Santos. Manual, like Teresa, was another expert full of vast knowledge but had the ability to keep everything we discussed fresh and interesting. Here I discovered all the ins and outs to wine production, why the Douro region is so perfect for both the growing and producing of wine. There were even glass floors which housed different types of soil and terrain to demonstrate to us which vines grow best in which scenarios. I definitely left with a greater sense of wine knowledge and expertise.
|Church Tile in Porto|
With 12 restaurants and bars within the WOW campus, everyone can find something that they can enjoy. Each eatery has a varied terraced view of Porto and they range from vegetarian and vegan choices to steak houses and seafood restaurants. You can find simple bites to elegant dining experiences.
That night, I had cocktails with the marketing directory of Wow and the Yeatman, Richard Bowden at Angel’s Share Wine Bar. Passionate about his work, Richard is also a very humorous fellow. But let me first explain what angel’s share refers to. It’s the amount of an alcohol that is lost to evaporation when the liquid is being aged in porous oak barrels. When I walked through some of the - still operating - wine lodges, the huge oak barrels line up and down the aisles like patient little soldiers waiting for their orders and if you looked up, you could see the ceilings were blackened by the angel’s share. I just love the concept of the angel’s getting their own tasting of whatever goodness was ageing below.
Located in WOW’s central plaza, Angel’s Share is on the second floor and every seat has a phenomenal view of Porto across the Douro River. It was a very happening place and I’m excited to share that I’ve discovered my new favorite smart cocktail: Porto Tonico! All the credit goes to Richard for he suggested it. The drink is so simple and honestly, I didn’t think I’d like it at first but it won me over instantly. Fill a tall glass with ice and add one-part Port (whichever type you desire), to two parts tonic water. Add a slice of orange and if you like, a sprig of mint. Seriously, it’s delicious and refreshing. After a cocktail, actually two, we decided to head downstairs to the Golden Catch restaurant for dinner.
|The Golden Catch|
Calling itself a Premium Fish & Chips restaurant, the Golden Catch is a casually upscale eatery offering a very eclectic menu with more amazing views as well as outdoor seating. For an appetizer I ordered their delicious Scallops. The perfectly seared scallops were each topped delicately with orange foam and placed between dashes of fresh pea puree topped with orange slices, radishes and lemon. Superb!
For entrée I had their Lobster Fish & Chips. Sweet buttery melt-in-your-mouth lobster was deep fried just like your regular fish & chips would be. The tempura batter with so light and crunchy. Served with the fish were well cooked chips served in the empty lobster shell. And to top it all off, there was a tartar sauce in one dish and vinegar in the other. As a child, we always dipped our French fries in vinegar so this definitely brought me home.
|Lobster Fish & Chips|
My first day ended and I was so delighted that all I had to do was take a short walk to my luxurious room at the Yeatman. I collapsed into a deep sleep.
|Bedroom in Yeatman Suite|
The next morning, a fantastic breakfast at the L’ Orangerie and I was off to meet Ana Marques, my guide to The Bridge Collection - 9,000 Years of Drinking. With over 1,800 vessels and glasses on display (some dating back to 7,000 BC) Adrian Bridge’s extraordinary collection not only offers the beauty of the artifacts and items but also the history and often fascinating stories that accompany them.
|The Bridge Collecion|
It’s an enormous and unique collection put together lovingly by an absolute Renaissance of a man. After drinking in as much information as I could, the next step was to meet up with Bruno Almeida at Planet Cork.
This museum threw me for a loop, in a good way. I was pleasantly surprised at how much I related to it. Get this! Cork, in particular Portuguese cork, is used on spaceships! Manuel offered a wealth of information. Cork is used to surround and protect the astronaut’s capsule, keeping it from burning up during reentry. Whether it was the history of cork and how it is harvested or the very unexpected uses of it, I found this interactive museum to be a gem.
|The Cork Museum|
Lunch today was outside at V.P. Brunch and joining me was the very personable and professional Maria Delamain, part of WOW’s marketing team. Although V.P. serves brunch everyday all the time, you can also get some fantastic and hearty main entrées. On a very sunny afternoon on their deck, again with awesome views, I decided upon their Grilled Salmon served on a generous portion of asparagus risotto. It was perfection. Light but rich and delicious, the salmon was cooked to a medium rare perfection. The risotto was amazing and so flavorful plus it was a bit al dente giving it just a little bite, the way I love it.
|Salmon at V.P. Brunch|
Fascinatingly, while enjoying lunch, there was a young man standing nearby and suddenly he whistled - not loudly, he made kind of a sweet soft whistle sound - and out of the sky a hawk flew down and landed on his wrist. I turned to Maria and whispered, “A falconer?” She smiled and explained to me that they hire the young man and his hawk to keep the seagulls at bay. They feed the falcon enough so he won’t attack the seagull but not so much that he won’t do his job. So, when the falconer releases the raptor, just his presence frightens the gulls off, and away from stealing your lunch. It works!
After lunch it was the perfect time to explore The Chocolate Story. This is truly a chocolate lovers dream. I learned where chocolate comes from; its humble beginnings as a cacao bean to how it’s transformed into a yummy chocolate bar. And then devoured some in the café. With the timing of my visit I was lucky enough to attend a Chocolate Workshop headed by Fabia Ribeiro that was presented around Easter and offered history as well as pairing of chocolates with wines! WOW even has their own chocolate brand: Vinte Vinte.
|The Pink Palace|
And what better way to wash all that chocolate down but with a glass of rosé at the Pink Palace. This museum is not only an homage to Rosé wine, it’s also for the Instagrammers and Influencers at heart! The Pink Palace is a multi-sensory experience that immerses visitors into the world of Rosé. It’s put together in a way that entertains as well as informs. Each room in the Pink Palace is different and unique, creating photo opportunities to share while at the same time learning about Rosé wine. I tasted five different rosés: Quinta do Vale do Bragão Rosé, AIX Gran Vin de Provence Rosé, Mateus Rosé, Vértice Rosé Bruto and Croft Pink Rosé Port. The sparkling Vértice Rosé Bruto was by far my favorite.
That night I was very excited for I was to enjoy dinner with Adrian Bridges at Barão Fladgate. The restaurant is located just to the side of WOW within the Taylor Port Cellars. Under the watchful and creative eye of Chef Ricardo Cardoso this was a phenomenal meal.
|Glass Floor with View of Wine Cellar at Barao Fladgate|
As an appetizer I ordered their Watercress Veloute with smoked salmon, basil oil, ikura, crispy yolk and herbs, celery leaf and lemon rye bread lapel. The pops of ikura salmon caviar in your mouth are delicious and the lemon rye bread lapel is the perfect added texture and tincture of acid that the creamy and flavorful watercress craves. Beautiful.
For an entrée it was the Ribeye. Matured for 30 days, it was served with 12 months matured Manchego cheese shavings, quail eggs, rakott krumpli (a layered potato dish), Japanese aubergine, roasted broccoli, thistle arrows and green asparagus. The flavorful steak was cooked to my desired perfection, medium rare, and basically melted in my mouth. The surrounding accoutrements were welcome dancers at the party.
And dessert: Bosque - Red berry textures, pennyroyal (in the mint family), strawberry ice cream and sauce with an aged balsamic. The dish was scrumptious. The sweet and tart elements counter balanced the rich dinner and made my mouth sing!
And what made the evening sweeter was the fascinating company of Mr. Bridges. An avid photographer and mountain climber, he is not only the CEO of the Yeatman, but the entire WOW cultural center is his brainchild. His taste, education and passion has influenced all decision making of every aspect of the entire complex.
|Wine Tasting Class|
The next morning it was a Wine School presentation. A bit early in the day but hey, it’s “wine o’clock” somewhere in the world, yes? The wine school offers classes and tastings for the novice to the very experienced wine connoisseur. Covered are not only Port and Portuguese wines but also international varietals. In a very easy to understand approach, the class is not intimidating - it’s celebratory and I promise, you’ll feel much more confident about the wines you choose to experience after this class.
|Fashion & Fabric Museum|
And next on my schedule was a visit to the Porto Fashion & Fabric Museum. The fashion museum highlights Portugal’s history and influence on fashion and her talents for creating and producing textiles, jewelry as well as their masterful accomplishments in the world of filigree. Porto hosts Portugal’s Fashion Week which attracts worldwide attention and offers well deserved focus on local talents. The museum displays gorgeous designs as well as highlighting Portugal’s international influence on shoemaking.
With my whirlwind Porto extravaganza coming to an end, I could not travel all the way to the Porto region and not visit the city proper. As I mentioned earlier, the WOW center offers a ferry service to and from Porto across the Douro River. Even if it’s just for an afternoon, take the time to stroll the streets and staircases of Porto. The tile used to decorate the ancient houses, the gorgeous train station or even the local bookstore, is breathtakingly beautiful and something you’ll see nowhere else in the world.
The old Rabelo boats used to carry barrels of Port down the Douro are still peppered along the river and the cafes and pastry shops where you can drop in and have an espresso and a bite to eat are numerous. Above the obvious beauty of the city, there is the kindness to the locals. The entire trip, from beginning to end, everyone was so polite and genuinely friendly. I can’t wait to return.
And I just want to share, that when looking up towards the Yeatman Hotel from the bottom of the WOW culture center, the way the hotel curves its outer parameters slightly inward, it looks as though it’s embracing the entire complex with warmth and security.
Whether you choose to stay at the Yeatman or not, WOW is a standout destination for everyone - for a day, a weekend, a week or more. There are endless opportunities to explore and enjoy.
|Porto at Night|