Not surprisingly, Won wants to move to Porto now…
I’m kicking off the second half of this two-part post about our trip to Porto with a visit to the Jardims do Palácio de Cristal (Crystal Palace Gardens). Again, this was on our list of places to see in June, but we ran out of time. If you are in Porto and the weather is clear and lovely, seeing this park is an absolute must. If at all possible, try to visit in the spring when everything is in bloom. We were there in the fall. It was still beautiful, but I’ve seen a video of what it looks like in the spring and it’s even prettier! Regardless, the views are spectacular, the grounds interesting, and there is something for everyone.
The eight hectare (nearly 20 acre) expanse of landscaped gardens offers panoramic views of the city and the Douro River. It was created towards the end of the 19th century. The layout of the gardens is the work of eminent German landscape gardener Émille David. The gardens are an oasis of calm and delight as it unfolds before you.
The park is outlined in the aerial image to the left. The round building is a sports arena. The buildings to the right belong to a biomedical sciences college which are not a part of the park. The aerial image is deceiving because it looks flat, but it’s not.
It was only a 10 minute walk from our hotel and there was no fee to enter.
I was confused as to why it was called the Jardims do Palácio de Cristal since we never saw a crystal palace while there. Apparently there used to be a Crystal Palace. English architect Thomas Dillen Jones designed a building of granite, iron and glass to host the International Exhibition of Porto based on the London Crystal Palace. Construction began in 1861, and it was inaugurated on 18 September 1865 by King D. Luís.
The Crystal Palace was an important cultural space, containing a pipe organ that was one of the largest in the world. It was in this palace that 86 exhibitions were held over time as well as important concerts by the composer Viana da Mota and the cellist Guilhermina Suggia .
Unfortunately, the building was demolished in 1951 along with the pipe organ. However, due to popular opposition to the demolition, the designation Palácio de Cristal has survived to the present day. Now, a round sports arena sits on the spot of the former building, but the gardens have only grown more lovely and mature over the years. Here are a few images of some of the places in the park that truly charmed and surprised us.
While wandering around, we stumbled on this amazing little area of the park that would have been a dream to play in with my five brothers and sisters when we were children. It’s hard to describe, but it’s like a portion of a castle made of stone in a wooded area with water features, arched openings in ancient ivy-covered walls, gnarled trees, and a spectacular view. Our imaginations would have run wild with games that, I’m sure, would have included stately kings and queens, damsels in distress, brave knights, fire-breathing dragons and magical warlocks casting spells on everyone.
The funny thing was, as we were making our way down toward this area, I thought the tree roots on the path were acting as a sort of natural stairway. Once I had gingerly made my way down there, I looked to the left and saw the actual stairs and a nice smooth path. I had a really good laugh about that one!!
As we continued to explore the park, we found a chatty rooster (click on the image below)…
…roses that were still blooming in the middle of October…
…statues that were whispering secrets to each other (and the one they were whispering about)…
…and beauty everywhere we looked!
Oh for heaven’s sake…I have to move on! There is so much more to tell you. But before I do, I guess it’s pretty obvious we loved Jardims do Palacio de Cristal. If you can believe it, we completely missed the lake!! The park is going back on the list of places to visit the next time we come up.
As you can well imagine, we were ready for lunch. We walked into town and found a wonderful restaurant called Puro 4050 in a charming area which also included the Igreja da Misericórdia (Church of Mercy) which dates to the 16th century. Our blind luck really paid off. The food at Puro 4050 was superb. The design and atmosphere of the restaurant was creative and nicely done. We would absolutely go back. Here are a few pictures of our experience.
Won and I both started looking around the square and surrounding areas and began to wonder what it would be like to live there. I mean, who wouldn’t be completely charmed by this place?
We left our day dreams there and walked down to the historic waterfront. We took a stroll along the Ribeira and walked across the lower level of the Luis I bridge to Vila Nova da Gaia.
On the other side of the river, we walked along the waterfront soaking up the sunshine, watching the people, and passing a few vendors that were out selling their wares. We stopped in for a port wine tasting at Quinta do Noval. Quinta do Noval has been producing port wine since 1715 – that’s more than 300 years! Due to COVID-19, there weren’t that many people, which meant we had the luxury of the place nearly to ourselves. We tasted five different ports starting with a white port (yes, there is such a thing) and finishing with a tawny port. Ding! Ding! Ding! We have a winner! Although they were all delicious, we loved and ultimately purchased a bottle of the 20-year old tawny port. Sooooooo yummy!!
With our bottle of gold in hand, oops, I mean port, we headed off to take the Teleférico de Gaia (Gaia Cable Car) up to Morro Garden. The cost was double what we paid when we took a similar ride at the Park of Nations in Lisbon. Here, the fee was €9,00 each. Honestly? I didn’t care, I love taking these cable cars – they’re really relaxing. They don’t move very fast allowing you to enjoy the ride and they are remarkably stable, even in the wind. The ride of 600 meters (1/3 of a mile) between stations lasts about five minutes and goes from 4.5 meters (a little less than 15 feet) at the low station to 63 meters (a little more than 206 feet) at the high station.
Off we go! We passed over the waterfront where we had just walked and some pretty hip roof top bars along the way (ohh…so that’s where all the cool people go…).
Coincidentally, the day before, a server at our hotel had told us the BEST place to see the sun set over Porto was Morro Garden. He was right. The views to the west were amazing, but unfortunately, we had dinner reservations and couldn’t stay to see it. But, you guessed it…I’m adding that to the list of things we will do when we go back.
We floated back down to earth on the cable car and walked back the way we had come; along the waterfront, across the bridge, and through the historic downtown. As we were passing through the Belmonte neighborhood, I caught sight of the most wonderful little store where they were making hand-made brooms. Esgovaria do Belmonte is family owned and has been in business since 1927. This is why you walk a city – to find gems like this.
We got back to the hotel, rested for a bit, and then pulled ourselves together before walking to Elemento for dinner.
The concept behind Elemento is what 32-year old chef, Ricardo Dias Ferreira, calls “fire-dining.” Everything – and I mean everything – is cooked over an open wood fire or in a wood fired oven. That takes some impressive skill. There is no gas installation in the restaurant and they go through four tons of firewood per month. The restaurant, located at Rua do Almada No 51, opened in February of 2019 and has already received a Micheline Star. (That is Ricardo Dias Ferreira on the left in the image below giving me a little “side-eye” when we walked in. Ha! Ha! By the end of the evening, though, we were all chatting amiably!)
Our reservations were for 8PM and we were the only guests in the restaurant when we arrived. At first I thought it might be due to COVID-19 and I felt really bad, but within an hour the restaurant had plenty of diners (I sometimes forget that 9PM is the typical time when Portuguese eat dinner). We were seated at, what I later learned, was the best place in the restaurant – the very center of the the bar facing the open kitchen. I can tell you it was pure dining theater! No one was seated on either side of us and we had a three sided plexiglass shield between us and the chefs. Good thing too because their open firewood grills and firewood-fueled oven were fabulous to watch, but warm. Even behind the shield, we could feel the heat (they turned up the air conditioning to ensure we were comfortable). The chefs reminded me of stevedores on trains stoking the fire to keep the train going.
The excellent service we received was exactly what you would expect from a Micheline Star restaurant. We chose to order a la carte as opposed to the tasting menu. From the home-made sourdough bread with rosemary butter to the the squid with shitake mushrooms in dashi broth to the excellent potato terrine with a cabbage emulsion to our sumptuous fish entrees and exquisite deserts – mine was a petite peach pie with chocolate ganache and lemon verbena curd pictured below – it was a superb experience. The cost for dinner, including wine, was €85,10. I’m still astounded at how affordable great dining experiences are in Portugal. We are absolutely going back the next time we are in Porto.
Our walk back to the hotel after dinner was a treat in and of itself. It was fun to see folks out enjoying themselves. We could hear soft music and laughter as we strolled past.
In total, we walked 10.98 kms (6.8 miles) that day alone! It was epic and we loved every moment (well…not my knees so much, but they rebounded after a few days of rest). During the three-hour drive home the next day, we couldn’t stop talking about how much we enjoyed our trip and all the things we experienced.
In Portugal there is always some place new to see, some place wonderful to return to, something new to learn, and something exciting to do. My hope is that the next time we are in Porto we’ll be able to show you the city we are coming to love and appreciate with every visit.
Until then, please stay safe, stay healthy, and stay in touch.
From Portugal with love,