Many of the harbours along Portugal’s coastline require fair weather to access safely. As the Atlantic swell builds from the west, this mass of water meets the shallow coastline causing huge waves and dangerous conditions; often harbours are closed to boats. The world’s largest surf waves are along this coastline; not so good for a small yacht!
From the anchorage at Baiona at the south end of Ría de Vigo, the next leg of our voyage was to reach Porto, the second largest city in Portugal. No large swells forecast, and we had a good weather forecast for the trip – 1.5m seas; 15-25kn northwest winds. Leaving at first light we farewelled Spain for a full day ahead of magnificent visibility to look out for fishing pots/flags. Now in Portugal, our clocks have gone back an hour to match GMT – sunrise now at 6.30am; sunset at 9.30pm.
There are a handful of marinas close by to Porto. The Douro River in Porto has strong currents during spring tides, which makes anchoring in town risky if you want to leave the boat for any length of time. The marina on the Douro River at Porto charges a steep 50 Euros a night and is around 4kms west of town. To the north and a short train-ride away is the Leixoes marina, although reviews on Navily were quite disparaging and it didn’t sound appealing. We can’t vouch for this though since we didn’t actually go there.
About 30km north of Porto is the delightful beachside town of Póvoa de Varzim. In this laid-back town, this small marina has all we need – electricity, water, laundry, transport – and we get a discount if staying one week. It’s a ten-minute walk to reach the Sao Bras Metro station and 50 minutes to reach Porto. A quicker Express train takes 35 minutes from Povoa de Varzim station. Buying Metro tickets is easy and the English option is helpful. We caught the B-line train into Trindade station, then swapped to the D-line train to alight at Jardim do Morro station on the south side of Porto. From here, the views across the Douro River to the Ribeira and city of Porto are magnificent. For even better views, we walked up the hill to the lookout from the Igreja da Serra do Pilar. It was fortunate we went this day, as a Metro train strike caused delays and cancellations over the following few days.
Centuries old Porto is the second largest city in Portugal. In the 15th century, Porto had grown into a major trading port as well as one of the greatest ship building centres in Portugal. Portuguese explorer Vasco de Gama made history by completing the first ocean voyage from Europe to India in the late 1400s, leading the way for global imperialism.
Any visit to a new country also involves tasting the local cuisine. For a lunchtime treat in Porto I had the popular Portuguese fare, Pastéis de Bacalhau – salted cod fishcakes; and Wayne had a Francesinha – a sandwich with two slices of bread filled with steak, ham and sausage, covered with Edam and a spicy sauce and a side of fries…
Strolling across the arched Luís I Bridge the sky is blue and the tiled rooftops a striking orange. We walk up the hill to the Cathedral then down the narrow, cobbled lanes of Ribeira district, staying cool and shaded from the hot sun.
Stopping for a cool beer at a café located on the Cais da Ribeira, alongside the River Douro, we then ambled up and down the narrow lanes admiring the old churches and architecture. Many people are out and about, but it didn’t feel crowded – just enough tourists to keep the shops and restaurants happy.
Back up the hill we admire the decorative Azulejo tiles of the Igreja de Santo António dos Congregados, the Igreja do Carmo and São Bento Train Station. These tiles, generally simple blue and white, have decorated Portuguese buildings and edifices for the past 500 years and can be found everywhere. Even simple homes are adorned with ornate tiles of various patterns, colours and shapes.
Making our way up the steep streets, we arrive at the tourist hotspot, the Lello Bookstore, also known as Livraria Lello & Irmão. The visitors queue was across and down the street – hundreds of people waiting to enter – I’m sure it’s lovely inside but too busy for us, so we continued our amble.
Returning to the boat, along the coastline the walking and bike tracks seem endless. To the north, beachfront cafes and souvenir stores line the street, while on the back streets, locals sip wine over lunch. We stop at the Docepovoa Confeitaria & Pastelaria to grab a custard treat for later, and ask for recommendations of a good place to have lunch. The owner suggested the nearby Restaurante Franganito Garrett. A short walk away, we take the stairs to the first floor and a table for two, and share plates of Lulas em Alho (squid in garlic), and Sardinas con pimientos (sardines with red peppers). Each plate comes with boiled potatoes to soak up the oil and garlic, and a glass of white wine washes it down perfectly. Eating out in Portugal need not be expensive, and the meals were delicious and very filling!
Back on board with bloated stomachs and a custard treat waiting to be consumed, we settle in for an hour or two of siesta. During the afternoon with no wind to stop it, a heavy sea-fog drifted in obscuring the entire coastline eventually disappearing a couple of hours later.
For the rest of our time, we do jobs around the boat. A half hour ride south along the bike path I reach the pretty seaside town centre of Vila do Conde on the Ave River. Visible among the commercial outlets and concrete homes are the remaining arches of the Aqueduct of Santa Clara built in the 17th century. Originally 999 arches; I wonder why they didn’t build 1000? For those that need a shopping fix, 20 minutes south on the train line towards Porto is the Norte Shopping Centre filled with typical shops and food outlets. I had to pay a visit to the iStore there and spent an hour or so wandering about looking at things I didn’t need.
While summer is in full swing in Europe, the pandemic rages on. Morocco has closed its sea borders and marinas until September. Tunisia is having its own problems – both politically and pandemically, and I wouldn’t be surprised if it closes its borders too. Many boats will soon begin to head out of the Med and plan their trips across the Atlantic to the Caribbean later in the year and will face problems with borders.
Our future plans? We’ll continue down the Portugal coast and consider our options along the way.