Porto and Madeira Portugal- September 2021
Do not sleep on Portugal. It is truly becoming one of my favorite countries to visit. And now with the discovery of their islands like Madeira, even more of a reason to check it out. I had such an amazing week exploring the northern city of Porto, then flying to the island of Madeira, and back again for one night to Porto before departing on a work trip to Dublin/Scotland. Joe and I traveled with our friends Kelli and Kevin, and just had such a blast in both the city and the island.
Saturday: Grabbed a taxi from the Porto airport to our Airbnb - a 3br/2.5 ba house right by the Dom Luis Bridge in the heart of Porto. After a power nap, Joe and I woke first and checked out Dama Pan de Abra for lunch. With a few sets of tables and chairs set up on their patio right by the park, this place was the right way to start our trip. The manager walked us through the entire menu, which at first could have been intimidating since it was a very Portuguese menu, but the food ended up being incredible. Carrot, Hazelnut and Chestnut bread, some tapas- maybe our most memorable lunch. After getting some food, we walked down by the bridge- and took all the steps down to the water to check out all the bars/restaurants/scene. We ran into our friends Kelli and Kevin, and from there headed up and across the bridge to a park where everyone watched the sunset each night. Of course, some smart person opened up a bar/restaurant right there, so we grabbed some drinks and photos, then back to our Airbnb and from there- walked about 20mins to dinner at Alibi. Another awesome restaurant pick to start off our trip- the steak and seafood paella was amazing. From there, we headed back in the direction of our Airbnb, and all the way back down the steps to the water, where we found a bar under the Dom Luis bridge for some nightcap drinks.
Sunday: Joe and I started strong with a nice flat run along the river. After that, we walked in the direction of the Clerigos Tower and bought tickets to tour the tower for 3pm. We had brunch at Swallow Decadent, a far cry from the traditional Portuguese food we had Saturday, this place was set up for tourists with french toast, avocado toast, all the traditional American brunch foods. Not complaining at all- it was so good. We then checked out Base Park Bar across from the tower, and went on our tour at 3pm. Gotta say, I'd probably skip this in retrospect. It was not well organized, we had to wait forever to get to the top, not worth the time or money. After the tour, we met up with Kelli and Kevin and stopped at My Coffee Porto for some fancy coffee drinks and pastries (the view here of the bridge is really nice). Then onto Ferro bar by the train station for cocktails - I really liked this bar, very good drinks, seems to be where the local millennials hang. Dinner at 17 degrees restaurant, at the top of a hotel about a 15min walk from Ferro Bar. Great views- try to get a table outside.
Monday: Our first excursion! Wine tasting in the Douro Valley - booked through Viator. Our guide picked us up in front of the University right by our Airbnb. Took us about 2hrs to drive out to the Douro Valley- in a group with 2 other couples. First stop was Quinta de Tedo for a port tasting. Then lunch in the small town which included bass, farmers pasta, wine and drunken cake. From there we took an hour boat ride on the Douro river (this part was pretty boring, if you can find a tour that doesn't have the boat portion I'd say book that). The 2nd winery we toured was up the mountain- D'Origem- where we had an olive oil and wine tasting. I preferred these wines way over Quinta's - their rose and white were very very good. Following the drive back, we grabbed drinks at the Guindalense Football Club, which was right at the end of our street and had awesome bridge views from their patio. Then we had dinner at Il Basilico Porto, which was kind of disappointing, maybe the worst meals of the trip on this day.
Tuesday: Off to Madeira! The flight was a little under 2 hours. Apparently Madeira has one of the most dangerous airport runways in the world- glad no one told me that until we landed. We arranged transportation through our hotel - Three House. They picked us up and took us about 25 mins to get to the place in Funchal. Our apartment wasn't ready yet, so we had lunch and drinks at the rooftop bar, which were really good. Not a ton of choices but what was on the menu was great. This place was build for Instagram. At least, the bar, rooftop, pool was - our 2br/2ba apartment was very spacious but not as nice as the hotel amenities. The hotel was in a office building in the middle of town- by the Old town section- and the hotel portion took up the 5th floor/roof of the building. They were opening a restaurant that week on the 3rd floor, which we went to for lunch later on, and the bottom floor had a coffee shop and check in kiosk. The rest of the building was rental apartments and office space. So a unique set up but it worked. After checking into our apartment and unpacking, we chilled at the pool for most of the day and then had dinner in the Old Town section at Madeira Taberna. This place was so good, tapas style food but with good portions, make reservations because they fill up quick. After dinner we had drinks at Old City Pub, which seems to be the spot at least during the week that stays open the longest.
Wednesday: First excursion in Madeira! A tour of the NorthWest side of the island. This tour packed so much in, but I really enjoyed all of it. It was a group of 8 of us in a top down Jeep, equipped for off-roading, which we did alot of. They picked us up right in front of the hotel and took us 45 mins to the other side of the mountain. We stopped at some waterfall/coastal viewpoints, at one area with lava pools (no swimming at this first stop though, apparently lots of injuries have occurred so they stopped offering that during the tour) and then arrived at the lava pools in Porto Moniz- where they gave us an hour to swim. This place had facilities to change, bathrooms, a restaurant- full on service. We swam and took photos, and found a diving board over the ocean for some quick dives. From there, they took us off roading up some crazy narrow streets - up to the top of the island - and from there stopped at Fanal for a quick walk through the forest. Next was lunch next to what was a hotel called Jungle Rain, that it sounds like they are revamping into a luxury hotel. More off-roading through the forest after lunch, down to the Skywalk back on the Funchal side of the island. The Skywalk was fine, good for some photos, but not the best or most dramatic I've seen, so not a must do. After the all day excursion, we got in some pool time, then walked along the promenade to dinner at Hemingway's. This place was a miss, not really my taste, a little stuffy and full of older folks with live music. Skip it. On the walk back we stopped at a bar on the Promenade, also a miss- not very good drinks- but then stumbled upon a party in the streets back in the Old City section. We drank til the bars closed and the kids went home.
Thursday: Started off the day with some breakfast in the apartment, a streamed yoga class, some pool time. Then, we were picked up for our Stand Up Paddleboard excursion at the Garajau Beach Natureal Preserve. The whole excursion was about 3hrs- including transportation to and from the beach, the cable car you had to take down to this locals beach, getting geared up, etc. We spent a good 1hr 15mins actually in the ocean, which is about all you need. Kelli and Kevin had never been SUPing- and it was pretty choppy in the Ocean, but we all did really well and enjoyed the views of the island you can only get from the water. After our workout for the day, we grabbed a quick lunch at Bolo de Caco sandwich spot, then had happy hour at Vendo Velha which was recommended to us by the SUP instructor as having the best Poncha drinks in town. Lots of flavors of Poncha to choose from! For dinner we kept it in Old Town and had dinner at the Snug- which was surprisingly really really good (most places in Old Town look like tourist traps, but this spot was legit).
Friday: Joe and I had been dying to go hiking in Madeira. We arranged with the hotel to have a driver pick us up at 6:30am- and drive us 35mins to Pico do Arieiro to watch the sunrise - then we would hike to the highest peak Pico Ruivo, and the driver would be there to pick us up and drive us back to the hotel. This was definitely the right move. Wouldn't have wanted to hike back, or go with a group or a guide. The trail was well marked, and groups slow you down, so just getting a driver was the right call. It wasn't cheap though- about $120, but worth the flexibility. The hike between the 2 peaks took us a little under 3 hours, about 6 miles, and the peak of Pico Ruivo gave us pano views of the island which were stunning. There was one bathroom facility on the trail which had snacks as well. The driver picked us up in a parking lot that was new, so many trail apps don't have that added for some reason. On the way back he stopped in Santana and showed us the original houses of Madeira- which is great for a photo opp. All that hiking justified an afternoon nap, and then lunch at the new hotel restaurant on the 3rd floor. Being our last day, we wanted to party it up, so lunch turned into drinks in Old City with new friends we had met in the street the night before, then dinner at Noce- which kind of sucked but we were drunk so whatever, and more drinks in Old City, then drinks on the rooftop to end our trip in Madeira.
Saturday: Flew back to Porto, taxied back to main area by the bridge and stayed at the hotel Catalonia - just up the street from where we began. A block away was Casa Guedes, which was recommended by every taxi driver for their pork sandwich, so we had lunch there outside and then took the rest of the day relaxing at the hotel. I got a massage and swam in the hotel pool outside. For our final dinner, we saved the best for last. We ubered 20mins to the Matosinhos Beach area, and had dinner at Restaurante Esplanada Marisqueira Antiga- which looked like it was definitely an institution in the area. The place filled up quick around 9pm, the waiter helped us navigate the incredible seafood centric menu, and we had just an amazing meal of crab crab and more crab. The best way to end this amazing trip!