Amarante and Porto: A Three-Day Itinerary
Amarante and Porto: A Three-Day Itinerary
As more and more people visit Porto in northern Portugal, it’s become tougher to get off the beaten path there. So, how do you get away from the crowds? Here’s one idea: stay in the picturesque riverside town of Amarante.
Less than an hour from Porto, Amarante is a bucolic place to relax and spend a few nights. Set on the Tâmega River, it has a rich history and several local attractions. Plus, it’s an easy day trip from there to Porto, or, in the other direction, to the Douro Valley wine growing region.
Amarante: Relax with a Walk Along the Tâmega River
In many ways, the Tâmega River shapes daily life in Amarante. A tributary of the Douro River, it drifts lazily past the town. A riverside walk, a bike path, and small parks line its banks. With people often fishing from the shore, the river evokes a bygone era.
Sao Gonçalo Bridge and Sao Gonçalo Church and Monastery
In the center of town, the iconic Sao Gonçalo Bridge arches over the river. An important crossing point since Roman times and the site of a key battle against Napoleon’s forces, it now links both halves of Amarante. Given its central location, it’s a great spot for people watching.
When you cross the bridge, visit the church and monastery of Sao Gonçalo. Built in the 16th century, this complex has been a National Monument since 1910.
In addition to displaying statues of four Portuguese kings, the church houses the tomb of Sao Gonçalo. In fact, legend has it that people who touch a spot above the saint’s tomb find love by the end of the year!
Municipal Museum: Amadeo de Souza-Cardoso
The other major attraction on this side of the river is the lovely modern and contemporary art museum. The town of Amarante created it after World War II to honor several local artists. For only a euro, you can see many fine paintings, photographs, and sculptures.
In particular, there’s a wonderful collection of black and white photos by local photographer Eduardo Teixeira Pinto. Plus, there are some fun sculptures at the Museu, like the one below by Jaime Azinheira.
A Favorite Bakery: O Moinho Centro Historico
After your leisurely day in Amarante, enjoy some special treats at O Moinho Centro Historico. It’s a great spot to get a feel for local life.
Day Trip to Porto, Portugal’s Second City
Porto, known as Portugal’s “second city,” sits on rolling hills above the majestic Douro River. It’s a bustling, scruffy place filled with tourists.
Since parking is so limited in Porto, I’d suggest taking a bus or a cab there from Amarante, rather than drive into the city. That way, you can relax while someone else does the driving.
São Bento Railway Station
Would you believe that 20,000 blue-and-white ceramic tiles adorn the walls of the large waiting room in the São Bento railway station? Over an 11-year period (1905-1916), artist Jorge Colaço painted the azulejo (polished) tiles. The gorgeous, larger-than-life panels depict key points in Portugal’s history.
Although glazed tiles originated in Egypt in ancient times, Islamic empires popularized them in the Middle Ages. Today, though, it’s not common to see them in most parts of Europe.
But in Portugal, they’re used widely to decorate the inside and outside of buildings like churches, palaces, or private homes. In fact, most people now think of ceramic tiles as icons of Portugal.
Stroll Along the Douro Waterfront of Porto’s Ribeira District
From the train station, work your way downhill to the waterfront. Once there, you’ll be in the UNESCO-listed, medieval part of town, the Ribeira, known for its colorful houses.
While you stroll along, you’ll see lots of rabelo boats that used to transport barrels of Port from the Douro Valley vineyards. Today, trucks do the same job.
Take in the Views from the Upper Level of the Dom Luís I Bridge
For great views, climb to the upper level of the double-decker Dom Luís I Bridge. Opened in the late-1800s, it’s one of Porto’s iconic attractions.
From atop the bridge, you can enjoy views of the Douro River, the Ribeira, and all kinds of boats. In one direction, the river winds its way towards the Douro Valley wine region. In the other direction, the sweeping curves of the river lead out to the Atlantic Ocean.
While the top level of the bridge has a pedestrian walkway, be alert up there. Trolleys run on that level, too.
Once you get across the bridge, you can descend to Vila Nova de Gaia. There, you can visit Port wine cellars for tours and tastings.
Alternatively, if the Douro itself calls out to you, Porto offers lots of choices for river cruising. Among the many options, you can choose from short “six bridge” cruises to full-day trips with wine tasting.
Visit the Sé do Porto
Built as a fortress church, the Sé (main cathedral) dates to the 12th and 13th centuries. Though we didn’t find the church itself of interest, the handsome gothic cloisters next door are a real highlight. As you savor the peaceful setting, you can see walls covered with classic blue-and-white tiles from the 18th century.
Michelin-Star Restaurant in Amarante
Back in Amarante after a full day in Porto, dine in the relaxing, Michelin-star restaurant at the Casa da Calçada Boutique Hotel. You won’t be disappointed! The food there is inventive, with artistic presentations for every course. Plus, the service is top-notch and very attentive.
As if that’s not enough, the restaurant serves up vinho verde (white wine) made from grapes produced on the slope next to the hotel. Plus, you can choose from a variety of chocolates to cap off your dinner.
Casa da Calçada Boutique Hotel
Set in a 16th century manor, the Casa da Calçada Boutique Hotel is located in Amarante’s old town. Some of the rooms, which offer quiet and comfort, have views of the Tâmega River.
As I’ll describe in another post, you can easily go from Amarante to the Douro Valley for a day trip or longer. But if you just feel like relaxing, spend your third day by the hotel’s pool and enjoy the views to the vineyards and hills.
As you might have noticed, David and I like to find quiet bases for exploring small areas. Call it a hub-and-spoke approach, but we enjoy staying in one place for several days and doing easy day trips from there. This makes it possible to get to know small bits of local life.
In that sense, Amarante is a great base for exploring parts of northern Portugal, especially Porto and the Douro Valley. It’s less than an hour by bus or taxi from there to Porto for a day trip. Also, if you have a car, it’s only about an hour from the start of the Douro Valley.
So, kick off your stay in northern Portugal with a visit to Amarante!