After a decadent and opulent might at Bosacco Palace we came down to earth by catching the train ( seniors special) to Porto and then a second train to Viana do Castelo in the ,Minho, at the top of Portugal. It was so easy, cheap and stress free compared to hiring and driving a car in Europe.
Viana do Castelo was once a Roman settlement- hence the origins of its name- Diana. It has a beautiful medieval centre with Rococo and Manueline architecture. It is also popular with pilgims on the walk, the Caminho de Santiago, and the home of umbrella street. How can you not love a town with umbrella festooning the narrow cobbled lanes. I remember the name of this town by thinking of Australia’s athlete Rob de Castello.
It has a pronounced folkloric tradition of crimson and gold regional costumes, especially during the Festival of Our Lady of Sorrows complete with huge puppets or gigatones, and big heads or besudos. The happens in August and we were lucky enough to see some early marches leading up this event. Even the Portuguese bagpipes.
We were booked into the O Laranjeira and arrived after a long journey at the Hotel Laranjeira, which looked the same on google maps. They are two separate establishments, back to back but owned by the same family.. We had a huge altercation with the owners son, after he had ignored us for 20 minutes. I had the audacity to interupt his Portuguese male pontification and demand his attention. He went ballistic and the family threw us out! I thought afterwards it might have been for our own safety as he was like Faulty Towers on acid.They also refused to tell us where our hotel was. It was very distressing, disturbing and frightening and we nearly went to the police.
We found the other hotel in the next street and wished we hadn’t. It was up 3 flights of stairs and small and noisy. The Panama, after one night in a palace was picky, picky, picky!
We were not feeling overjoyed with Viana do Castelo at this stage, but it really is a very quaint town. Then the weather gods who can be complete bastards, decided over a game of pool, to change the weather to cold and wet. It had been scorchingly hot in the interior of Portugal and we were looking forward to some beach time on the coast. There was nothing we could do but drag out the leggings and jumpers.
After 3 days which we had booked, we were able to move out to the fabulous and wacky Chocolate Factory or the Fabrica do Chocolate. How we wanted the Willy Wonka room, but we got the Dali room, apparently he loved chocolate. It was wonderful- quiet, comfortable huge beds and magnificent food,, including gluten free for the Panama. In many places we had to drag our own stale gluten free bread along, even the beer has gluten in it.
We caught the funicular to the top of the hills. It is reputedly the steepest ascent in the country. We were not there to see the church but the Celtiberiann ruins of a Citania, or fortifed village and the stunning view of the Lima River and the coast. Portugal is not good with signs for tourists and we had trouble locating it because it was CLOSED for a 2 hour lunch break! Who does that? No information, it just what we were told by the staff at the Pousada. The Pousada was another magnificently expensive hotel with views to die for, but isolated from the town.
Despite all the setbacks we did like this sleepy town. The Panama ate his way though a mountain of seafood, in particular the Polvo or octopus. We had our morning coffees at the local bakery with gluten free cakes., they got to know us..” Our regular please Antonio.”
Then back on the train with our seniors discount, to Porto, as the Panama was flying out to Sweden for a week. This time we stayed in a fantastic part of town near all the hipster bars and the famous Lello Library..Livraria Lello, a Gothic 1906 building whereJK Rowling supposedly gained her inspiration for Hogwarts. As a result it is tourist central with queues and a 4 euro admittance fee. I am still highly amused that her first Portuguese husband must be regretting his divorce. It all happened before she became a success, and he was violent drug addict.
Our hotel was another mistake..you win some, you lose some. Tripadvisor reviews are not always accurate. It was the Grande Hotel de Paris, one of the oldest hotels in Porto which in our opinion was no longer grand, but with a bit of money poured into it, it could be Grande indeed. They refused to guarantee a quiet room as the reviews had mentioned noise from the trendy bars, but we did get a quiet room out the back. It was all very antiquated and twee. The lift didn’t always work- we got stuck in it twice. Towards the end they jammed a bit if wood in it to make it work..high tech. Of course they did not supply gluten free, which was disappointing, as it wasn’t cheap.
Our final night in Porto was spent at a Fado performance and a magical dinner overlooking the Douro River watching the Ribera old town light up. It was finally a warm night,and the crowds tumbled over the promenade, sauntering in and out of the many bars and cafes lining the river.