The fog that covers the Douro River infuses the air with the smell of what, at first sniff, I would call mystery if it didn’t sound so damn cliché. The gliding mist that shrouds both banks, as well as the city’s six iconic bridges, gives Porto an aura of cool (not to mention actual chilliness!) that has turned the city into the new capital of Europe’s creative class. Leave to Lisbon the pleasure of infinite contemplation, of implosive passion, of the never-ending summer and, of course, saudades, and the maddening crowds to Berlin and Barcelona.
Like Bilbao, Hamburg, San Francisco, Rotterdam or Portland, Porto has proved able to capitalize on its “second city syndrome,” its crisp weather (which contrasts with the warmth – and fiery temperament – of its inhabitants), to create a counter culture that’s finally gone mainstream. Now, people are flocking to Porto to experience life surrounded by captivating architecture, innovative design and mouth-watering food.
In Porto, different architectural eras live side-by-side with one another in an urban center that – unlike Lisboa – survived the 1755 earthquake largely unscathed. This means that medieval structures now rub shoulders with the likes of the Casa da Música, a diamond-shaped structure by Dutch superstar architect Rem Koolhaas, as well as projects designed by his spiritual son, Alvaro Siza, the force behind the Serralves Foundation‘s Contemporary Art Museum. Add to the mix hundreds of other houses, buildings, subway stations with simple lines and curves molded by the light: Porto is also home to the best of Portugal’s Art Déco movement, with jaw-dropping tile panels that dress up the city’s churches and train stations.
Let your mind wander as freely as your feet as you get lost in the city’s labyrinth of the charming stores and offices and impressive galleries and museums. Be sure not to miss La Paz, a homegrown fashion label whose co-founders, José Miguel de Abreu and André Bastos Teixeira, put to rest any lingering notion that Porto little more than a point of departure for wine lovers on romantic journeys up the Douro Valley.
It should be said, and underscored, that Porto’s reputation as Lisbon’s long-forgotten step-sister has turned Porto into the new déstination fétiche of those desperate to escape the from the decadent, nearly passé hipness of Berlin or Barcelona, or the aggressiveness and over-consumption of London and Paris. A small city, hemmed within steep valley walls, Porto is manageable and boasts a pared-down routine that puts life into a smaller scale.
There are never too many people on the sidewalks, and the city’s many peacock-filled parks allow you to slow down and breath. And of course there are the views of the river – visible from nearly every perspective in the city, thanks to its steep slopes – filled with gliding rabelo boats, which in the past would have been loaded with barrels of Port wine. That is, they’re visible from nearly everywhere in the city when the whole place isn’t shrouded in fog.