Ah, Porto… the ‘Unvanquished City’ that originated the oh-so-British 5 o’clock tea and where Harry Potter was actually born! The second-largest metropolis in Portugal is better know for its characteristic fortified wine, but there’s a lot more to tell — and we chose to do it with a Lange 1 Time Zone on the wrist as a part of A. Lange & Söhne’s European Heritage project destined to highlight some of the Old Continent’s most remarkable cities.
What a great idea. Strolling around seven European cities with a fantastic watch on the wrist while disclosing its respective charms — well, there aren’t many time zones across Europe, but any A. Lange & Söhne timepiece surely embodies much of the Old Continent’s savoir-faire plus the Lange 1 Time Zone does have the ideal international flair for a pan-European task. And, in an era when Europe faces severe social and financial challenges, it feels adequate to bring up the best it has to offer: culture and tradition; after Warsaw and before Paris, Oslo, Hamburg, London and The Hague, the Lange 1 Time Zone travelled to Portugal for a ride in a city that carries the UNESCO World Heritage Site label.
On a cast that includes predominantly capital cities, Lisbon would be the most obvious choice in Portugal. Yet, since last year I did a photo report featuring wristshots of the emblematic Lange 1 around the most iconic spots in Lisbon to celebrate its 20th anniversary, I immediately thought of showcasing Portugal’s second city: Porto, a picturesque metropolis dramatically set on a hilly location.
After a long summer with glorious weather, my window of opportunity with the Lange 1 Time Zone fell in a period where the forecast was far from being ideal — so, I hit the highway and drove 300km up north expecting to get a break from the rain in order to take good enough pictures; but somehow I was ok with the fact that, under a certain light, Porto reminds me of a city so attached to A. Lange & Söhne’s roots: Dresden, with its dark buildings and also set by the river. With a big difference, though: the seaside.
Whenever I go to Porto there isn’t much of a doubt regarding my preferred place to stay: I always pick up the small Hotel da Boavista at Foz, where the river Douro meets the Atlantic ocean — ‘foz’ meaning precisely ‘mouth of the river’ (Porto, or Oporto in its English variant, means ‘Port’ or ‘Harbour’ and it was from there that the name Portugal originated). In a way, Foz it is the equivalent of the greater Lisbon area where I live, Cascais, also on the coast. Besides, the hotel is right next to an historic tennis club — the Lawn Tennis Clube da Foz, where I kind of started my international tennis career… as a chair umpire, before becoming a tennis journalist and only afterwards a watch journalist as well.
The first pictures I took during my stay in Porto were shot precisely on the top terrace of Hotel da Boavista, overlooking the Lawn Tennis Clube da Foz and the adjacent Fortress of São João da Foz. And then I went down to the club for some more photos and a specific picture that I already had in mind: me on an umpire’s chair, as a reminiscence of that first international ladies tournament I umpired back in 1988.
It is a cosy and intimate club, one of the oldest in the country; its closeness to the ocean also gives it a very special fragrance. The iconic Felgueiras lighthouse is a mere 200 metres away and the cloudy skies plus the sunset would certainly provide some interesting colors. And so they did.
During storms, the scenario can be both spectacular and frightening — and one of the pictures of the lighthouse in the National Geographic Magazine became known worldwide a couple of years ago.
Nearby is the ideal place for a drink: the Oporto Café, whose proprietor is a former tennis player. A cosy, classy yet unpretentious place where I could picture the Lange 1 Time Zone in the shade.
My intention was to follow the riverbank back to the Ribeira area so I could pick up the always spectacular mix between natural and artificial light the place provides late in the afternoon.
I stopped along the way for some pictures with the fading daylight.
And got to Ribeira when the artificial lights were already on.
Afterwards, it was time to go back, have a nice dinner at the Lawn Tennis Clube da Foz with old friends and pray so the next day would give me enough rain breaks for some more wristshots around town. The opportunity arose late in the morning; the skies cleared and before leaving the hotel I could take a few more pictures on the terrace.
José Vilela, a former Portuguese tennis champion and Davis Cup captain who lives in the Foz area and coaches at the Lawn Tennis Clube da Foz, showed up to keep me some company for a couple of hours — and took me for a visit to the 16th century Fortress of São João da Foz that can be seen in the pictures on top of the hotel and is adjacent to the tennis club.
Our plan was to go on to the other side of the river and visit Gaia, the city in the south bank of the river — so we drove inwards along the same riverside path I had taken the previous day for some more picturesque shots in the Miragaia and Ribeira areas before crossing the lower deck of the Dom Luiz I bridge.
On the other side of the river, Gaia attracts a great number of tourists eager to get a great view of Porto and visit the famous Port wine cellars. On top of the hill stands one of the best hotels in Portugal — The Yeatman — and we went there for a few pictures overviewing the old part of the city.
We then drove down to the riverbank for some more pictures around the cellars. The traditional Rabelo boats — peculiar cargo boats used for centuries to transport people and goods along the Douro river — are unique to the city and do not exist anywhere else in the world, having its history closely linked to the Port wine trade. Back in the day, the Rabelo boats provided the best means of transport between the Douro valley where Port wine is produced and the city.
The vessels aren’t used anymore, but they’re still around for touristic purposes — carrying tourists around and starring on a race held every year on St John’s Day, June 24.
We drove back from Gaia to the Porto side of the river through the lower deck of Ponte D. Luis for some more pictures at Ribeira on our way to lunch.
I wasn’t particularly hungry; my main worry is to take advantage of the rain breaks. But I definitely wanted to find a place around Ribeira where they serve one of the city’s most famous dishes: the Francesinha — a term that can be translated into ‘Frenchie’ or ‘Little Frenchie’. Another typical feature of the local gastronomy is ‘Tripas à Moda do Porto’ (a dish of tripe with white beans that originated the funny ‘tripeiros’ nomenclature given to people that live in Porto), but it’s somewhat ‘heavy’ for my taste.
The Francesinha isn’t a light dish either: it’s made of bread but not your traditional sandwich as it is served with French fries and carries wet-cured ham, linguiça, sausage, roast meat and is covered with melted cheese, hot thick tomato and beer sauce. A caloric bomb!
Instead of choosing one of the numerous touristic Ribeira restaurants by the river, we went up a bit and opted for a small friend’s restaurant called The Tram, at the end of the tramline coming all the way from the Foz area. The Francesinhas there are quite impressive and delicious; we wanted to have them outside on the esplanade, but there was only time for a few pictures before it started raining again…
In the middle of the afternoon the rain stopped for a while but it was still a bit dark; I had to take my chance and decided to go to downtown Porto and visit a few spots that are mandatory. Starting again from Foz, I drove along the coastline on to the other side to get a picture of the Homem do Leme — a 1934 statue that pays homage to the fishermen representing a man at the helm. «Homem do Leme» is also the name of a famous song by Portuguese rock band Xutos & Pontapés, making the spot even more legendary.
Going from the seaside on to the centre of the city, I took the long Avenida da Boavista and stopped at the Fundação de Serralves (Serralves Foundation), a cultural Art Deco facility surrounded by magnificent grounds and famous for showcasing the works of contemporary Portuguese painters, designers and sculptors.
On my way, I also had to stop at the Boavista Square for some pictures at one of the city’s most iconic buildings — the Casa da Música, a ‘boxy’ concert hall designed by Rem Koolhas.
For the joke, I also took a picture of the column standing in the centre of Boavista Square. You see, on the eve there was a big football derby in Portugal between two Lisbon clubs – and the Sporting ‘Lions’ beat the Benfica ‘Eagles’ 3-0 on their own stadium… and on top of that column there’s precisely a lion standing over an eagle, so pictures of it were all over social media on that day!
The rain and the fading light didn’t give me much room for any more outdoor pictures. I couldn’t even take a wristshot of the Clérigos Tower, a major symbol of the city, only a nocturnal shot: it started to rain as I was going to stick my wrist out and, then again, it was already too dark.
So I headed to downtown for a few pictures at ‘The World’s Most Beautiful McDonald’s’ and one of the world’s most beautiful train stations — but decided I had to come back the following day, as it was really too dark and artificial lighting didn’t make justice to those places nor to the Lange 1 Time Zone. But I did go to a couple of mandatory places for those who visit Porto, the first being the Café Majestic (the name is pronounced the French way), listed as one of the most stunning cafés in the world and exuding a remarkable Belle Époque atmosphere.
Yes, it was really difficult to photograph inside due to the lighting conditions but I had to give it a go. Located in Santa Catarina street, a pedestrian walkway for shopping, it was built in 1921 featuring Art Nouveau decoration and provides a feast for the senses inside: there’s the coffee smell mixed with the scent of leather upholstery and varnished wood while you can hear someone playing the piano and marvel at the plaster-decorated ceiling or the numerous Flemish mirrors!
I didn’t stay long, as the waiters were bugging me saying I had to had special permission to take pictures. I told them that someone wearing a Lange 1 Time Zone does not need a permit to do something and moved on to the next cultural stop on my list: the Livraria Lello & Irmão — the extraordinary bookstore that is one of the oldest in Portugal (built in 1906) and classified as one of the top 5 in the world by several publications, with the CNN even naming it in 2014 ‘the most beautiful in the world’.
It became even more touristic since it was featured on Harry Potter movies. For a reason: J.K. Rowling, the author, was living in Porto when she started writing the Harry Potter saga (meaning Harry Potter was actually born in Porto!) and she knew the place; Hogwarts stairs were inspired on those of the Lello Bookstore. I took a few pictures around those stairs and seriously risked having the Lange 1 Time Zone fall down — but I took the chance and felt somewhat protected by Harry Potter’s wizardry.
The light and shade nuances at the Lello Bookstore are quite magical and the ambiance is highly mystical. It is a place lost in time.
Since I wasn’t happy with my body of work — the rain really ruined it for me most of the time! — I decided to stay one day longer and came back to downtown Porto to take pictures of both the Café Majestic and the Lello Bookstore façades. But mainly to try to do everything that I couldn’t do due to the inclement weather; the forecast for the next day wasn’t good either, but there were enough openings for some more photos downtown. For instance at the Avenida dos Aliados, where people gather on festive occasions and to celebrate FC Porto’s numerous successes in front of the City Hall.
There was good enough natural light to help me take better pictures at the so-called ‘Most Beautiful McDonald’s in The World’ — the McDonald’s Imperial, also there at Avenida dos Aliados, set on the ancient Café Imperial from the 1930s. The ambiance provided by the ceiling, the tinted glasses, the bronze statues and the leather seats really do make any Big Mac taste like haute cuisine. The Lange 1 Time Zone looked good in there, too.
Then I went on to another place nearby that I had visited the day before without being satisfied with the pictures I had taken: the old São Bento Railway Station. Again, the better lighting conditions helped me come out with better photos that highlighted the azulejos panels on the vestibule (made out of some 20.000 tiles) depicting scenes of the History of Portugal.
The place is quite stunning; last year, Brit band James — famous in the early 1990s — held an impromptu concert there that became quite famous on YouTube. One of the members of the brand married a Portuguese and is actually based in Porto, living in the Foz neighborhood.
Then I went up to the Clérigos area for some more pictures with the Clérigos Tower (one of the most significant landmarks in the city, built by Italian architect Nicola Nasoni in the 18th century) and also the Chapel of Almas, completely covered with azulejos tiles.
One of my last stops had to be the upper deck of the metallic D. Luiz bridge for some spectacular shots. Of course I had to be caught by heavy rain right in the middle of the 385-meter long bridge — but at least it didn’t take long. Plus, the sun started to shine at the same time and the subsequent rainbow showed up. Pictures and wristshots came out great, especially on the Gaia side overlooking the Douro river and the picturesque Ribeira.
On my way back to the car, I stopped by the Sé Cathedral to tick another box on my wristshot list; it features an austere Romanesque style construction from the 12th century and it was there where long-standing Anglo-Portuguese relations were forged in 1386, when João I of Portugal married Philippa of Lancaster. A few centuries later, Catherine of Braganza married King Charles II and introduced the custom of drinking tea (which was common among the Portuguese nobility following the discovery of the sea route to India around Africa that promoted the spices trade) to the British court. Yes, the traditional Five O’Clock Tea, a British institution, originated in Portugal.
At the end of the day and before finally taking the way home, I stopped at the Estádio do Dragão — the home ground of FC Porto, the city’s biggest football club that is closely linked to local pride following its domination on the Portuguese league over the two Lisbon rivals (Benfica, Sporting) and numerous international trophies (namely two European Champions’ League titles in 1987 and 2004, two Intercontinental Cups, one European Super Cup and one Europea League title) in the past 30 years.
In the end, I went back happy enough with the pictures I took and the places I managed to visit in spite of the weather conditions — and that was my biggest main of concern in the beginning. But somehow the dark clouds helped provide some interesting shots. Believe me, there are a lot more places to visit in Porto and a lot more to say about the city, but you’ll have to go there and see it by yourself. It has been given several touristic awards and become a popular destination lately, especially for short/weekend visits. And, since this was a A. Lange & Söhne project, I decided to end my story with a report from a couple of Singapore Lange collectors I met last year in Dresden precisely at the 20th anniversary of the launch of the first Lange collection in the new era: Ainie Aimin and Yow Tian Bey, who visited Porto right afterwards. Here are their impressions:
«Actually, Porto did not make it into our itinerary while we were planning for our Europe trip in October last year… however, a casual conversation with a friend changed all that. We were told how beautiful it is and that words cannot describe its beauty and allure… ah, and that we really must have a meal at The Yeatman. That was how it all started! So… ok, we added Porto into our travel plans… maybe three day would be sufficient! Big mistake… we should have given it at least a week (a day or two to not do anything but just soak in what the city offers).»
«We arrived in the evening and by the time we took a walk around the Ribeira area, it was already nightfall. The hilly little streets, some deserted, some filled with people in bars and restaurants, the architecture of the buildings all around conjure up images of glory and richness of olden days. The riverside itself was truly a romantic setting from a movie… lights glimmering everywhere yet not blinding… so, so beautiful, and yet surreal…»
«A long lunch at The Yeatman’s restaurant with views of Porto’s riverbank, this time from the opposite side, proved to be the right thing to do. We were torn between being mesmerized by the view and giving due attention to the delicious food we were eating. It was a fabulous combination of good food, great wine and THAT view. We didn’t want to leave! We found ourselves clicking our cameras non-stop… hoping to take in as much as we can… to somehow bring it home with us!”
«The Dom Luiz I Bridge also provided great views, if not better. Am so glad with the invention of the digital cameras… otherwise the processing of prints would have cost us a bomb! Porto has so many sides to her beauty, the market place, the historic Sao Bento Train Station, Majestic Café and the most beautiful bookstore in the world, Livraria Lello & Irmão. Many people go in there not to buy books but to be awed by its interior… with such spectacular design and craftsmanship, it’s no wonder tourist flock there to have a real experience!»
«Porto will remain one of those places that few have been… but once there, it will always have a special place in your heart. The city has a special charm, kind of draws you to her quietly, gently and lingers forever…».
Just like any A. Lange & Söhne timepiece, I feel obliged to add!
NOTE: my colleague and friend Lukasz Doskocz really set the bar high with his Warsaw photo-report, but none of our Espiral de Tempo magazine photographers was available to come with me to Porto. Meaning I took all the pictures with a ‘mere’ iPhone 5. I hope you did enjoy the Porto portfolio! M.S.