Faro, Wednesday April 12, 4.25 am
I was sleeping and I was dreaming the magnificent beach of Faro – where we had spent a wonderful afternoon the previous day, enjoying the sun, the ocean and the golden sand – when I heard the persistent “beep” of my alarm aimed to remind us that we had to catch up on the 5 o’clock bus to get to the airport in time. We had exactly fifteen minutes to get ready and leave the hostel as quietly as possible. Everything seemed to work according to our plan when suddenly something completely unpredictable happened, exactly when it was not supposed to happen: Anita’s bag was trapped in the huge entrance door as it closed behind us. No matter how much we pulled it, the strap that had been caught between the two huge doors could not be released and at 4.40 am there was no one at the reception to open the door for us. We had almost decided that we would lose the bus when, after persistent callings and ringings and perhaps a small fuss (at least we tried to leave quietly… :)), a girl woke up, dropped her electronic bracelet that opened the door (and which we had left at the reception desk) to us, the bag got released and we started running to the bus station. At 7.30 am we were in Porto.
From the airport, we took the metro to the center of Porto, in particular to Bolhão Station, which is located to one of the most central pedestrian streets, St Catarina Street. For our transportation to the metro, we purchased an “Antante” card from the airport’s automated machines, which can be “charged” with as many routes as one wants. Each route costs 1.20 euros and the card itself 0.50 cents. The morning breeze of the city with the paved roads, the sweet spring coolness (which did not take long to become heat), the shops that just opened their doors and the coffee we had right across from Majestic, the most famous café in Porto, (where it is said that a part of the book “Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone” was written) is one of the most beautiful and vibrant images I have kept in my mind from this journey. And mentioning Harry Potter, the fans of J.K. Rowling’s books may want to visit Porto as it is, in a sense, the birthplace of the popular hero!
As Porto is not actually a big city, we had planned to spend only three days there. For that reason, we chose a hostel, in the center of the city, in order to walk through every single street of it. My opinion is that three or four days for sightseeing and getting an idea of the specialities of Porto (wine is one of them) are sufficient. However, since its beauty is indescribable and the cellars that wait to be explored many, if you have the time, you can also spend an interesting week there, drinking the famous local Porto wine, strolling along the river, exploring the picturesque paved streets, having guided tours in the historical cellars and tastings of different varieties of wines (I would definitely stay there for a month if I could!). Luckily the prices in accommodation and food are relatively low so this makes things much easier for some of us!
In recent years, in Portugal and especially in Porto, probably because of the increasing number of tourists arriving from all over the world, as a vegan one can have several choices. Specifically, in a visit to a supermarket or in one of the many delicatessen shops we found not only soy milk at very low prices, but also vegan cold-cuts and plant-based cheeses and of course a wide variety of vegetables, fruits, pulses and cereals, as the warm climate of the country favors the cultivation of land and the production of excellent quality products. If you want to find fresh fruits and salads, as well as souvenirs, buns, nuts and various delicacies or just to take an idea of the everyday life in Porto, it is worth visiting the famous Bolhão market. This beautiful market is very close to Bolhão Metro Station in Rua Formosa 322, in the center of the city and it is open daily from 8am to 5pm – although before 9am most likely many of the shops will not be ready to serve customers. As this is considered one of the best markets in Europe we couldn’t resist buying some local fruits and vegetables and some nice souvenirs for our friends.
Although preparing your own vegan food in the hostel or the appartment kitchen can be absolutely easy and cheap, a challenge may be eating out, in restaurants that are not clearly vegan or vegan-friendly. The local Portuguese cuisine may be rich in plant-based Mediterranean products, however they tend to add animal-derived products such as sausages, eggs, dairy and cod in most of the dishes. Moreover, although traditional Portuguese desserts are very famous between tourists and locals and especially in Porto you will find dozens of “pastelarias” (local pastry shops), most probably you will not be able to eat not even a single traditional desserts free of eggs, milk or butter. On the other hand, in Porto one can find several vegan or vegetarian restaurants as well as vegan-friendly restaurants.
If you plan to eat out, the first thing I would definitely recommend is the vegan version of a local dish of Porto, which is called Francesinha and one could say that it is Portuguese croque-monsieur analogue. Frenchesina is a kind of sandwich, filled with sausages, baked in the grill and served in a thick, spicy sauce, the main ingredient of which is beer. Usually they serve it with french fries (which usually are not included in the price and they will ask you to order them separately). We had the chance to taste a delicious vegan Francesinha at the Francesinhas Al Forno da Baixa vegan-friendly restaurant (Rua do Almada, 160), with variety of choices for vegans. The one I got was made of toasted slices of bread, stuffed with tempeh and vegan chorizo, topped with a thick slice of vegan, yellow cheese and served in a spicy beer sauce. That was a unique tasting experience!
Another day, after hours of walking around and sight-seeing, we visited Quadal Bioshop (Rua do Rosario 177), which is both a shop that sells organic products and a cafe that serves also snacks, desserts and lunch. The cafe place is ideal for relaxing and having a coffee together with a vegan sweet or savory snack or homemade vegan cookies. From the shop you can buy organic fruits, vegetables and many other products. We were lucky enough to find Quadal Bioshop exactly when we needed some rest, a coffee and a snack. If you are as lucky as we were, you will also meet Arucula – the cute black cat that lives there, which I suspect is responsible for the public relations of the cafe!
My last but not less memorable suggestion is the record (and burger)-store with the name Black Mamba (Rua Mártires da Liberdade, 130). Basically Black Mamba is not a restaurant, judging from the rare vinyls and cassettes that one can find there there. On the other hand, there you can have some delicious100% vegan burgers, snacks, cakes and beers, which is somewhat unusual for a record store. We had some fried vegan-cheese pies and a burger with the name “Burger Core” (all burgers, although tender and fluffy, had names inspired from the toughest aspects of rock). It consisted of a fluffy round bread stuffed with a delicious chickpea burger, a few vegan cutlets, a slightly spicy sauce and it was served with french fries and more sauce.
In total, I could say that Porto is one of the most picturesque urban places I have been, and I wish to all of you vegan travelers out there to visit this enchanting city, to have great time, to feel its morning breeze, to taste unique wines and vegan delicacies and of course, to walk and see and enjoy as much as possible!