Livraria Lello, Porto Portugal, March 2018

I love books and I can spend hours in a good bookstore.  Porto’s Livraria Lello & Irmão was on my short list of places to visit in Portugal.

Livraria Lello, or the Lello Bookstore in English, is one of the most beautiful and, thanks to J.K. Rowlings, one of the most famous bookstores in the world.  When J.K. Rowling lived in Porto, she began work on the Harry Potter series.  She was a frequent visitor to the bookstore and the amazing central staircase was the inspiration behind the moving staircases of Harry’s Alma Mater, Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry.

Livraria Lello began life in 1869 as Internacional Livraria de Ernesto Chardron.  When Senhor Chardron passed away, the bookstore was purchased by Lugan & Genelioux Sucessores who eventually sold the bookstore to the Lello brothers in 1894.  The brothers Lello decided to build a new bookstore and hired engineer Francisco Xavier Esteves to build the new bookstore on Rua das Carmelitas, in the shadow of the Clérigos Tower  The new Livraria Lello & Irmão opened its doors in 1906.

The bookstore is truly beautiful.  The exterior is a Neo-Gothic with vivid Arte Nouveau paintings, including the two figures of Art and Science, painted by Professor José Bielman.  Just above the door, in gilt lettering, the name “Livraria Chardron” celebrates the early history of the bookstore.

Lello Exterior

The bookstore saw an increase in visitors who, driven by the popularity of the Harry Potter books, just wanted to see the interior that gave birth to the fantastic architecture of Hogwarts. Because most of the visitors were not actually there to make a purchase, Livraria Lello began charging an admission fee in 2015, with the price of the admission ticket being deducted from the price of any book purchase.

The interior is truly special.  There are busts of some of the greatest Portuguese writers, including Eça de Queirós and Camilo Castelo BrancoThe interior has a lot of art deco touches, including the stained glass skylight and the famous forked staircase.  The interior seems to be of wood, but it’s actually plaster painted to look like wood.

Lello Interior 3

As you can see from the photos, browsing through the books is a bit of a chore.  You have to fight your way through the hundreds of visitors.  We did manage to look through the cookbooks but, alas, the selection of English language Portuguese cookbooks was extremely limited.  Once I’ve learned enough of the Portuguese language to read in the language I’d love to go back to peruse the selection of Portuguese classics.  What I’ve read so far- Jose Saramago, Eça de Queirós and Fernando Pessoa- have whetted my appetite for more Portuguese literature.

Lello Interior 4

My dream is to be able to visit Livraria Lello when there are no crowds so I can browse the shelves for literary treasures that may be hidden there.  And while I’m searching for treasure maybe I’ll try to catch a few photos of this amazing store.

 

Azulejos, Portugal, March 2018

Azulejos, the beautiful decorative tiles that adorn buildings throughout the country, are now synonymous with Portugal, but they have a history that spans several countries and cultures.  Of Moorish origin, the tiles were not only beautiful, they had a functional purpose as well, serving as insulators against the intense heat of the Mediterranean and North Africa.

Azulejos first came to Portugal from Seville, when Dom Manuel I, during his visit to the Spanish city, was struck by the beauty of the tiles.  Originally the tiles were of geometric or floral patterns.  Their use rapidly spread throughout Portugal, becoming a popular building material for the outside of buildings as well as being used to decorate the interiors structures.

Azulejos
Aveiro building with both geometric and pictorial tiles

As the popularity of azulejos grew, so did demand.  During the second half of the 17th century, Delft potter makers, whose blue and white pottery was already popular throughout Europe, began producing tiles.  The popularity of the Dutch tiles was such that they effectively created a monopoly and shut out many Portuguese manufacturers.  Dom Pedro II, alarmed at the rate that the Dutch tiles were taking over the market, banned all imports of azulejos between 1687 and 1698, allowing Portuguese artists to fill the void left by the ban.

Aveiro Station Detail
Detail of tiles on Aveiro train station

Over the next few centuries azulejos remained popular in Portugal.  The influence of the Dutch tiles continued to be felt, as the blue and white tiles were the most commonly used, but more and more the tiles were used to depict scenes and tell stories.  Art Nouveau and Art Deco designs became popular in the early 20th century as artists such as António Costa and Jorge Colaço began to create works of art from azulejos.

Sao Bento 8
São Bento train station

From the stunning São Bento Station in Porto, featuring over 20,000 blue and white tiles, to decorative scenes featuring just a couple dozen tiles, azulejos can be found throughout Portugal.  This art form with an international history is now forever a part of Portugal.

 

Cafés, Portugal, March 2018

Travel can be stressful, with planes, trains, or even ships that must be caught, unfamiliar roads to follow, schedules to be met and new languages to learn.  It’s nice to be able to slow down from time to time and to stop at a café for a coffee or a glass of wine.  We experienced a lot of interesting cafés and we took advantage of them to stop and relax for a few minutes on our journey.  Here are just a few.

Aveiro is home to one of our favorite cafés, A Mulata.  It’s a tiny place on Avenida Santa Joana and a block from the Museu do Aveiro.  A Mulata has a nice breakfast and fresh baked goods with a lot of vegetarian options.  It was also a quiet place to sit and enjoy a glass of wine or beer.  We like quiet.

Porto’s most famous café is Café Majestic.  Opened in 1921, this art nouveau café was a favorite of British author J.K. Rowlings, who is rumored to have worked on the first Harry Potter book here.  The notoriety that comes with being associated with anything Harry Potter means that the café is always crowded with tourists.  We were looking for a nice quiet atmosphere where we could sit and enjoy breakfast and coffee, and Majestic was not the place for us.

Majestic Cafe

Fortunately, Porto has another iconic café just a short walk from Majestic.  Named for a Brazilian indigenous people, Café Guarany has been a popular gathering place for Portuenses since 1933.  It’s a beautiful restaurant.  Renovated in 2003, the interior’s centerpiece are two paintings, “The Lords of Amazonia” by University of Porto alum Graça Morais.  We had a wonderful breakfast at Guarany and, later, stopped there again for dessert and coffee.

Braga has a pair of nice cafés in the Arcada at Praça da República, Café Astória and Café Vianna.  We chose to have breakfast at Café Vianna.  In operation for over 150 years, the café is supposedly where the 28 May 1926 coup d’etat began.  Portuguese novelists Eça de Queriós and Camilo Castelo Branco are said to have been visitors to the café during its long history.  We enjoyed a relaxing breakfast while we planned our day.  Located at the end of Praça da República, it proved to be a nice place to people watch.

Cafe Vianna Interior

Coimbra is home to another interesting historic café.  Located in what was once an auxiliary chapel, Café Santa Cruz has a wonderful interior, with vaulted ceilings and stained glass.  Opened in 1923, it’s another great place for coffee and a snack.  It’s location on Praça 8 de Maio and next door to Igreja de Santa Cruz make the café a good place for people watching.

Mercado do Bolhão, Porto, Portugal, March 2018

One of the more unusual places we visited on our tour of Portugal was Mercado do Bolhão, Porto’s famous market in the city’s historic center.  The market dates to the first half of the 19th century, when the city decided it needed a central market for vendors to sell their goods.  In 1914 the current building was opened as the market’s home.  It’s a two-story neoclassical structure with an open courtyard where many of the vendors are located.  In 2006 the market was classified as a place of public interest.

While much of the merchandise is now geared towards tourists the Mercado do Bolhão has been able to maintain the feel of a traditional market.  There are stalls offering fresh vegetables, fish, meat and flowers as well as wine and tourist offerings such as cork products and souvenirs.  The baked goods looked nice and the fishmonger had huge octopi for sale.  One vendor offers live rabbits and chickens.  A few cats laze in sunny spots.

We didn’t experience it, but the female vendors are rumored to use crude language that would rival my own mastery of curse words.  Since the use of foul language is supposed to be a sign of higher intelligence in people, we’ll give them a pass.

I’ve read that shortly after our visit to Portugal the Mercado do Bolhão was moved to a temporary location while the existing building is renovated.  I’m glad that the city values the market so that they will renovate it rather than tear it down to make space for a new venture.  Hopefully the market will retain its unique character when it returns after the renovation.

Porto, Portugal, March 2018

Porto is Portugal’s second largest city and has long been an important part of the country’s history.  There have been people here since the time of the Celtiberians, and the Roman name Portus Cale gave Portugal its name.  Porto is an interesting, bustling city with a lot to do.  We spent two days in the city on our visit to Portugal.

We stayed outside the historic center of the city because driving in Porto is not for the faint of heart.  Our hotel, Hotel Porto Nobre, was a beautiful old house north of the city and with convenient access to the historic city center.

Hotel Porto Nobre

The purpose of our visit was to decide where we want to live when we relocate to Portugal.  It was pretty evident that Porto was not what we’re looking for.  Porto is a large and busy city and we’re looking for a smaller place with a much slower pace.  That being said, we enjoyed our time in the city.

The historic center of Porto is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and most of what we wanted to see and do are in the city center.  We took the bus from the hotel to the Avenida dos Aliados, generally regarded as the heart of the city.  It’s a beautiful place to start our tour of Porto, with magnificent mansions and buildings lining the avenue.  The north end of the square is topped by the beautiful City Hall.

Camara Municipal de Porto

Praça da Liberdade sits at the southern end of the avenue.  This is a great place for photos of the avenue.  A statue of Dom Pedro IV is quite beautiful as well. The architecture and the statue give an old European feel to the square.

Praca da Liberdade

We decided to have lunch at one of the many restaurants that line the avenue.  This was our chance to try Porto’s most famous delicacy, the francesinha. Frequently mentioned as one of the best sandwiches in the world, the “little frenchie” has ham, sausage, beef and cheese, all smothered in a secret sauce.  This is not a sandwich you can eat with your fingers.  It is quite good.

Francesinha

After the francesinha, we needed a long walk.  Our first stop was São Bento Railway Station, one of the most beautiful railway stations in the world.  The interior is covered with about 20,000 azulejos painted by Jorge Colaço between 1905 and 1916.  The azulejos depict events from Portugal’s history.

Sao Bento Interior 2

Livraria Lello, the famous bookstore, one of the world’s most beautiful booksellers,was our  next stop.  It is a magnificent work of art.  The exterior is art nouveau.  The interior is highlighted by the staircase that reportedly was the inspiration for the moving staircases in J.K. Rowlings’s Hogwarts.  Unfortunately, the interior is so crowded that it’s difficult to move, much less enjoy the beauty of the place.

Lello Interior 2

Just up the street from Lello is Igreja dos Clérigos and the famous Torre dos Clérigos. Designed by Italian architect Nicolau Nasoni, the baroque tower was added to the Igreja dos Clérigos between 1754 and 1763.  Nasoni, who designed numerous works in Porto during his 50 years in the city, had designed the original church, which was built between 1933 and 1750.

The tower is over 75 meters tall and provides spectacular vistas for visitors who climb the 225 steps to the top.  This view of the tower was taken the next day from the Cathedral.

Clerigos Tower skyline

Our second day began at Avenida dos Aliados and breakfast at Café Guarany.  It’s a beautiful art nouveau café that opened in 1933.  We had a great breakfast there while avoiding the crowds at Porto’s other famous café, Majestic.

Cafe Guarany

After breakfast we took a walk to Porto’s famous market, Mercado Bolhão.  Our timing was right.  The market has been moved to a new location so the old location can be renovated. Yes, the old location was a bit decrepit, but I liked the feel of the place.

 

After the market we stopped at the Cathedral.  Construction was begun in the 12th century and was continued until its completion in the 16th century.  That probably explains why it has several different architectural styles, including a Gothic chapel and cloister, a Romanesque rosette window and nave, and a Baroque loggia designed by Nicolau Nasoni.  There’s also a statue of Vimara Peres, a 9th century nobleman who defeated the Moors and was the first ruler of the County of Portugal.

Se de Oporto

Our next destination was Vila Nova de Gaia, famous for its port wine caves.  We were looking at Vila Nova de Gaia as a potential retirement spot because of its vicinity to Porto and all of that city’s amenities.  We took the metro across the Dom Luis I bridge, one of the most beautiful bridges in the world.  It’s a two level bridge, one for automobile and pedestrian traffic, and one level for trains, and was designed by a disciple of Gustave Eiffel.

We walked through the part of town above the waterfront for a while and really didn’t like it as a potential home.  We probably didn’t give Vila Nova de Gaia a fair chance; it’s actually quite large and I’m sure that there are parts of the city that would appeal to us, but we just didn’t connect with the city like we did with some of the other places we visited.

We made our way to the Teleférico de Gaia, an aerial gondola, and had a drink at the bar before taking a ride down to the waterfront.  The views from the teleférico were awesome, but the waterfront was underwhelming.  We toured one of the port wine cellars, had lunch at one of the restaurants, and then road the teleférico to the top so we could ride the metro back to Porto.

Vila Nova de Gaia

We made our way to the Igreja de São Francisco, our final destination.  The gothic exterior of this 13th century church is misleading.  Inside, over 120 pounds of gold gilt cover virtually every surface.  Photography of the interior isn’t allowed, but I found a photo to accompany my exterior photo.

We enjoyed our time in this great city.  It’s bustling city with a long history and plenty to keep you interested.  Our visit just touched the surface and I hope that we’ll be able to spend more time in Porto in the future.