The 10 best travel experiences in Europe – from £200
Porto/Oporto has an old-world charm, but hip bars and terrace restaurants crowd the riverside these days. There are world-class concerts at Casa de Musica and major art exhibitions along Rua de Miguel Bombarda. Cobbled streets and beautifully tiled churches, and a fabulous café culture – and pastries to die for at iconic outlets like cream pie specialist Manteigaria – make the town a favorite with strollers.
The food is excellent, from Port tripe, with beans and vegetables, to caldos and cozidos (soups and stews), to cod in every way imaginable. You can indeed eat very well inexpensively, and there are plenty of tasty petiscos (small plates) available in the bars. Two classic snacks – cachorrinho (sausage with spicy sauce and thin crusty bread) and francesinha (a sandwich of cured ham, linguiça, chipolata or steak, with cheese and drowned in sauce) – are excellent with a cold beer.
At the beautiful Porto São Bento station, with azulejo walls, you can take the little train that runs along the right bank of the Douro to Pocinho, 200 km away (3h30, round trip around €30; book on cp. pt ). Boats also ply the waterway, not just luxury cruise liners; there are trips ranging from a few hours to a full day, or you can simply hop across the river to Gaia, famous for its wine lodges and Blue Flag beaches.
The surnames of Croft, Cockburn, Graham and Taylor allude to the long Anglo-Portuguese history of port winemaking, but on the Douro there are plenty of young local winemakers challenging tradition with red and white wines. first class.
Hop aboard one of the city’s old trams, which retain their original wooden carriages and serve three routes. Line 1 is the most popular, running from the heart of the old town of Ribeira along the Douro River to the outskirts of the waterfront district of Foz.
when should we go
The shoulder seasons are beautiful, as is the start of summer. Porto are firmly on the weekend’s no-frills card, but not as impacted as Lisbon.
Do it yourself
Fly from Birmingham, Liverpool, London or Manchester to Porto; Ryanair offers flights from £56 in autumn. Stay at Pur Porto Boutique Hotel; five nights for £534 for a double in early September via booking.com. Visit the Calem port lodge (00 351 916 113 451; tour.calem.pt) for a guided tour in English and three tastings (€17); also go to CV Kopke; it’s the oldest port wine company in town (founded in 1638), and although they don’t do tours, the staff are happy to tell you about their great vintages and you can sip a Colheita , the signature fauve port. Take a day trip by train and boat to Pocinho, with lunch on board, booked with Cruzeiros Douro (00 351 226 191 090; cruzeiros-douro.pt) for €108/£93 (Sunday, May to mid-October)
Inntravel (01653 617001; inntravel.co.uk) offers a four-day break in Porto, Chanceleiros and Pinhão, with a train ride, guided wine tours and a short walk, from £745. Breakfasts and two dinners are included, but flights are not.
Exciting Istanbul from £400
Turkey’s largest city was the capital of the Byzantine and Ottoman Empires and whether your passion is food, nightlife, fashion, design, history or architecture, it’s a fascinating meeting point for European and Middle Eastern cultural mores and traditions.
What you squeeze into a visit depends on whether it’s your first time or your umpteenth, but even hard-to-impress elders like to at least pay visual homage to Hagia Sophia – a church-turned-mosque, later turned into a museum – and the nearby Blue Mosque, with its dazzling Iznik-tiled interior. Nearby is the Basilica Cistern, built by Emperor Justinian I in the 6th century to store up to 80,000 m3 of water and channel it to nearby palaces.
The courtyards and pavilions of the Topkapı Palace complex at the tip of the Istanbul peninsula will fill an afternoon. The museums contain treasures including the Topkapı dagger and a hair from the head of the Prophet Muhammad. Right next door is Gülhane Park, one of the biggest and most beautiful parks in the city – busy on weekends but still a refuge from the pulsating city.