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Vila Nova de Gaia
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Vila Nova de Gaia: A port lover’s paradise

August 30, 2023

Very few worldly cities can claim to having wine as a structural part of its historic and spiritual DNA. Such is definitely the case with the northern Portuguese cities of Porto and Vila Nova de Gaia, the latter being the former’s sibling on the southern banks of the Douro River.

Vila Nova de Gaia, or simply Gaia, is technically a municipality within Porto and it’s the most populous municipality in the country’s North Region. It, along with Porto and 12 other municipalities, make up the commonly designated Porto Metropolitan Area.

Read Also: Port authority: The Douro Valley’s centuries-old tradition

Generally, Vila Nova de Gaia is known for one thing: port. Since as far back as the 17th century, the city’s many cellars (locally known as caves) are where port wine is stored and aged. Unsurprisingly to wine enthusiasts and history buffs, these caves, and their storied past, have become a major tourist attraction.

Historically, barrels of port wine from the upper Douro Valley would be transported by boat along the Douro River to Gaia. Once here, the wine would be taken to one of the port lodges, that dominate the riverfront, to be cellared for aging before longer journeys elsewhere. These days the barrels arrive by road (about an hour drive), but much of the process itself remains a steadfast tradition.

Vila Nova de Gaia

In Vila Nova de Gaia, the names of port tasting lodges and warehouses are spelled out in huge letters across the building roofs, like this one at Sandeman.

Three hundred years onward and port wine is still Vila Nova de Gaia’s biggest attraction. Tourists come to navigate the mazes of cobblestone streets, tour the numerous port lodges and caves, and sample a glass or two of port. All of which can be done whilst relaxing with impeccable views of the old historic centre of Porto’s hillside cityscape, replete with its scaling and sun-baked, red-roofed buildings, located just across the river.

Crossing the Douro River from Porto to Gaia, and vice versa, is easily done via water taxi, but the best way to do this is by walking along the top deck of the famed Dom Luis I Bridge. Not only will this give you the best views of the city, but it will situate you amid Vila Nova de Gaia’s finest attractions. And if stairs aren’t your thing, to help get you from the very top of the city to the lower riverside (and back up again), there’s the Gaia cable car – best ridden at sunset for spectacular, pinch me now, views of the Douro River and Porto. Restaurants, bars and various shops are scattered throughout the shore and ridgeline, all within a leisurely stroll’s distance.

Key experiences

WOW Porto – World of Wine experience

The most prominent attraction that’s increasingly generating major buzz throughout the global wine scene is the recently established WOW Centre, right in Vila Nova de Gaia. An appropriate acronym for “World of Wine”, WOW is more than a historical wine museum. It’s an immersive, multisensory attraction that celebrates the heritage and the people of Porto, highlighting important Portuguese industries and traditions, all within a refurbished block that makes use of old warehouses that were once purposed for ageing and bottling port.

WOW Porto

WOW is an immersive, multisensory attraction that celebrates the heritage and the people of Porto.

Now an entire cultural district full of exciting things to do and explore, WOW consists of seven museum experiences, 12 restaurants, bars and cafes, multiple shops, a temporary exhibition space, an events space and yes, even a wine school for beginners and connoisseurs to expand their wine knowledge. And all with an incredible view!

Adrian Bridge, Managing Director of the Fladgate Group – owner of brands such as Fonseca, Taylor’s, Croft and The Yeatman Hotel – saw the potential of this historic place. He gradually brought the old warehouses back to life, creating an impressive showcase so that the locals can get to know their history better, and also to prolong tourists’ stay in the city. After five years of development and more than €100m of investment, WOW Porto opened in 2021.

Port lodges

There are about 60 port cellars still in operation, of which around 20 are open to the public. Port enthusiasts and novices alike can participate in tastings and tours where one can get familiar with ruby, white, tawny, and vintage ports. The below places are essential favourites:

Sandeman

One of the most recognizable brands in all of port, Sandeman delivers on its experience. Here, one will have plenty of artifacts to explore as a fascinating display of paintings and photographs collected over the brand’s 200 years of history are positioned with pride throughout the lodge. Afterwards, relax outdoors on the patio facing the river, and sample ports, order food off their menu or enjoy an after-port espresso.

Sandeman Port
Cálem

One of the most educational port tours comes at Cálem, a lodge situated along the riverbank and widely recognized through its many international awards. Learn how to distinguish port’s different aromas and flavours in an educated wine tasting, and about the unique landscape of the demarcated region of Douro Valley. Get to know the features which make this wine a special and unique one. It’s a fascinating experience that teaches how to really enjoy a glass of port.

Ramos Pinto

Established in 1880 by Adriano Ramos Pinto, this house offers a tour of their port wine cellar and a visit to their museum that teaches about the brand’s history. Don’t forget to sip on your glass of port in their tasting room that is adorned with vintage windows that offer a gorgeous view of the old historic centre of Porto, directly across the river.

 

Graham's Port Lodge
Graham’s 1890 Lodge

Graham’s Port is owned and managed by the Symington family, owners and producers of some of the biggest names in Portuguese port and fine wine (Dow’s, Warre’s, Cockburn’s, Prats and Symington). The magnificent Graham’s cellars were built in 1890 and contain a priceless collection of aging ports. Visits can only be made by prior appointment so that you will be met on arrival and shown around the cellars by a highly trained guide in the language of your preference.

Taylor Fladgate

The experience of walking the cobblestone path to Taylor’s is like being sent back in time. One of the oldest and better-known port producers in the country, this place is a must-visit. Tour their lodge and enjoy premium port tastings in their garden. It’s a beautiful place to sip, savour and learn about one of the industry’s most influential brands.

Taylor Fladgate

The serene garden at Taylor’s Port House, set within Vila Nova de Gaia, is a perfect place to sip and relax.

Quinta do Noval

More of a converted wine shop than an actual lodge with cellars, Quinta do Noval is noteworthy because it’s a brand that is widely recognized for producing some of the most prestigious vintage ports in the world, and you can taste many of them right here in Gaia.

Dining at its finest

Vinum

Located at the Graham’s Port Lodge, which is situated nicely at a bend in the river, Vinum Restaurant has a particular vantage point that provides beautiful views that look out toward the Dom Luís I Bridge. With roots in Portuguese and Basque cuisines, Vinum offers modern interpretations of traditional dishes. The dining experience revolves around wines produced by Graham’s, the Symington family, and the finest wine producers from around the world.

Rabelos

Located in the middle of the Gaia pier and with a privileged view over the Douro River, the Rabelos Restaurante Bar offers a wonderful gastronomic experience, complete with personalized service within an elegant vintage-style atmosphere. Typical dishes of the region and the signature cuisine make this a reference space for all those who wish to embark on a unique journey through Portuguese flavours.

Vila Nova de Gaia
Barão Fladgate

Located within the WOW cultural quarter and situated high enough to provide a spectacular view of the city, this restaurant offers a contemporary interpretation of traditional cuisine where the accent is on fresh local ingredients and on showcasing the authentic flavours of Portugal. The wine list features a wide variety of labels from the main Portuguese vineyard areas, and as would be expected, a comprehensive choice of both wood-aged and vintage ports.

Stay at the Yeatman Hotel

No wine escape to Porto and Vila Nova de Gaia is complete without turning in for a few nights at the Yeatman Hotel, a venue designed with wine at its core. Named for one of Portugal’s long-established port families, the Yeatman is a luxury establishment dedicated to promoting the best of Portugal’s viticultural industry. Nestled along the ridgeline of Vila Nova de Gaia, the hotel is home to a full-service Caudalie Vinothérapie Spa, 82 tastefully decorated guestrooms, and one of the most impressive wine cellars in the country.

The Yeatman Hotel

The hotel bar offers an impressive list of Portuguese wines by the glass, and the uber-impressive, double Michelin star Gastronomic Restaurant features weekly wine dinners. Enjoy sunsets with a glass of wine in the decanter-shaped infinity pool overlooking the Douro River. It’s the ultimate wine lover’s accommodation that you truly won’t ever want to leave.

 

– Carmelo Giardina is the Principal Editor at VineRoutes

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