Porto In A Glass ⏤ From the Douro to Gaia with Maria Maia Manuel
What does it mean to be a local in Vila Nova de Gaia, the historic city south of Porto known as the important exportation hub of Port wines? We spoke with Maria Maia Manuel, the agronomist of Poças Junior, a 100-year-old family-run wine producing company. A local of both the Gaia and the Douro Valley, two regions historically connected through wine, Maria gives us an overview of the many gifts this particular corner of North Portugal has to offer.
“I’m from Gaia but I live in Douro. I have the privilege of working in the region where the wine originates, and I’m from the region that exports it. In the Douro, the landscape is what makes this region special. Every day I discover a different perspective, a different corner of this mountainous region.”
Address: Rua Visconde das Devesas 224, 4401-37 Vila Nova de Gaia, Portugal, and various quintas in Douro.
"In the Douro, the landscape is what makes this region special. Every day I discover a different perspective, a different corner of this mountainous region."
The family owns three estates in the Douro region – Quinta das Quartas, Quinta Sta Barbara, Quinta de Vale de Cavalos – in addition to the head office in Vila Nova de Gaia. The Douro region, full of vertiginous views, barely has an metre of flat land. A UNESCO-protected world heritage site, its topography is challenging to mass wine production but favourable for producing bold reds and whites. Visitors to the Douro will find hotels overlooking dizzying sceneries, optimal wine tasting and dining experiences, and immersive walks.
At the estuary of the Douro river, Gaia has historically been an important wine-exporting region. The Kingdom of Portugal established important trade agreements with foreign nations since the Middle Ages, exchanging wine for the famous salted cod (bacalhau). Throughout the centuries, many foreign merchants settled in Porto, from England in particular, to export the coveted wine from Porto known as Port wine. These days at Poças, a fully Portuguese, family-run business since 1918, visitors can experience a taste of Port history through their guided tour with tasting programmes and workshops.
For the inexperienced, Port wine is a fortified wine that was initially strengthened with brandy to withstand the longer journeys at sea. On the sweeter side, it can be served as a dessert wine; on the dryer side it can be served as an apéritif. These days, it’s not uncommon to enjoy a refreshing apéritif in the form of a white Porto and tonic with ice, lemon zest and orange zest.
Still today, Maria tells us, “the atmosphere around the Port lodges is grand, mystic,” though Gaia also benefits from more privacy. It is a place where you can enjoy the simplicity of life by the sea, where you go to enjoy the quality of life. “As Portuguese, we are happy with sun and good food and good wine.”
The historical and political implications of the region explain why it is rare for a Port-producing business like Poças Junior to be authentic, Portuguese and family-run for a century. We better pay heed to what they have to say...
Maria’s local recommendations
Imagine you are visiting Porto from abroad. Where should you go for a morning coffee? Maria recommends Foz do Porto, where there are many different great cafés by the seaside. Consider washing down your Pastel de nata with a good cup of “cimbalino” (espresso) or “galão” (latte): a typical custard pastry and coffee.
Then, if you wish to further stimulate your senses, visit the nearby
Serralves in Foz, one of the most important cultural institutions inPortugal where the gardens are just as much works of art as those that can be seen through their thoughtfully curated exhibitions (Fundaçao de Serralves, Porto).
What is a local food that is typical? The francesinha, like a sandwich, has cheese, meat and hot sauce. “It’s very typical for us to go out on weekend nights and have a franceschina.”
Finally, have a glass of wine before dinner at one of the numerous bars in the historical centre of Porto. For a local meal, on the other hand, Maria suggests heading back to Gaia, where Restaurant O Zé da Serra serves the most authentic traditional food in a cozy, local atmosphere. Think impeccable fried sardines that somehow manage to still taste fresh, and succulent prawns and garlic with parsley. Eat late, linger at the table over good conversation and enjoy a coffee afterward. It’s common!