Charmed by Porto's architecture and sights
THE Portuguese city of Porto may not be as much of a tourist magnet as Lisbon, but it's a well-kept secret.
Visitors to the Unesco World Heritage city can look forward to being intoxicated by not only its famed namesake port wine from the Alto Douro wine region, but also by its architectural gems.
My introduction to Porto was a drive along the gleaming Douro river to Foz do Douro, a balmy, sophisticated waterfront avenue.
My driver and host - Mr Antonio Diegues, general manager of bed-and-breakfast guesthouse 4 Rooms - took me past a picturesque setting of gothic, baroque, renaissance and neoclassical buildings ensconced on tall hills overlooking the riverbanks.
The stunning Dom Luis Bridge came into view midway.
This magnificent structure is Porto's landmark and connects the city centre with Vila Nova de Gaia, the locale of port-wine cellars.
One feature of the bridge is its two-level decks: The metro runs on the top deck, while motorists can use the lower one to get between the two areas.
The creative vein of the city pulses through the Miguel Bombarda district, a concentration of contemporary art galleries, design studios, quirky fashion shops and boutique cafes.
It is a good idea to go there late, as the area stirs after 3pm and stays shut most Sundays and Mondays.
One place that's worth a visit is Mundano Objectos. This shop features stuff from all over the world.
There are plenty of bizarre novelty products, ranging from home accessories to toys, along with photography and design books.
Style hounds can drop by Muuda, which stocks an eclectic array of products ranging from fashion to gourmet.
Foz do Douro, a short bus or tram ride from the historic city centre, is Porto's equivalent of an idyllic, posh seaside resort.
This is the most sophisticated part of Porto, home to picturesque houses, well-coiffed gardens and modish boutiques.
According to my host, many architects, British expatriates and the well-to-do have made Foz their home.
Some of the best food in town can be found at restaurant Pedro Lemos, located in an elegant converted house. It has just the right formula: divine food, good ambience and attentive service.
The Portuguese cuisine comes with a creative, modern twist and diners have the choice of ordering the degustation courses or a la carte food.
Prices are fancy, but the discerning hordes of diners, many of them regulars, apparently think it's worth every dime.
My trip was delightful, thanks to Mr Diegues, who is especially helpful to visitors who want to discover this city.
"People are surprised when they come to Porto. They don't expect a lot, and then they end up wishing they had stayed longer," he said.
Rael Yip is a freelance lifestyle writer.