Located close to the western coast of Portugal, Porto is its second largest city after the capital Lisbon. Built on the hills that line the River Douro, the city has been inhabited since the 4th century when it was a part of the Roman Empire. Porto has always been a mercantile city and its citizens regard it as the economical heart of Portugal.
Porto enjoys a semi-Mediterranean climate; it’s proximity to the Atlantic Ocean keeps the temperatures from escalating too much through the year, except during the peak of summer when the temperatures can reach as high as 40ºC. Through the rest of the year the temperatures are moderate with occasional rain.
The hilly terrain of Porto makes it an arduous city to explore on foot but the beautiful skyline which is a blend of the medieval and the modern more than makes up for the strain on the feet. With buildings built into the cliff face and then extending into the hills beyond, the city opens up like a pop-up book, waiting to be explored.
The Stage Is Set
“All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players” – Porto’s Hotel Teatro, a member of Design Hotels™, has taken these words by Shakespeare to heart.
The year was 1859, when the doors of the Teatro Baquet were thrown open to the people of Porto. It was the venue for musical programmes and performances and the meeting place for the city’s artists and intelligentsia. But, its glory was short-lived after a fire destroyed it and razed it to the ground.
Almost 122 years later, the Teatro Baquet has been brought back to life in the form of Hotel Teatro. The design of the Hotel pays homage to its predecessor by bringing out the drama of the stage from the moment one enters the hotel. The gilded doors engraved with lines of a poem by Portuguese poet Almeida Garret lead on to the inside where keys may be collected from box-office-like booths.
Bespoke furniture, plush curtains, towering bedposts and the bronze and gold colour palette infuse drama into both the public and private spaces of the Hotel. Dark mood lighting, faces projected on the walls and the use of appropriate accents keep the theatrics alive despite the contemporary ambience.
A cloth banner heralds the existence of the Portuguese Centre of Photography within the expansive, yet drab, structure. It used to house a court and jail before it adopted its new role as a photography museum. While many alterations have been made to suit the requirements of a museum, some of the old features like iron doors and the minimalist interiors remain and in fact, provide the perfect backdrop for the photographic collections.
The museum houses more than 60 collections of which the National Collection of Photography and the Municipal Collection are noteworthy. International photographers who have contributed to the advancement of photography in Portugal are also showcased here. The museum has played a crucial role in reviving the photographic culture of the city.
Not Just For Bookworms
The history of the bookstore, Livraria Lello, goes back by over a century when it was opened by the Lello brothers. The space was frequented by acclaimed authors, was the venue for social gatherings and performances and the library provided for a serene reading atmosphere. The portico of the building with the unique lettering and the carvings hints at the remarkable interiors.
A sprawling red staircase climbs up to a higher red staircase and draws the eye to the stunning Art Deco ceiling and walls. One of the most emblematic bookstores in the world, it is believed to have been the inspiration for J K Rowling’s writings, who frequented the bookstore when she taught English in Porto.
In March 2013, the President of Portugal made a special visit to Porto to inaugurate Graham’s 1890 Lodge. His gesture was symbolic of the role that port wine has played in the rise and development of Portugal. The Lodge which includes a museum, shop, wine bar and restaurant is located in a building atop a hill that overlooks Porto’s old town and the river Douro.
Some of the original authentic features like the pine roof beams and the cast iron pillars have been retained. Black, white and natural timber make up the colour palette. It is apparent from the layout and the design that the idea was to steer away from elements of folklore and instead create an environment that would be minimalist, spacious and inviting.
Text By Himali Kothari