Earlier today you were introduced to the francesinha, which is really more of a single-plate smorgasbord than a sandwich. I had the opportunity to taste the giant, cheesy, meat-stuffed delicacy when I visited Porto in 2010, although I had no idea at the time that what I was eating was the signature dish of the city. It was only about a year later (around the time I finally digested the francesinha) when I was reading an article about Porto that I realized I had devoured a true piece of Portuguese culinary culture.
My trip to Porto only lasted four days, and was only booked as an interim destination that had the cheapest flights back to Paris from the Iberian Peninsula — it was a stopover, if you will. Having little to no prior knowledge of the region before arriving, I wasn’t expecting much from Northern Portugal. It is surprising, then, that I consider Porto to be one of the most amazing places I have ever been.
Unlike tourist-favorite Lisbon, Porto has a beauty that you seem to stumble upon rather than get slapped in the face with. This is perhaps best displayed by the examples of azulejo scattered throughout the city. Azulejo is a popular form of ceramic tile work that constitutes an important part of Portuguese architecture, and can be found extensively throughout Portugal as well as Spain. But in Porto, you find azulejo sprouting up between medieval structures like clusters of rare sapphire growing from stone. One minute you’re walking along a drab gray wall, and upon turning a corner you’re suddenly face-to-face with a sprawling tiled façade depicting some great event in Portuguese history.
Even more surprising than happening upon the azulejo tiling is the experience of entering the Igreja de São Francisco. From the outside, this structure looks like any other Gothic church, and by that I mean it looks like it’s going to be damp and drafty and full of Catholic guilt. But instead of a sudden need to go to confession, what you get upon entering the church is an eyeful of one of the most ornate examples of Baroque architecture in all of Portugal. Gilded wood carvings called talha dourada snake around the Gothic pillars as if the entire place was hosed down by Midas himself, and the effect is breathtaking. Overall, the Igreja de São Francisco is the perfect symbol for Porto: unassuming and slightly homely from a distance, but freaking mind-blowingly awesome once you’re in the middle of it.
Over the next few weeks I will be writing more about my time spent in Porto, but for now I leave you with some photos of azulejo around the city, as well as a look inside the deceptively beautiful Igreja de São Francisco. Enjoy, freaks.