Tag Archives: porto
September 6, 2012

Porto revisited + staying at possibly the world’s best hostel

 

 

I came to Porto 8 years ago.

 

It feels now like a different lifetime ago.

 

I was visiting after a friends wedding in Vigo across the border in Spain.

I had got a cheap Ryanair flight back to London from Porto.

I was staying the one night.

 

Naturally, after a crazy, big fat Galician wedding ( like all good Spanish weddings you eat, drink and dance till you burst into a million pieces ) I had little reserve in the tank.

Just enough for a ramble. No guidebook required.

I came just an hour before sunset.

Dumping my bag. I went for my ramble around the warren of cobbled streets that snake from its port wine cellars beside the iconic Dom Luis bridge and lazy Douro river.

 

 

Porto- Fading but haunting grandeur makes this one of my favourite cities in the world..

 

 

There was an air of dilapidation around most of the buildings in the port area.

It was very quiet. Not a soul in sight.

 

 

The buildings had been standing silent for centuries.

The plaster was peeling off in places to expose the inner brickwork.

 

 

 

Unloved. Is the word that came to my mind.

Unloved, yet still regal, many of the buildings were proudly adorned with the beautiful ceramic hand painted tiles- azulejos.

Each azulejo, shares a story.

Each azulejo is a portal to a life of Porto’s grand past as a naval, maritime superpower.

 

Walking around Porto, bathed in the melancholy fading sun at sunset- there are fewer more memorable experiences in life.

 

8 years on, Porto still has the air of fading grandeur.

Of a city that still steals and lives off its past glories.

 

However, this time I feel there is more a sense of renewal and energy around the place.

New chic cafes with free wifi, great coffee and awesome cakes , catering to the hipster crowds.

 

 

 

Old decaying wine cellars with white marble floors, vaulted ceilings and beautiful chandeliers have become the subterranean, nocturnal refuge of the city’s young, brash and beautiful people.

 

I’m staying at the Gallery Hostel , Portugal’s hottest new luxury hostel.

 

 

The hostel is excellent poster boy of the stunning metamorphosis that Porto has undergone.

Formerly, a 18th century villa owned by a member of the local aristocracy, the place has been restored to its former glory by two friends.

 

They had the unique idea of creating a modern, design hostel that could also function an art gallery.

 

Twice a month, the hostel opens its doors to the public.

 

When I visited in April, there was an exhibition from a local photographer.

 

 

Huge, colourful prints on canvas set against the whitewashed walls, juxtaposed against the gleaming, polished wooden floors.

 

Walk with me-Let me give you a sense of orientation of the place.

The moment you walk into the building to the right is a cosy reception room.

Straight ahead is the long narrow corridor with the exhibition.

Walking through the corridor, to my right is a computer room for guests, replete with gigantic Apple Mac desktops and also a well stocked library, packed with books about the local history of the city and maps.

 

 

 

Further ahead you come to an opening with skylight- love this part of the building

To the right , you have a staircase that winds down to the lower level of the building.

Tucked beneath the staircase is this very cool, open plan bar with lots of comfy cushions and seats to sink into after a long day roaming the streets of Porto.

 

 

 

 

Beside it is a living room with huge comfy sofas and a projector screen where they show movies plus from time to time local football derbies.

Plus they have a karaoke machine. Yup. Karaoke machine. Awesome.

 

Straight on from the bar to the right is a glass enclosed seating area where smokers congregate.

Beyond that you have the kitchen cum dining area.

Beautiful space.

You get an awesome breakfast buffet spread that would not look out of place in a 5 star hotel.

 

Dinner at Gallery Hostel: Delicious Caldo Verde, perfect for a cold Spring night

 

 

Plus in the evenings, you can choose to dine with the guests and sample some great, authentic cuisine typical of the local area. The meals are cooked by the hostel’s very own Brazilian chef. It’s the kind of food your mother in law would make, that good. Meals come to 10 euros and include dessert and also copious amount of wine.

 

Beyond the kitchen, you have the hostel’s little own garden and facing them a bunch of private rooms.

Above the rooms, there is a sunlounger terrace where guests can chill and soak in the sun.

 

I’m staying in one of the 6 bed dorms.

It’s well spaced out and each room comes with it’s own ensuite bathroom ( stellar power shower) plus you even have a private balcony to sit outside and enjoy with fellow travellers and friends.

 

At just 18 euros a night, it’s a steal. The doubles come in around the 50 euro mark.

I am only here for 2 nights but I easily could have stayed at least a week.

 

When it comes to hospitality , Gallery Hostel excels.

It partly can be attributed to the owners training at Lausanne where the best go to learn the art of hospitality.

It’s one area where I know hostels excel but truly, at the Gallery, each guest is looked after with great care.

 

Being a small, boutique hostel, they can afford to offer that almost one-to-one attention.

It’s hard work but so far they seem to have managed to create a place that marries the old world charm that Porto is famous for with great, modern design and comfort plus a liberal sprinkle of charm and hospitality for good measure.

 

You leave the place, intoxicated and already dreaming of your next visit.

I loved the Gallery Hostel, probably of all the luxury hostels I have visited so far on this trip , my favourite.

 

I recommend visiting while it’s still relatively unknown and has not been discovered by the Lonely Planet….

 

 

May 8, 2012

Video Review: Gallery Hostel, Porto

 

Earlier last month, I got the chance to stay at the amazing Gallery Hostel in Porto.

 

It’s a unique hostel in the sense that it functions as a Art Gallery and has regular exhibitions for the locals every month.

I’ll be publishing a full in-depth review soon but in the meantime, enjoy the video which will hopefully give you a nice feel of what this amazing hostel is like.

 

 

 

April 18, 2012

Luxury Hostel Life: Forget the smartphone dinner & sample local cuisine with the guests

Traveling solo presents a range of challenges.

Like eating dinner by myself.

 

I remember the first time.

I was in Inverness, Scotland on a work trip, few years ago where I had decided to check out Hootenanny- a local bar that does great live music and also serves lip smacking Thai food.

Remember: These were in the days before social media, so no phone to fiddle with and try look busy.

 

Just an old magazine to flick through and a dull, boring holiday cottage brochures to get me through the meal.

It do not help that the place was packed – one family and a lot of couples.

 

Warning: I think Wednesday is date night in Inverness.

 

Food got served after what seemed an eternity.

 

Once I could not stand looking at the pictures of the cottages, I finally looked around and everyone seemed to be looking lovingly at each other.

 

I felt I had stumbled into in an orgy of happiness.

I passed some of the time, people watching.

 

I cannot lipread but….you know that feeling when you’re in a crowd on your own and everyone looks animated, silvery sound of laughter ringing in your ears.

Everyone seems to be saying something deeply funny or profoundly interesting.

 

I never remember eating dinner more quickly.

 

Spot the single one: Smartphone at dinner

 

Times have changed since.

Nowadays, I have a smartphone.

I’m such a social being :)

 

I read football news. Watch football. Read tweets. Edit pictures.

While eating.

 

You can tell who’s solo/single with the row of heads, embarrased,  craning down, looking at their smartphones, trying to look busy in a restaurant.

Thanks to the smartphone, we don’t feel that lonely or embarrassed eating solo anymore I guess.

We are anti-social and social at the same time.

 

However at some of the Luxury Hostels I’ve stayed in: Gallery Hostel in Porto and Oasis Lisbon thankfully you don’t need the smartphone excuse at dinner anymore.

They have the wonderful tradition of cooking dinner for the guests.

Cost: 10 euros with few glasses of wine included in the price.

 

Dinner at the hostel : Meet the hostel guests over great food and a glass of wine

 

The dishes , served are typical of the region and country.

 

Dinner at Gallery Hostel: Delicious Caldo Verde, perfect for a cold Spring night

 

At Gallery Hostel in Porto, on the first night I had Caldo Verde- a wonderful, earthy traditional Portuguese soup with spring greens and some chorizo for added flavour.

 

Portuguese Duck- 'Arroz De Pato' was amazing

 

On the second night there we had ‘Arroz De Pato’ – Portuguese Duck Rice, where the duck is baked in a bed of rice with some chorizo and local goats cheese grated on top for flavour.

 

Not only was I eating some great food, the evening dinner offered a great opportunity to meet other guests within the hostel.

 

Over a few glasses of excellent port wine that was served with the meal, many new friendships were formed.

 

In the end, one of the lasting memorable impressions I take away from these hostels is the people, characters you meet and moments like this.

 

Stella: Architect, great chef and a woman of many expressions...

 

For example, I met Stella in Oasis Lisbon: An Puglia native who is an architect in Lisbon but comes along 3 times a week to cook in the hostel kitchen.

 

She cooked for us a dish of bacalhao (salted cod) in a béchamel sauce with pasta.

Was a great meal.

Given that she has a secure, well paid job, I was curious to know why she cooks in a hostel kitchen. Definitely not for the money.

 

She replied it was the pleasure of cooking and sharing food with the people in the hostel.

For her, cooking the meal was a social outlet and a great way to meet people.

 

For me food has always been about sharing and bring people together.

When you’re away from home, having a wonderful meal with lots of wine with lots of happy travellers in an a beautiful city….

If that is not luxury……..

 

 

In Porto, I stayed at the Gallery Hostel where you can get bed in a 6 bed dorm for as little as £20 per night, or a double (ensuite) for around £50 per night.

Oasis Lisboa , a 18th century mansion converted into a hostel, you can stay as little as £20 a night in the 6 bed dorms or get yourself a double room

 


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