Set aside the Douro River, Porto—Portugal’s second city—is one of the most eclectic destinations in Europe. With its Medieval architecture, it’s defining Dom Luis I Bridge (designed by the engineer and disciple of Gustave Eiffel, Teófilo Seyrig) and Art Nouveau cafes, there’s something for everyone.
History buffs will fall for it charm – check out the Lello Bookshop with its amazing Neo-Gothic interiors, or head to the São Bento railway station to see the 20,000 tiles that decorate its walls. Foodies will be in their element – from the Mercado do Bolhão food market to the many port wine lodges (on the Gaia side of the river) – this city just keeps giving to those with a serious appetite for culinary finds.
A highlight of the city is The Yeatman Hotel. With the only two-Michelin-starred restaurant in the city, and extensive cellars, it not only offers gastronomic highs but is also regarded as one of Europe’s leading wine hotels.
Passionate about Portuguese wine as he is about Porto and the surrounding wine estates, owner and CEO of The Yeatman, Adrian Bridge, has been instrumental in putting the city in the spotlight. He is also CEO of The Fladgate Partnership, which owns the Taylor’s, Fonseca and Croft Port houses. Its latest project is The World of Wine, a 30,000m2 space that will incorporate a museum on the history of Porto, a museum on the cork industry, a wine school, a slow food restaurant and events space, along with nine further restaurants, a retail area, and a fashion and design museum to celebrate the textile industry of northern Portugal. It is due to open in 2020.
Here, Adrian Bridge talks to me about Porto, and the exciting times ahead.
Tell us what you love about Porto?
I love the fact that Porto is unique – still showing its Roman and Medieval faces to the world. It has an extraordinary history and yet has been by-passed by much of the destruction of Europe that occurred in the 20th century. It is compact, safe and has welcoming people, most of whom can speak English if needed – Portuguese is a tough language!
What’s the best thing about living in Porto?
This is an exciting time to be here because we are writing the future of this ancient town which reaches back to pre-Roman times. Being able to help shape that is an honour. However, the charm of the city is infectious and gives energy. I can travel to many parts of the world then easily come back to Porto to recharge and refresh.
Do you have three insider addresses that are ‘must-sees’ in the city and which are off the usual tourist paths?
I live on the south side of the river, in amongst the Port lodges. I often walk the river path on this side and is such a delight.
If you have the energy then climb the 222 steps to the top of the Clerigos Tower to be rewarded by an amazing view. There is a small shop just below the tower which sells an amazing local snack called Pastais de Bacalhau – salted cod and mountain cheese made into a delicious snack.
The Fladgate Partnership seems to have been instrumental in putting the spotlight on Porto as a destination. Is this an important factor for you or are you concerned that an increased level of tourism will change its charm?
We have worked hard to raise awareness of this extraordinary city, and the Douro Valley beyond, because it is special and authentic. Yes, sharing it will cause some change inevitably but this is not a ‘volume’ tourist destination. The charm comes from the people, the ambience, the architecture and the true sense of place. Many of the scruffy, run down or ruined buildings are being renovated; they are not being torn down and replaced with modern structures. Tourism is a business that provides many jobs, creates pride in the population about themselves and their city so I look at these as strong positives.
Tell us about the World of Wine and what you want to achieve with the project?
The World of Wine will be developed on a site in Vila Nova de Gaia on the southern banks of the River Douro. It will be built on land owned by Fladgate, that is currently filled with empty warehouses just beneath our hotel The Yeatman. There are strategic reasons to complete this project: to give people more to do in our city, to encourage them to stay longer, see and learn more and maybe come in our quieter winter months. We are lucky to have old warehouses in the centre of the city that can be put to alternative use – so few cities in the world have this genuine opportunity to build in the centre of historic areas without damaging all that is special about the heart of the city. We will offer a number of exciting attractions that will open the eyes and minds of our visitors and create lasting experiences. I guess what I want to achieve is more of what I set out to do with The Yeatman – to make ambassadors: ambassadors for our city, our culture, our history, our food and our special wines.
Portuguese wine and port seem to be under the shadow of French, Italian and New World labels – do you think this is changing and why?
Port often has a specific consumption moment – with dessert or as dessert. This is widely appealing and a perfect way to round off a meal. Portuguese table wine is typically consumed during the meal. French and Italian wines are always served in French and Italian restaurants – there is a gastronomic tradition which leads the wine choice. Although Portugal has a rich culinary history there are not many Portuguese restaurants so consumers have had less exposure to the Portuguese wines. This will change but it takes time.
Port used to have a rather old fashioned image? How has this changed over the past few years?
This year, 2017, we celebrate 325 years as Taylor’s Port, which is an extraordinary feat. This suggests that Port is able to adapt well to many generations and the reason for this is that it tastes good. Yes, the packaging is updated periodically but not too much as one of the appeals of Port is that it is authentic, aspirational and has a style for everyone. In recent years, consumers have been discovering the breadth available, from Premium Ruby to Vintage, from dry white to Aged Tawny and from Pink to Late Bottled Vintages.
You recently opened The Vintage House hotel in the Douro Valley. How does it differ to The Yeatman?
The Yeatman is a sophisticated, luxury hotel with a wonderful theme of celebrating Port, Porto, Portuguese wine and Portugal. When I built it I wanted it to be the best hotel in town but also a reference for quality, both nationally and internationally. It stands alongside the best hotels of the world.
The Vintage House is a rural hotel. Yes, it has luxury and sense of place, but is more rustic and provides a good insight to the agricultural way of life in our vineyard area.
The Yeatman is an oasis in a beautiful, busy city and The Vintage House is a riverside haven amongst the most beautiful vineyard region in the world.
What’s next for Fladgate, Porto and the port industry in general?
The Fladgate Partnership is busy bringing great quality specialty Ports to the world and bringing the world to the special place of Porto and the Duroo. We will do more of both. We have been here 325 years through Taylor’s Port, the partnership’s founding brand and we will aim to pass this legacy on to future generations. We share our Port with consumers in 102 markets of the world and our Port makes special moments for many people, that is a privilege and an honour to make Ports that can touch people’s lives.