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(Re)see Porto and northern Portugal

Porto, whose main points of interest we presented in a previous report, has long maintained, including in the minds of its visitors, a rivalry with Lisbon, about 300km away. As picturesque… and steep as the capital, Porto has a human-sized dimension (approximately 250,000 inhabitants, nearly two million for the agglomeration) which makes it a “soft” destination, more focused on leisure than its rival: the edges of the Douro are calmer and less populated than those of the Tagus! As far as the cost of living is concerned, if the prices remain generally lower than those practiced in France, they tend to be equivalent for certain tourist attractions, shopping or high-end hotel establishments. On the transport side, with the exception of the old tram reserved for tourists, the “light metro” which serves the main districts is wheelchair accessible, with visual and sound information in the stations and inside the trains; it has just been recognized by the European Union as part of the Access City Award 2022. Ditto for buses. The Porto Card allows unlimited use and free access to certain museums. Finally, for who can take them, legal taxis can also be useful and inexpensive, especially to go up some otherwise prohibitive slopes…

Between Douro River and Port Wine

Because there is no shortage of sublime views of the city, the river and the ocean in Porto, the most “classic” (but not the highest) being that offered from the upper floor of the famous Dom- Luís, masterpiece due to a disciple of Gustave Eiffel, which crosses the Douro to reach the district of Vila Nova de Gaia.

From there, you can take an urban cable car, accessible on one level, which runs along the most spectacular part of the river: the trip is short but it is worth the price! You can then, from the quays, enjoy a beautiful panorama on the other bank and will be spoiled for choice to taste the famous nectar which, for centuries, has made the reputation of the city. Most of the big houses have developed concepts combining, in all accessibility, presentation of the vineyard, of the vintages, tasting with, sometimes, fado as a bonus.

Museography of the Cálem cellars ©

Special mentions to Cálem (museography modernized in 2017) and Porto Cruz who take particular care with their welcome, the roof terrace of the latter also offering, especially in the evening, an overview of the particularly photogenic city. The same is true, further up the hill, from the huge terrace of the aptly named WOW, a recent complex integrating restaurants, cafes, wine bars and no less than seven ultra-modern interactive museums on the hillside: enough to spend several days, as a couple or as a family, but at prices that are more Parisian than Portuguese…

Porto from Vila Nova de Gaia ©

In addition to the traditional and equally photogenic rabelos used to transport barrels, the Douro is traveled by a few ships, some of which (this one for example) offer cruises accessible to passengers with reduced mobility. At the nearby marina, the nautical club organizes sailing sessions adapted to all types of handicaps: do not hesitate to contact them to discover the river and the coast in a different light.

Recital at Fado na Baixa ©

And when the day goes down, in Portugal, comes the time of fado: there is no shortage of addresses where to listen to it (“live” it would be a more appropriate term), some more hackneyed than others, but the quality is almost always present: fado is sacred! Outside the Cálem house mentioned above, you can learn about this art in the small room of Fado na Baixa, accessible on one level (although via a steep street), where local artists perform. You will learn, among other things, to differentiate the guitar of Lisbon from that of Coimbra, and shudder with saudade, whatever your level in Portuguese! The place has accessible restrooms.

Clerigos tower from the cathedral ©

And to complete this Portuguese stopover in music, if your steps have taken you to the emblematic monument of Porto, the Clerigos Tower (Torre dos Clérigos) where you have been able, thanks to an elevator, to visit museographic spaces mainly dedicated to the religious art and, if you cannot access it in a wheelchair, discover the highest panorama of the city thanks to interactive screens, do not forget to ask that we open you access to the baroque church where concerts of are given every day at 6 p.m.: the saudade, here, takes on another tone!

In the Minho

Heading due north: an hour’s drive from Porto, Viana do Castelo is a port city full of charm where strolling through the old center, lively and easily passable in a wheelchair, is pleasant in all seasons. The Costume Museum and the Decorative Arts Museum, both accessible, are very rich.

Sanctuary of the Sacred Heart of Jesus ©

Located at the mouth of the Lima River, which is crossed here by a real Eiffel bridge, the city is dominated by the imposing neo-Byzantine silhouette of the sanctuary of the Sacred Heart of Jesus (also called Saint Lucia, named after the original church and the hill on which it is located) from where you can enjoy an extraordinary view of the coast. The building, accessible by ramp, does not fail to impress. Adapted toilets are available next to the shop. Easy parking. For pedestrians, a funicular, also accessible to people with reduced mobility, provides access from the city: it is the longest in Portugal.

Viana do Castelo Funicular ©

Upstream of the river, the medieval city of Ponte de Lima, an important stop on the Portuguese way of Santiago (which is still practiced, including in wheelchairs), is famous for the splendid Roman bridge which gave it its name and for its fortnightly market, which has flourished for centuries. Along the walks, many orange trees add their touches of bright color to the edge of the paths. A welcome stopover, wherever you come from!

Ponte de Lima ©
Peneda-Gerês National Park aerial view ©

The vast Peneda-Gerês National Park, the only one in the country, covers the entire region and, beyond in Spain, a part of Galicia. It has been classified as a UNESCO site since 2009. Little known in France, it presents a landscape alternating between torrents, moors and canyons, the cultivable parts having been shaped by man since the dawn of time… up to the current hydroelectric dams.

Mineral in its typical villages (don’t miss the granite community granaries of Soajo), it is not uncommon to come across semi-wild horses among the prehistoric remains, resulting in a fascinating atmosphere, changing over time. year, conducive as much to reverie as to walks: a bit of Scotland or Ireland in the heart of the Iberian Peninsula!

Corn granaries of Soajo ©

Although the park has five information and orientation centres, it is advisable to focus on Porta do Mezio, which is the most accessible and offers, in addition to indoor and outdoor museum spaces, the possibility of observing the stars, as well as only appropriate activities.

Porta do Meizo ©

The Explore Iberia structure, which operates there, has developed them for all types of handicap, from simple discovery of the fauna to hikes with a joëlette: do not hesitate to contact us in order to organize a stay which, no doubt, will be memorable!

Jacques Vernes, December 2021.

On the web, the official Visit Portugal site, a must, is full of information in French on the destination, in particular Porto and the north (also consult this dedicated site) with a section specifically devoted to accessibility. Sensitized to welcoming the disabled public, tourist offices and tourist service providers can generally provide you with information (in French or in English if you are not fortunate enough to speak Portuguese.) You can also consult the powerful search engine of the Tur4all multilingual platform. Finally, do not forget, due to the health crisis, to find out beforehand about the conditions for entering the country and the possible restrictions on access to certain tourist facilities or activities.

Minho landscape ©

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