Laurent Vella/Courtesy Relais & Chateaux
Top 10 European Cities for Smart Splurges
THE DRAW Porto, Portugal’s second-largest city, does not attract tourist traffic like Lisbon, but it does offer as much exquisite food and significant architecture, and prices tend to be lower for just about everything than in other European cities. Unesco designated the city’s historic center a World Heritage site in 1996, and over the last decade new, iconic buildings have joined the landscape, such as the Rem Koolhaas-designed concert hall, Casa da Música (www.casadamusica.com), and the Serralves Museum of Contemporary Art (www.serralves.pt), designed by the country’s most celebrated architect, Álvaro Siza.
DON’T MISS The fashionable Foz do Douro neighborhood, where the Douro River meets the Atlantic and great shopping meets the city’s burgeoning restaurant scene. After dining at Foz Velha (www.fozvelha.com), one can do some late-night browsing; stores stay open until midnight.
WHEN TO GO In summer, towns in northern Portugal like Porto stay cooler than, say, Lisbon. The São João Festival, on June 23, is the country’s liveliest street party.
WHERE TO STAY Overnighting at the newly renovated 18th-century Palacio do Freixo (www.pousadas.pt) is a smart splurge, especially for those who appreciate opulent architecture, modern-day amenities, and excellent views. The former palace is a new member of the Pousadas of Portugal association of state-run hotels in historic buildings. Many of its 87 rooms and suites overlook the Douro River. An alternative is the riverside Pestana Porto (www.pestana.com), located in the historic city center.
COMBINE WITH A cruise along the river to the Alto Douro wine region, which is known for its port and considered one of the oldest wine regions in the world, on a traditional flat-bottomed rabelo sailboat (www.dourocruises.com).