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Many people forego the pleasures afforded by the Costa Verde, preferring instead to head straight for the beaches of the Algarve or the literally hundreds of golf courses scattered around the country. But in Porto, Northern Portugal has one of Europe's jewels.
In what is known as the "working city", Porto's citizens will tell you that while Lisbon preens, Porto labours hard to provide for the country. Whether this is as true as it was several centuries ago is open to debate but certainly for years Porto was the centre of Portugal's core industries and was the hub of the Great Age of Discovery. Henry the Navigator was born here and instigated the voyages that led the old world into the new across the globe's oceans.
Straddling the mouth of the River Douro, Porto is something of an acquired taste. Certainly in the UNESCO protected and well-preserved Ribeira the city is beautiful, but elsewhere the hard work of centuries past has taken its toll and buildings are well-worn - if not fully decrepit yet. But this in itself has a certain utilitarian charm that over made-up tourist destinations too often lack. The epitome of this worldliness is Monsieur Eiffel's spectacular bridge that spans the Douro - a heavy iron construction that echoes the Eiffel Tower.
Although overshadowed by vibrant Lisbon for modern exuberance and liveliness Porto has its own character. There is a continental ambience that pervades the daily life of Porto's citizens and although they like to think of themselves as workers, a fair portion of the day is spent in the bars, cafés and restaurants of the city. Of course the city's most famous export is not the most conducive to the work ethic either - the cellars of the Vila Nova de Gaia, the suburb across the river from Porto proper, house literally millions of gallons of the fortified wine that carries the name of the city.
It is surely only a matter of time before people realise there's more to Portugal than its greens and fairways, but for now Porto remains largely unaffected by tourist hordes, apart from those select few in on the secret. Keep it to yourself...
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