I’ve done a bit of travel, but since I’ve evolved a fantasy nerd following with portraits at Imágemária in recent years, it’s only fitting my travel blogs should take on some of that flavor too. Porto is a prime spot to start as, legend has it, this city grandly inspired J. K. Rowling in many things leading the design for her descriptions of Hogwarts life. You might want to dispute that, no, surely, Scotland and England should be the inspo for Potterthings, but Potter may not have even begun if Rowling hadn’t retreated (as many Brits do to this lovely southern European destination) to Porto.
So we’ll begin with a bang at Livraria Lello. World famous as one of the “Most Beautiful Bookstores in the World”, Rowling spent some time here in pre-Potter days, probably enraptured by the marvelously iconic Lello staircase, which rises to a second level and branches off in four directions from a hovering landing. Staircases that “like to change”? I’ll think so. This bookshop was only built in the late 1800s, a baby compared to the rest of Porto, but whoa! The gothic scrollwork in the wooden details finely screams of Hogwarts. If you’re an art nouveau fan, everything from the exterior to the underside of the stairs is going to enrapture you, too. Just ensure you book a Lello ticket voucher when you go, there’s a line half a block long to enter, and it’s faster with the voucher. If you plan to shop and take pictures, plan your time well. It’s packed!
You better believe I was planning my Patronus shot for over a year in prep for this trip.
Porto Riverfront: The Douro
Let’s get down to the travel draw of Porto: the riverfront. The Douro River separates Porto in halves, and up and down the riverfront is filled with rich living, tourist entertainment, restaurants, wine valleys and iconic views of Porto. The Luís I Bridge, if it looks a little Eiffel, is because it is also a design by Gustave Eiffel (of Tower fame).
Check out the “Harry Potters”. This is what the locals call the students of Coimbra University, whose traditional dress looks a curious lot like the Hogwarts uniform, but they’re not in cosplay. Another Rowling inspo, this traditional dress has been around for like 500 years. Found this group of gals enjoying riverside delights on a Friday afternoon, and the previous photo is a portrait of a Fado folk music singer at Fado na Baixa.
Igreja Monumento de São Francisco
Ok, if you want Gothic, Monument Church of St. Francis is THEE most laden, gothic church I have Ever seen, in person or in pictures. My! Lord! This excessive feat was built in the 1200s and finished in the Renaissance. But wait, there’s more. In addition to the most decked out gothic church you’ve ever seen, there are catacombs containing the bodies of the Franciscans who lived here, and it is one legit crypt! Tombs lie shelved along the walls and also tile the floor, creating the very pathway you must walk to explore. Oh yes, THEE best creepy creaks of that old wood as you stroll. There’s no thematic design going on here (says the person from Orlando), it’s just old and authentic. Nothing is keeping a person from, say, jimmying an umbrella handle into these wooden tombtop panels and seeing what’s next. How crazy is that! This site is not the most elaborate ossuary you’ll find in Europe (which is full of boneyards if you know where to find them), but the glass floor plate granting visage to piles of bones beneath the floor was a pretty nice touch after walking across the graves of Franciscans. This was one of my favorite stumble-upons in Porto. I almost said to myself, “you’ve seen one decked out church, you’ve seen ‘em all.” No.
Side Trip to Guimarães
This site is a MUST to highlight as Guimarães is Portugal’s oldest village and still maintains that really old world charm. This medieval town is about an hour’s train ride from Porto and seats the Ducal Palace and Guimarães Castle, both of which are awesome little adventures to go on, and they’re literally a lawn away from each other. The city center and metro Guimarães are also quite quaint and colorful.
Ducal Palace, for the regal and the Baroque
Guimarães Castle, for the knights and kings (and swallows with coconuts)
My wand, please. Thank you, Raven.
My earlier trip to Southern Portugal discovered me the joy in finding azulejo design in all things architectural. The blue tile art is a cultural staple borrowed from the decadence of Moorish influence in the southern part of the country, and I’ve only so far seen this in Portugal. It’s so gorgeous!
Enjoy continuous non-boring skips in and out of São Bento train station.
While we’re on architecture, a few more gorgeous stumble-upons in Porto, including The Majestic Cafe, another Rowling spot where it is mused she collected ideas for Harry Potter upon napkins:
Here’s my submission for Accidentally Wes Anderson.
Side Trip to Braga
Another train ride about an hour north of Porto will take you to Braga, another charming, medieval town with all the old churches you could ever want to admire. The real draw to Braga though was Bom Jesus do Monte, a mazelike series of geometrically astounding staircases leading up to a sanctuary in the mountains. We found it more amazing to start at the top and work down, passing a Rio de Janeiro like Jesus on the Mountain, and then gazing back up at the workout of stairs you just came down. Such views!
Treats to Ensure You Enjoy!
I’m not a foodie so expect no such meal delights here. Actually my thing is BREAD, and oh my gosh, nothing beats European bread. With no preservatives, no pesticides and different flours with less gluten than we’re used to in U.S., enjoy the breadthings to your digestive delight, certainly! Most of what I ate in Porto was sandwiches (on awesome bread), espresso (with sides of awesome bread) and a couple of their signature bacalhau fish dishes, but the espressos and pastries were photo worthy. Porto’s famous Port wine is also of note! Not a wineaux, but the wine was wonderful. The Portuguese have a fanciful thing for a billion ways to make sardines amazing, so I have to throw in this shot from a fancy sardines shop. The rest, coffee and pastries. Enjoy!
Manda is an Orlando-based fantasy portrait photographer who aspires to retire in Europe and take Medieval effects portraits for travelers, and travel the world exploring sites filmed for famous movies.