Monday 27 December 2010

Porto Center, Portugal Running Route

Click here for route map
Length: 5.7 km (3.5 miles), terrain hilly

For more running routes, see Route List.

Talk about a city with character: Porto (also often called Oporto) has a quality all its own, with its ancient alleyways zig-zagging their way down the steep hillsides to the Douro River with its ancient granite quayside full of restaurants and cafés. Then there's the river itself, with the gigantic metallic bow of the Dom Luis bridge arching across the water to Gaia on the other side, with its quai lined with wooden port-wine boats (barcos rabelos), and the hillsides covered with port-wine cellars.
View of the Dom Luis bridge, with the monestary on the other side of the Douro
The main word I would use for Porto would be "fascinating". The second main word would be "steep". I hope you like doing hill-work. Of course, there are routes up along the north side of the city where you don't have to run down to the river, but they avoid all the most interesting stuff that makes Porto what it is.

Here is a route, while not really very long, has a lot of variety and, due to one long uphill section, provides a good workout.

Porto Center Route
We'll start out at the City Hall (Camara Municipal), located in the heart of the downtown, with the Aliados metro station. Stand out front in the big open plaza, the Praca da Liberdade, and look around. The wide boulevard stretches away southwards with the plaza in the middle, downhill towards the old town and the river. But rather than run straight down the Avenue dos Aliados, we'll take the first side-street to the left, Rua Formosa, and run through some lively smaller streets.

In just 2 blocks you come to the Bolhao market on your left. I like to wander through a bit of the market, to experience this really typical Portugese slice of life. You can come out at the next exit down the block on Formosa. In just one more block, you'll come to Porto's main pedestrian street, Rua de Santa Catarina, where we'll turn right.

After 2 blocks the street opens up into a plaza, with the Santos Ildefonso church. The last houses on either side of the street (Latina book shop) before the plaza are really cool! Run through the plaza until the Batala cinema is on your left, and turn diagonally to your right, past the Mercure Hotel, down the Rua de Cimo de Vila. The street ends at a newly re-developed open space, with the cathedral, Se, across on the other side.

Run up the cobblestone driveway to the cathedral, and a big plaza opens up on a big terrace in front of the main entrance, with the bishop's palace along the south side. You have a great view over the city from the edge. Directly in front of the cathedral, a ramp goes down to the little alleyway below. We'll go down there and wind our way down the hill to the river. The ancient houses are amazing. A lot of them have been restored, but most have not been yet, giving the neighborhood a feel for how Porto has been for centuries, like a living time-warp.

Just keep going downhill and you can't go wrong. The church of San Lourenco is just on the next level down, and the Rua de Santana alley winds past it. This alleyway is so narrow you can't swing a cat in it! It ends by running into the Rua de Bainharia, where you turn left and keep going downhill. The street makes a left-turn and becomes the Rua dos Mercadores. Follow this street all the way down to the river.

At the river, the street opens into a plaza full of cafés and tables, and the tour boats lining the river. This is definitely the scenic hangout for Porto.
Porto riverfront houses
Standing at the river, you can see where we'll continue the run: we'll go to the left, past all the waterfront cafés, restaurants and pubs to the Dom Luis bridge, cross the bridge on the lower level, then run to the right along the other shore. Then, almost directly across from where you are now standing, you'll turn left and run uphill into the Gaia neighborhood, curving to the left to end up at the big monastery and park on the hill at the top level of the bridge. We'll cross the bridge back again, along the top.

So off we go, turning left to run towards the bridge. You actually have a choice: either run along the water or up over the lower restaurants along the raised walkway on top of the granite city walls. In a few minutes, you'll be at the bridge, where you cross the Douro River.

On the other side, you turn right and run along the water again. There are a lot of port-wine cellars through the whole neighborhood, which you can tour later. The old wooden barges along the riverside are also interesting. You'll pass several of the cellars.

(NOTE: I did the tour at Sandeman, which I can definitely recommend. I shared a wine-tasting table with a bunch of tourists stranded there when their flights were cancelled because of the Islandic volcanic eruption, much to their delight. And to think that the British government was sending the Royal Navy to pick them up! I think the rescue attempt would have been mightily repulsed by these happy strandees.)

When you see the Sandeman building on the plaza on the left, turn left and run up the little side street, Rua dos Reis. After just a block from the tourists along the water, this street becomes amazingly original, with hole-in-the-wall businesses for the locals and wash hanging to dry from the balconies.
The riverside in Gaia
At the first real turn to the left, on Rua de Baroca, turn left and start going uphill. This is the hardest part of the run, also the trickiest to follow. But no worries, as long as you can keep running uphill, you'll get there. If you end up going downhill, you'll just end up back at the river again.

Baroca makes a sharp left turn after less than 100 meters. Soon after, you will see a stone stairway going up along the right side. Take the stairs, which lead you to the next highest street, Rua Torres. Almost directly across the street on Torres, to the right, you'll see another stairway going up. Take that one, too.

This brings you to the street Calcada de Serra, which you'll follow uphill to the left. After 150 meters, you'll see another stairway going up on the right. Take that stairs and you will find yourself on Rua Rocha Leao, with its hilltop Jardim do Morro park. A footpath into the park is just across the street. The park is nice, and deserves a loop, going to the top of the hill for a nice view, then run south through the park (your back to the river). You now have all the worst hill-climbing behind you.

You exit the park at the main street, the Avenue da Republica, with its metro-line streetcars. This is the main north-south street into Gaia, going over the top level of the Dom Luis bridge from central Porto. But we'll take one more scenic detour, and cross the street and go up the ramp to the monestary, across from the park (look for the "Monumento" sign). You end up at a large plaza on the terrace in front of the round monestary church. There is also a military museum behind it.
View of the Porto old town from Gaia
So enjoy the view, and run back down the ramp, turn right and run over the Dom Luis bridge and keep going straight on the other side. You'll run past the cathedral to your left, and then the Sao Beno train station on your right side. This station has famous azulejo blue-tiled murals on the walls, which are worth ducking inside to view. Just past the station, on Rua de 31 de Janeiro, turn left and you will immediately be in the Praca da Liberdade, leading back up to the City Hall and your starting place.

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