Portugal, Ovar to Porto and the Francesinha

Ovar Railway Station

Like all public buildings in Ovar the train station is decorated completely in blue and white tiles with scenes depicting the railway and regional life from a hundred years or so ago.  This is quite a regular thing to do in Portugal.

In our haste to get to the hotel at Furadouro we had missed them when we arrived three days earlier  but we had a fifteen minute wait now for our train to Porto so we had the opportunity now to take a proper look.  They are a bit damaged, chipped and cracked and faded and in urgent need of repair in some places but they created a nice little diversion while we waited which was a lot more interesting than standing around reading the train timetable.

It took no more than forty minutes to reach the city of Porto and on our final approach to the rail terminus at São Bento the train crossed the River Douro close to the Ponte Do Maria Pia a railway bridge (no longer used by trains) built in 1877 and with a design attributed to Gustave Eiffel.  If we thought the Azulejos at Ovar station were impressive then we were simply in awe of the tiled main entrance hall of São Bento where there are approximately twenty thousand azulejo tiles depicting various historical scenes from Portuguese history.


Late morning in Porto it was hot and busy and I now faced the moment that I had been dreading for the last hour or so when I would have to break the news that the Alvares Cabral Guest House was about a mile away from the railway station.  Kim was not impressed and her mood didn’t improve any when we started to climb a steep hill away from city centre.  There was a lot of complaining and  I confess that I had forgotten that Porto can rival Lisbon for being rather hilly.

The situation improved no end when we found and approved the accommodation and with long walks,  heavy baggage and endless hills forgotten we stepped outside and made our way to the city after taking a detour to find a recommended restaurant for later and a stop for a drink in a busy little market square still some way from the city centre.

Our plan was not to try to do too much today, after all we had been to Porto before, twice, so we didn’t feel that we needed to rush our return visit.  Despite this we found ourselves being drawn ever further down towards the River Douro and before we knew it we were at the main tourist area – the Ribiera, once a working class area of Porto but now a thriving tourist honey-pot!

Here there are small shops and traditional bars and cafés side by side with derelict and decrepit buildings with rotting timbers, peeling paint, rusting balconies and tired facades trying in vain to disguise years of neglect and so many washing lines that laundry could almost be a national pastime.  The road channels were grubby and the buildings were grimy but it wasn’t without a certain charm and the defiant message from the residents seemed to be “Come and visit us if you like, we know it’s untidy but this is the way we like it!”

Porto Street Sign Ribiera
Porto Ribiera District

Having almost by accident found ourselves by the river we now faced a long climb back to the hotel.  Next to the most famous bridge of all in Porto, the Ponte Dom Luis I, designed this time by a student of Gustave Eiffel we chanced upon a set of steps which took us back to the top, near the Cathedral and very close to São Bento station from where we would now need to reprise our trek back to the hotel.

Later that day, after we had sat for a while in the garden and rested we made our way to our chosen restaurant. It was an out of the way sort of place but busy with local people so we were encouraged by that and although it seemed quite full the staff hastily rearranged the furniture and found us a table in a cramped but private corner that we shared with some Italian visitors.

The menu was difficult to interpret and the staff struggled to explain it so I resorted to annoying fellow diners and enquiring of them what they had chosen and what they were eating. I forget what we selected but I do know that we enjoyed it.

Unlike the Italians that is because what we didn’t select was the local speciality of Porto, the Francesinha, which is a massive sandwich made with toasted bread, wet-cured ham, smoked sausage and steak and then, if all of that isn’t enough, covered with molten cheese and a hot thick tomato and beer sauce all of which contains an average persons calorie allowance for an entire month – and then some.  I think they had chips with it as well!


Francesinha means Little French Girl in Portuguese and it is said to be an invention in the 1960s of a man called Daniel da Silva, a returned emigrant from France and Belgium who tried to adapt the croque-monsieur to Portuguese taste.  It doesn’t look very much like a croque-monsieur to me, I can tell you!

I rather like a good croque-monsieur  but it has to be in France and it has to look like this…


I tried a Francesinha once on a previous visit to Porto and I vowed then that I would never ever do it again! Quite frankly the only time that I would be forced to consider it is in preference to being tortured by the Russian Secret Service or if I had to make a choice between Francesinha from Portugal or Poutine from Canada.

Which would you choose…?


Other than Francesinha or Poutine which food dish would you nominate to avoid?

Here are some prompts…

Bad Food

62 responses to “Portugal, Ovar to Porto and the Francesinha

  1. Wait . . . if you’d both been there before, why did it come of a surprise there was a climb to the Hotel?

    As for the voting . . . 2345 . . . grits, properly prepared and with some cheese mixed in, shouldn’t be grouped with that other bunch.


  2. I’m chuckling, and I don’t even know what Poutine is? 🙂 🙂 I did try a simple version of the Francesinha, Andrew, which was purely chicken, but Mick waded manfully through one. A little excessive, I have to admit, but the concept does seem to have spread south and you can now get variations in the Algarve. Joy! 🙂 🙂
    Those tiles on Ovar station look lovely. I really must pass through there. And there is something compulsive about the Ribeira. I’ve walked down those steps but cheated and got the lift back up.


  3. Haha…no tripe for me, and Killing Bogs sounds dodgy!!


  4. Never dared try one . . . . . contemplated it but common sense has won every time fortunately, plus Jo’s husband had warned me in advance!!


  5. I love the pictures you use – it’s how I imagine Portugal.


  6. I had francesina a month ago and am still digesting it! Orxata & fartons are a never again for me (though the name did amuse of course!).


  7. Poutine actually tastes better than it looks–but then it would have to, or no one would eat it! 🙂 I avoid many foods, but especially any meat that was once a vital organ (ie. liver, skin, brains), ground up meat products like Haggis, sausage or hamburgers and particurlarly gooey seafood like squid.


  8. I rather like poutine. And grits.

    I must get to Portugal. I think, in a blog filled with photos of beautiful buildings, these lately from Portugal are among the most beautiful.


  9. Well I’m not a fan of poutine myself, how Un-Canadian of me. Those grubs I can definitely live without and canned meat of unknown origin is best to be avoided at all costs!


  10. I liked Porto and the port!


  11. In the category of foods to avoid, is a mistake I made in France. After being there for several days, I was a little starved for roughage and ordered a side salad. They asked me if I wanted a Lyonnaise salad and I asked if it had lettuce. When they said yes, I thought it was what I wanted. There WAS some lettuce, but it was mostly some sort of fish and SHEEP FEET! Sheep feet? That’s what they said the white gristly stuff on my plate was when I asked. Total yuck. And if you didn’t like grits, it’s because somebody didn’t know how to make them. They need to be thick, but not too thick with plenty of butter, salt and pepper. Total YUM!


  12. I would put tapioca on the list. I’m Canadian but I don’t like poutine which is more French Canadian, but very popular all over Canada. I don’t think I would like haggis but I’ve never tried it.


    • The French will eat anything of course and I presume that goes for the French Canadians as well!
      Haggis is actually not as bad as it sounds, it goes down well as part of a full Scottish breakfast!


  13. I have never seen a witchetty grub let alone eat one and I doubt that tee are many in Australia who have, Aboriginies excepted.
    There is not one plate/dish of food illustrated in this little lot that appeals to me; and even if I had a stomach wherein I could deposit any of it, I would decline.
    But obviously I’m like the little country shed in this


  14. Can’t think of a particular dishes to avoid, but I tend to stick to ones that are familiar and that I know I like. Have to admit that your prompts certainly included ones I would likely avoid.


  15. Never eaten a grub, Andrew, but I have eaten termites, or bug-a-bug as they are known in Liberia. I also ate canned beef from Argentina there on an almost daily basis! Yum. Grits are part of Peggy’s heritage. Her mother was from Virginia. I am not a fan, however. –Curt


    • I have always been quite partial to corned beef in a can always assuming that the tin could be safely opened. I always had a lot of trouble with that little key!
      I had snake when I was in the USA but it tasted like chicken and a camel burger in Morocco which tasted like beef!
      I have to concede that grits get a lot of positive response!


  16. Ah, Porto – the one part of Portugal I have actually been! Sometimes being a vegetarian protects me from these sorts of choices. Sometimes it means I go hungry 😦


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