‘He’s picked out eating places for us already – even is aware of what he’s going to order.” My good friend was speaking about an upcoming metropolis break meticulously deliberate by her husband, and whereas I may see how poring over restaurant web sites may improve his anticipation of a much-needed vacation, it appeared to kill any concept of exploration, of coming upon one thing thrilling or surprising.
So after I noticed that Dutch firm srprs.me, based in 2014 in Amsterdam, was launching its “shock” vacation idea within the UK final month, I used to be intrigued. The concept is that you simply select a kind of vacation – metropolis break or backpacking journey – the dates and price range, and srprs.me picks the vacation spot and books flights and lodging. All you get beforehand is a climate forecast and what time to be on the airport.
I is probably not as dangerous my mate’s chap, however, like many people, I discover it onerous to not over-research holidays, utilizing airline websites, Google maps, Tripadvisor and myriad different time-gobbling web instruments. Might going with the movement flip me right into a extra laid-back traveller?
Nicely, no. As soon as I had tough timings and the climate forecast, I couldn’t resist logging on to try to second-guess srprs.me. I do know that’s not likely within the spirit of it, however I guess I’m not the one one. There was a thrill, although, in setting out for the unknown (effectively, Stansted) and, as soon as there, utilizing a scratchcard to disclose our vacation spot. So we have been going to … Porto, Portugal. Which was thrilling, despite the fact that I had half-guessed it. Then the ping of a smartphone as our lodge voucher arrived. Ooh, appears good.
It was weirdly disconcerting to be heading off armed not even with an outdated Lonely Planet information, however hey, we had a spot to remain, the forecast was sunny: how dangerous may it’s?
Turned out it was superb certainly. Porto has greater than its share of must-see points of interest, however this uncommon system appeared to free us of any obligation to tick them off. As a substitute, we embraced spontaneity, staying away from journey web sites, on-line evaluations, even the Guardian’s own city guide to Porto.
This vivid, breezy, hilly metropolis actually rewards the aimless wanderer. We developed a easy technique: simply make for the narrowest, darkest-looking alleyway. This at all times led us to one thing price seeing: atmospherically crumbling tiled homes and church buildings, a brushmaker’s workshop, a nook bar seemingly unchanged for the reason that 1950s …
So we didn’t make it to the Serralves art museum – the most-visited gallery in Portugal. However we loved putting road artwork on many an historical wall, and an enchanting up to date craft emporium, Arte e Alma, in a road behind the Sé cathedral.
We didn’t absorb a live performance at Rem Koolhaas’s distinctive white concrete Casa da Música, however we loved some nice Brazilian buskers and came across a Sunday afternoon fado session in a cellar bar close to São João Nationwide Theatre, the place a blowsy waitress introduced us ice-cold Tremendous Bock beers and locals took turns to face up and sing to virtuoso guitar and mandolin accompaniment.
We set off for the seaside, however by no means made it, getting waylaid on the fishing village of São Pedro da Afurada, on the south financial institution of the Douro, the place low-key fish eating places shared pavements with households barbecuing their very own Sunday lunches. A bowl of octopus in olive oil with onion and herbs was so scrumptious – and beneficiant – that we simply ordered extra beers and settled in.
We didn’t eat at any of Porto’s new wave of fine-dining eating places, such because the feted Pedro Lemos. Our wanders yielded such a wealth of alluring bars – resembling Base, on the roof of the Passeio dos Clérigos buying centre – and hidden diners that there have been not sufficient mealtimes to attempt all of them. We notably favored a Mozambican restaurant smelling of coconut and coriander, and a slender bare-brick tasca with luxurious wild boar stew, however I wouldn’t need to spoil anybody’s enjoyable by attempting to explain the place they’re.
With its heat sunshine tempered by Atlantic breezes – making strolling a pleasure – and its low costs, Porto is well-suited to a seat-of-the-pants break. I did marvel how happy we would have been with a weekend in a wetter, colder, dearer metropolis. However, as with this journey, possibly I’d be pleasantly srprsed.
• The journey was supplied by srprs.me, its three-night metropolis breaks begin at £130pp