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Those returning to Porto along the Luís I Bridge will notice a set of terraces to their right decorated with colored garlands, flags and string lights, as if someone forgot to take down their decorations after the June 23 São João festival, the city’s largest celebration. The garlands and flags stay up all year, though, and are the easiest way to find one of Porto’s most interesting hidden gems: the Guindalense Futebol Clube, home to some of the city’s best views.

The story begins, at least officially, in 1976, when the club was founded as a place for amateur footballers and other athletes in the Guindais neighborhood. However, two decades ago, its sporting activities came to a halt when the area where the club’s playing fields were located was needed to build the Funicular dos Guindais, the small cable car that goes up and down the escarpment next to the bridge and wall, which is still standing from the time of King Fernando.

Fortunately, Guindalense FC kept its terraced bar with its incomparable views looking down to the Douro River below. “Even if all we can do with the space is plant cabbage, I guarantee that we won’t leave it,” Rui says. Originally for members only, the space was wisely opened to the public, providing for the club’s expenses and allowing it to stay alive and maintain its social and cultural activities. Managed by a board of directors and partners, the club is made up of dues-paying members, and everyone volunteers in some capacity, even at the bar. “It has worked so far,” the club’s president, Rui Barros. says. On one afternoon during the recent São João festival, we even spied one of the club’s founders, now retired, bussing glasses from the tables. “We receive people the best way we know how,” Rui says.

Out of the kitchen comes the simplest fare: pizzas, sandwiches, hot dogs, steaks and francesinhas (of course!). In summer, the tables are overflowing with glasses of fino (Porto slang for draft beer), sangria and tremoço (lupine beans). On some special days, there is garlicky alheira sausage on offer, but in general there are no pots simmering or elaborate foods being prepared. Guindalense is not a restaurant, and it’s not a cafe either. True to its roots, it’s still a no-frills sports association (although, in the words of club president Rui, it is also “the soul of Porto”) and what people come here for are the views and the neighborhood comradery.

“Even though we are little, we are full of soul and heart. We want people to enjoy this – the space, the view, the club,” Rui says. “It is important that people know the history to keep communities like Guindalense alive,” he says. President for the past 20 years, Rui call Guindalense FC his “great passion.” He first arrived at the club when he was 12 years old, holding his mother’s hand. He was there to participate in a local tradition, the São João festival “raids” – parade-like processions involving the city’s different neighborhoods. He eventually went on to become coach of the club’s youth football team.

Rui says he’s proud of the pivotal role his club plays in its own district. On the day of the biggest party in the city, the São João festival, all paths typically pass through Guindais and the balconies of Guindalense FC. For the festival, hundreds of sardines – “the queen of the party” – are roasted and “we make sure it is in the middle of the tables, so that everyone can smell it,” Rui says. “If you want to know us, you have to take that smell with you. This is our essence and, if we ever lose it, Porto will be lost too.”

In past years, prior to the pandemic and its restrictions on large gatherings, “there used to be thousands of people dancing and reveling all night until eight o’clock in the morning, the sun up for a long time before people went home. We almost have to kick people out of here; no one wanted to leave,” jokes Rui. “It’s the most beautiful night, and a pride for us to receive so many people,” he says.

Looking ahead, Rui says Guindalense hopes to be able to build a new official headquarters and return to fielding an actual football team. Not to worry, though: Rui assures us the balcony over the Douro River will stay and remain open to all those who come. “With a place like this, it would be a crime to close it to the public, wouldn’t it?” he says.

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Cláudia BrandãoRicardo Castelo

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