WOW – It’s out of this world!

 In News, Tourism, Visitor Attractions and Theme Parks, Wine

With 7 world class museum experiences, 12 restaurants, bars and cafés, shops, gallery, events spaces and even a wine school, WOW – World of Wine is a cultural district that pays homage to the city of Porto and tells the story of some of the most important Portuguese industries and traditions.

Text: Sarah Boleyn Photos: WOW

Located in the heart of the Port wine cellar district of Vila Nova de Gaia with breathtaking views over the city of Porto and the Douro river, WOW is an urban regeneration of old Port wine cellars and warehouses and the result of a €107 million investment by The Fladgate Partnership (TFP). WOW opened in July 2020, since when it has received hundreds of thousands of visitors and won several national and international awards.
The initial concept for the redevelopment of the area came about in 2006 following the publication of a strategic rejuvenation plan of the Douro riverfront by the local government of Vila Nova de Gaia. At this time, the idea was to create a luxury world-class hotel together with a real estate development on the land where WOW now stands. The financial crisis of 2008 changed that vision. As the global economic crisis deepened, the real estate project was put on hold.
Despite this, TFP decided to push ahead with the The Yeatman hotel, which after two years of construction opened its doors to the public in 2010. Amongst other influencing factors such as the arrival of low cost airlines to Porto, The Yeatman brought much international acclaim and press interest to the city and was a catalyst for the growth of tourism in Porto. The Yeatman quickly won many national and international awards and became renowned as one of the leading wine hotels in Europe.
This link with wine and tourism in conjunction with rapidly increasing numbers of tourists arriving annually to Porto gave rise to the concept of WOW. TFP realised that it would be necessary to create high quality attractions and experiences that were lacking in the city to create a tourism business that was economically sustainable into the future. This would not only attract new visitors to Porto, but also give them experiences that would entice them to stay longer.
Adrian Bridge, CEO of The Fladgate Partnership saw the need to innovate and to differentiate to add value to the city, “As Porto is one of the wine capitals of the world, making wine the fundamental strategic pillar of WOW made a lot of sense, but imitating the other cellar visits in the area was clearly not going to be a game changer. We needed to be different to appeal to a broader target audience with varying interests and provide engaging content to appeal to a new kind of experience seeking traveller.”
The project began to take shape in 2014 with the hiring of the world leading architectural firm Broadway Malayan to draw up the initial plan together with The Fladgate Partnership. One of the objectives of working with such a reputable, high profile firm of architects was to attract potential investors for the project. However, TFP secured the majority of the funding from two European schemes, JESSICA and IFRUU. The lion share of the investment came from IFRUU, €53.3 million, half of which came from the EU thereby reducing exposure of local banks. JESSICA provided a further €11 million with Portugal 2020 putting in €5.4 million. The Fladgate Partnership provided the remaining equity investment of €37.3 million plus the land valued at Euro 11.6 million.
Construction got underway in January 2018 after several years of planning and securing the necessary permissions from local government. There were many engineering hurdles ahead, not least of which was the removal of 125,000 m3 of earth and rock, or the equivalent of nearly 7,000 truckloads. Maintaining some of the historic warehouses in place whilst this excavation was carried out required 7 km of micro piles that thankfully withstood a minor earthquake in September 2018.
Work continued apace even when the pandemic struck and there was clear determination to meet the original deadline of June 2020. Despite some supply chain delays, WOW opened its doors to the public on 31 July.
Since opening, The Wine Experience has been a firm favourite for visitors. Spread over two floors and 3,500 m2 it is the largest museum experience at WOW and aims to demystify wine for all. The Chocolate Story is the museum of choice for families and Porto Region Across the Ages gives visitors and excellent starting point for visitors to understand the heritage and people of the city. With its interactive experience, Planet Cork has also attracted younger visitors as well as school visits. Porto Fashion and Fabric Museum and The Pink Palace were the last two experiences to open in the final phase of the project completed in May and August 2021, respectively.
Tourism has been one of the hardest hit sectors during the pandemic and in 2020/21 Porto received only a fraction of the traffic that it would usually expect. Even after some easing of restrictions globally during the summer of 2021, Porto airport saw only 30% of the tourists it saw in 2019.
Clearly, this has made for a challenging 18 months, but Adrian Bridge remains stoic, “It’s been an extremely difficult for everyone, WOW included, but there are signs of recovery now that ease of travel is improving. With the reinstatement of air routes over the coming months, I am confident that tourism will return in force and the wanderlust we have seen in the last decade will continue. Perhaps the way in which people travel will change and I can foresee a tendency towards fewer trips but longer stays. By providing world class content, WOW is perfectly positioned to take advantage of this trend.”
WOW is ready to welcome more than 1 million visitors a year with about two-thirds of these expected to visit one or more of the seven museum experiences. Entry prices vary between €17 and €25, however most visitors prefer to purchase a multi-experience ticket of 2 (€28), 3 (€35) or 5 (€55) entrances.