Porto has undergone an extensive facelift over the last few decades. The town has been rebuilt (although there are still scores of abandoned buildings), scrubbed down and given a fresh coat of paint. With crisp winds coming off the Atlantic, the air quality isn’t too bad. The coastal beaches, from Foz all the way up to Matosinhos are of some of the best around, often flying blue flags, the European Union's highest standard for clean beaches and pristine water.
The Douro River crosses into Portugal from Spain at Barca de Alva. The river has been utilized for agriculture and commerce ever since the first tribes settled on the river’s banks. Human endeavours have taken their toll. Modern day pollution stems from agricultural, with excess fertilizers and pesticides running off into the water as well as sewage spills after capacity limits are reached. The river tends to be a little less polluted near Porto due to the tides washing in from the sea.
Porto was designated a European Capital of Culture in 2001, setting off further urban renewal efforts, which were already well underway. Pedestrians were given greater access to the centre, while motor vehicles were limited or banned from certain areas. The effects of pollution can be readily seen in the granite bricks in the buildings (some still look rather dingy), but the city has made vast strides as far as environmental issues are concerned, especially when compared with the past.