The Lima valley, in Portugal’s northern Minho region, with its ancient towns and Romanesque churches, takes a traveler on a meandering route from the mountains of Peneda-Gerês to the sea at Viana do Castelo. Along the way, the easy-going town of Ponte de Lima sits comfortably beside the river. It’s a wonderful starting point for exploring the hilly north of Portugal, and was one our favorite stops on our recent tour of Portugal.
Making history in Roman times
The town’s Roman history is the stuff of legend, commemorated in tile work and with statues on both sides of the river. The soldiers had ventured far from Rome, but were caught up short when they reached the Lima River, which they associated with the River Styx, and death. A brave general defied the odds and crossed the river. Having proved the river could be forded without disaster striking, he called each solder across by name to join him. Today, the river is a place for kayaking and swimming, and the “Ecovia” hike and bike trail follows the river between Ponte de Lima and Ponte de Barca.
Medieval Ponte de Lima
In 1125 Dona Teresa presented the city with its market charter, establishing Portugal’s oldest market. Today, the Feira Quinzenal is held on the river bank (at other times, the venue is a large car park).
The streets of the oldest town in Portugal are meant for wandering, and a nearby avenue of centenary plane trees beside the river provides respite from summer heat. Two towers remain from the 14th century town wall built by Dom Pedro, and there are Manueline features on buildings and the fountain in Largo de Camões. Nowadays, Ponte de Lima is known for its profusion of rural tourism properties, and for the largest concentration of baroque manor houses in Portugal.
Flavors of Ponte de Lima
No trip anywhere is complete without trying the local cuisine, and we enjoyed several great food moments while in Ponte de Lima. The traditional cuisine of the region includes arroz de sarrabulho–a dish of shredded pork seasoned with blood, especially popular in the cooler months. Other regional specialties include a variety of cured meats, such as pork chorizo, and smoked ham, turkey and sausages. Also on local menus: Galician-influenced seafood dishes and alheira, a pork-free sausage invented by Jews centuries ago, as they sought to avoid persecution under the Inquisition.
Ponte de Lima is located in the heart of the unique Vinho Verde region, which produces a semi-sparkling wine known for its light, fresh and fruity characteristics. The local wine cooperative has more than 2,000 members. Vinho Verde is bottled as both red and white wines and to me, the white is by far the best choice. Well chilled, it pairs well with the traditional dishes and sweets of the region.
If you go
Ponte de Lima offers a tantalizing first step into Portugal’s wonderful Minho. Here are three ways to make your visit special:
- Stay in a home-turned-hotel member of the Solares de Portugal network. More than 100 manor houses, stately homes, country and farmhouses offer up charm and ambiance aplenty.
- Be sure to sample local cuisine at one of Ponte de Lima’s excellent restaurants. For example, enjoy lunch in the town’s equestrian center, from a table overlooking the show ring; and dinner at Açude on the banks of the scenic Lima River.
- Time your visit for one of several festivals marking the calendar for Ponte de Lima. For almost a century, Feiras Novas, a five-day festival in September, takes over the river bank with fairground rides, folk music and gigantones (enormous carnival-like statues).
- Before you go, read what Julie Dawn Fox has to say about the charms of Portugal’s oldest town, and her suggestions for traveling there!
* * *
Thank you to APTECE, the Portuguese Culinary Tourism and Economic Association, and Turismo de Portugal, for making our travels possible. Thanks too to our guide, Helena Morgado of Ponte de Lima’s Delegação De Turismo, for an excellent tour of her beautiful home town.
To see all our travel stories from Portugal, click here.