medieval bridgeThe 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.

Lima River
The Lima River meanders from the mountains of Peneda-Gerês to the sea at Viana do Castelo on Portugal’s Atlantic coast.

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.

Ponte de Lima
An art installation on the Lima River bank depicts Roman soldiers waiting to be summoned across.
Ponte de Lima
Ponte de Lima’s place in Roman history is commemorated in tile on a wall in the center of town.
Ponte de Lima
Ponte de Lima is named after the long medieval bridge that passes over the Lima river flowing through the town. A 1st century Roman bridge, still visible in part beneath the tiled façade of the Church of Santo António da Torre Velha, was on the route of a military highway of the ancient “Conventus Bracaraugustanus” built on the orders of Emperor Augustus.

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). We were not in Ponte de Lima on a market day, alas, so will have to return!

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.

Dona Teresa
In 1125 Dona Teresa presented the city with its market charter, establishing Portugal’s oldest market.
Allegory Feiras Nova
Allegory Feiras Nova, a large sculpture by Salvador Vieira, was installed on the Lima riverfront in 2009. The figures represent dancers in traditional dress.
Ponte de Lima
Largo de Camões is the main square of Ponte de Lima. Its fountain, from the 16th and 17th centuries, has late Gothic decorative elements.
King John IV
A tile painting showing King John IV, King of Portugal and Algarve in the 17th century, as he arrives in Ponte de Lima with his entourage. His daughter, Catherine of Braganza, married Charles II of England of England, and the pair is credited with introducing tea to the British court.
Ponte de Lima
Rooftops of medieval Ponte de Lima, Portugal.
Lima river
The Lima River banks in Ponte de Lima, seen from Restaurant Açude.
Ponte de Lima
An avenue of centenary plane trees beside the Lima river provides respite from summer heat.
Casa Das Torres
The Casa das Torres was one of the three founding members of Solares de Portugal, a network of historic manor houses and rural properties throughout Portugal. The house was built in 1751 on 18 hectares. Today, the land is used for apple orchards and a vineyard producing Loureiro grapes. A short stay at the ancestral home of the Malheiro family provided us with a fine memory of our travels in the region.

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.

Ponte de Lima
Clockwise, from top left: a few of the delicious foods and wines we enjoyed in Ponte de Lima– Octopus with an influence of not-that-distant Galicia, served with olive oil, salt and pimento; an excellent Vinho Verde; Alheira (a type of sausage made without pork, invented by the Jews of Portugal as a way to deceive the Inquisition) of wild boar and duck, served with greens and broa, a traditional bread made of bread crumbs, flour and wheat berries; prawns with garlic, and an assortment of regional food products.

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

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4 COMMENTS

  1. I thoroughly enjoyed reading this and it seems that you had a great time in Ponte de Lima. The food looks great – did you eat at Restaurante Açude? I haven’t got around to sampling the fare there yet but it’s in a gorgeous spot by the river. Thanks for the mention and the link, by the way!

  2. Anita, Haven’t told you for a while how much I enjoy your gorgeous “feasts” in photos and prose. They have taken me in the best of taste to the four corners of the world along with you. Thanks you so much for sharing the world with you. Doris Yokelson

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