There are more than enough reasons to visit the oldest Portuguese town. Choose from its museums or rich history and don’t forget the local cuisine and the lagoons just outside Ponte de Lima. Besides, this town is also one of the best stops for a rest day if you’re walking the Portuguese Central Camino de Santiago.
The most iconic image of lovely Ponte de Lima is, without a doubt, that of the bridge over the river Lima with the 18th century church of Santo António da Torre Velha and the Guardian Angel Chapel on the side opposite to the town centre. The bridge, both Roman and medieval, crosses the river Lima, the main character in a legend dating back to Roman times and which tells the story of a group of soldiers who were too scared to cross the river. They believed the Lima was in fact the Lethe, the river of forgetfulness in Greek mythology, and crossing it meant forgetting everything, including their family and their homeland. The consul decided to cross the river alone to convince them they were wrong and, having reached the other margin, called the soldiers one by one, proving them the Lima was not the Lethe. The mock Roman troops made of wood that you’ll find near the bridge act as a reminder of this legend.
Interested in exploring the art of azulejo, Portuguese painted tiles? In Ponte de Lima you’ll find several tile panels, both traditional and modern, illustrating scenes of legend and history, landscapes and even poems. You can take the Rota dos Azulejos (Tile Route) pedestrian route to make sure you don’t miss a single one.
After a stroll along the river bank, make a little time for a drink and a snack in Largo do Camões, the central plaza that provides the perfect backdrop to relax and watch life go by. While in the historical part of Ponte de Lima don’t forget to visit the Gothic church (Igreja Matriz), the 14th century prison tower (Torre da Cadeia Velha) and the 17th century fountain. The Center for the Interpretation of the Territory (Centro de Interpretação do Território) is also worth visiting to become acquainted with objects that used to be part of the daily lives of the people in the region: from bread and wine making to folklore, weaving and the production of linen, among other areas.
Also worthy of your time while in Ponte de Lima are the Museum of the Third Order (Museu dos Terceiros) and the Portuguese Toy Museum (Museu do Brinquedo Português): the first is the most important reference in terms of religious art in the north of Portugal, occupying both the former Convent of Santo António dos Capuchos and the building of the Third Order of Saint Francis; the latter takes you on an amazing journey through the world of toys made in Portugal, from the late 19th century until 1986. Maybe you’ll see some toys similar to those you had as a child, too!
Not far from Ponte de Lima you’ll find a little gem of natural beauty: the Lagoons of Bertiandos and S. Pedro d’Arcos. The mix of Mediterranean, Atlantic and Continental climates in the area allows for the existence of lagoons, rivers, pastures and forests. These ecosystems provide the perfect conditions for the local fauna and flora and, in fact, this is the only classified wetland in the north of the country. The 9km long Lagoons Eco Trail (Ecovia das Lagoas) will take you from Ponte de Lima to this unique protected landscape.
As one might expect, such an old and traditional town has its fair share of equally traditional and time-tested dishes. The most popular one is, without a doubt, arroz de sarrabulho, a rice dish prepared with different cuts of meat, spices and pig’s blood. Also starring on local menus you’ll find lamprey (from the river Lima), bacalhau (salted cod, which you can find all over Portugal), bísaro pork, traditional broa de milho (cornbread) and the sweet leite creme (creme brulee).
How to wash it all down? With the local vinho verde, of course! Right in the heart of Ponte de Lima’s historical centre, the Vinho Verde Centre for Interpretation and Promotion (Centro de Interpretação e Promoção do Vinho Verde) supports and promotes not only vinho verde but also the whole region. The Centre hosts a permanent exhibition focusing on the history of vinho verde, its production, certification and endorsement, but there are also temporary exhibitions and, of course, a wine tasting room.