Ponte de Lima in Portugal’s Minho Region
Should We Cross the River or Not?
This is part three of a four-part series on Portugal’s Minho Region.
The Lima River is shallow, but history runs deep in Ponte de Lima. How deep? Well, before you dip your toes in the river, consider a bit of Roman history.
In the second century BCE, the Lima River was a no-go zone for a group of Roman troops. According to Ponte de Lima lore, Roman soldiers refused to ford the river because they feared it was the River of Oblivion. Crossing the water surely meant they would lose their memories. Roman commander Decius Junius Brutus didn’t share his troops’ superstitions. He plunged across the Lima alone. From the far shore he called out to each of the soldiers by name—proving, of course, it was safe for them to cross.
Twenty-first century visitors can pose next to statues of the balking soldiers on the riverside at Ponte de Lima, and their fearless leader on the opposite shore. Some tourists are even brave enough to get their feet wet…and live to remember it.
To avoid any more River of Oblivion incidents, the Romans built a bridge across the River Lima and a Roman settlement evolved into the enticing town of Ponte de Lima. This is Portugal’s oldest village and it is a perfect base for exploring the Minho region. Today, the pedestrianized bridge is a feeder path to the Santiago Way pilgrimage route in Spain. Although a small portion of the old Roman bridge remains at Ponte de Lima, much of the bridge is newer. “New” is relative in this region—the new bridge was built in the fourteenth century.
Locals gather in Ponte de Lima every other Monday for the town’s open-air markets, just as their ancestors have since the market began in 1125. Ponte de Lima veers from sleepy to lively in festival season: Feira do Cavalo (horse fair in June), Festival Percursos da Música (music fair in July), and Feiras Novas (new fairs in September). If your visit coincides, have a blast. Otherwise, enjoy sedate Ponte de Lima. It’s a great starting point for exploring northern Portugal. Or be a thumbprint tourist and focus just on the Lima River valley using Ponte de Lima as your base. There is plenty to do here—walking, cycling, kayaking, wine tasting, and sampling regional cuisine.
This is a compact, but remote region. It’s that feeling of isolation that makes the Minho so enticing. Sitting in an outdoor restaurant in Ponte de Lima, you’re unlikely to hear English spoken at surrounding tables. Spanish visitors flock here, ordering salted codfish, a local specialty, washed down with Vinho verde. A few backpacking pilgrims wander through, heading northward to Santiago de Compostela. But on the whole, Ponte de Lima is unspoiled by crowds of visitors.