Portugal // The Minho //

Ponte da Barca

Another old bridge over the Rio Lima is the centrepiece of the pretty, historic riverside town – PONTE DA BARCA, the “Barca” part of the name referring to the boat that once ferried pilgrims across the river, en route to Santiago de Compostela in northwestern Spain. Nowadays the Lima is spanned by a lovely sixteenth-century bridge, beside which is the shaded Jardim dos Poetas, dedicated to sixteenth-century brothers Diogo Bernardes and Agostinho da Cruz, monastic poets who were born in the town. Like the neighbouring Ponte de Lima, that’s pretty much it, save for a fortnightly riverside market on Wednesdays (it alternates with Arcos de Valdevez), which draws hundreds of people from outlying hamlets. The only other time the small town becomes animated is for the annual Feira de São Bartolomeu, which takes place on August 19–24, with the big day on August 24; don’t expect to get any sleep once the party starts.

Igreja de São Salvador

The many Romanesque churches of the Lima valley date from the medieval heyday of the pilgrimage route to Santiago de Compostela. They are often simple in the extreme, though enhanced by animated stone carvings, with the most renowned example being the Igreja de São Salvador, in a small hamlet just outside Ponte de Barca. If it’s open (it often isn’t) you’ll be able to see its interior frescoes, but even if it’s closed you can check out the vibrant quality of its sculpted doorways, featuring birds, oxen, sheep, people, and even monkeys. The church is right on the road from Ponte de Lima to Ponte de Barca – you can’t miss it.

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