Largely sporting an air of sleepy indifference to the wider world, easy-going PONTE DE LIMA takes its name from the stone bridge that spans the wide Rio Lima at this point. It’s an attractive town, set back from a handsome, landscaped riverside promenade – the scene is at its best every other Monday when Ponte de Lima’s lively open-air market, the Feira Quinzenal, sprawls out across the riverside flatlands, where a sea of stalls sells anything from mobile phone accessories to trussed chickens. Ponte de Lima claims the first documented market charter in Portugal, dated 1125, which makes the bi-monthly market the oldest in the country (Feira Quinzenal dates are posted along the riverside and on the town council website). Otherwise, the pedestrianized old centre has no specific attractions beyond its restored stone mansions and tangle of back alleys, but it’s one of those places that really repays a lazy day’s stroll or a night or two’s stopover – especially if you time a visit to coincide with one of the town’s enjoyable festivals. Local accommodation, in particular, is in keeping with the well-to-do air in town, with lots of historic manor houses and boutique properties providing a good excuse to stick around for a while.
There’s been a fixed crossing over the river since at least Roman times. The current bridge was rebuilt in 1368 and once had seventeen arches – it’s lost three over the centuries to riverbank improvements and raids during the Napeoleonic assault in 1809. On occasions, the river encroaches upon the town – on the Torre de São Paulo, near the bridge, are marks showing the depth of historic floods, including the particularly severe one of 1987. Further down the riverfront is the old sixteenth-century keep and former prison, the Torre da Cadeia Velha (now housing the turismo), with the granite, arcaded Mercado building overlooking the riverside, just beyond here. If you keep going along the promenade and under the lime trees you’ll see the fifteenth-century convent of São Francisco e Santo António dos Capuchos.