Ponte da Barca - northern Portugal

Spread out along the River Lima in the heart of northern Portugal, the pretty town of Ponte da Barca is the perfect base from which to explore the enchanting Minho region.

This picture-book market town located right in the heart of Portugal’s green and pleasant Minho region derives its name from the old bridge (ponte) that was built to substitute the barge-like vessel (barca) that was once used to ferry pilgrims across the River Lima over the centuries.

Affording the finest views of the town centre, its famous bridge built in 1543 is notable for its ten thick and thin arches and is strikingly similar to its counterpart in the nearby town of Ponte de Lima.

Composed of a single nave and flanked by two striking bell towers, Ponte da Barca’s delightful parish church (known locally as the Igreja de São João Baptista) was classified as a national monument in 1910. Its exquisite interior features a fine coffered ceiling and an extremely rare silver processional crucifix presented to the church by King Manuel I himself.

Ponte da Barca’s well-preserved historic core is a delightful cluster of elegant mansions (many built in the 16th and 17th centuries) set around an ancient town square lined on one side by one of the most beautiful arcaded buildings you’ll see in northern Portugal. One of the main centrepieces is the town’s singular 16th-century pillory unusually crowned with a sphere and a pyramid.

Another highlight (and a great place for a relaxing picnic) is the Garden of the Poets (Jardim dos Poetas) which is dedicated to two monastic men of letters – Diogo Bernardes and Father Agostinho da Cruz – who were brothers born in the town in the first half of the 16th century.

Where to go in northern Portugal

Attracting large numbers of people from the surrounding villages and hamlets, Ponta da Barca’s bustling open-air market held every other Wednesday fills the area along the River Lima with stalls and street-food vendors, adding much colour and animation to the town centre.

Additionally, summer visitors shouldn’t miss the annual fair (the Feira de São Bartolomeu – one of the liveliest in northern Portugal) which takes place in middle-to-late August with much music, dancing, feasting and fireworks.

The surrounding countryside of the idyllic Lima Valley is some of the loveliest in Portugal and there’s much to see and discover within a short distance of Ponta da Barca.

Just 6 kilometres (4 miles) to the west lies the small town of Bravães, home to one of the finest Romanesque churches (Igreja de São Salvador) in the whole of Portugal. The stonework around its main portals features a large number of intricate 12th-century carvings featuring the images of saints, animals, birds and mythical figures produced with incredible complexity. Its interior contains the remains of some stunning Renaissance frescoes discovered during restoration work carried out in the 1940s.

Ponte da Barca also provides quick and easy access to the amazing Peneda-Gerês National Park located less than an hour’s drive to the east, meaning that visitors staying in the town can enjoy a very pleasant day-trip to this wonderfully verdant part of northern Portugal.

Passing through wild, precipitous countryside and dotted with a series of spectacular viewpoints, the road to the old village of Lindoso with its towering 14th-century castle stretches for 35 kilometres to the north-east of Ponte da Barca.

The long list of other places of immense interest situated within striking distance of Ponte da Barca (indicated on the Google map below) includes Ponte de Lima (a medieval town with a charming historic centre), Arcos de Valdevez (notable for its splendid Baroque church), the town of Viana do Castelo on the Atlantic coast and the border town of Monção located 42 kilometres (26 miles) to the north.

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