Ponte de Lima powers ahead

Thursday, February 6, 2014, 14:39

When I told you at the beginning that we'd chosen to live in Ponte de Lima, I can't honestly say that the spending habits of the municipality figured prominently in our thinking but guess what? If they had, they would only have served to confirm our choice. Let me show you a poster and tell you why.


To read the rest of the story, click here

Of course, it's hardly news that Portugal has been having a tough time during the long years of financial crisis. Who hasn't heard of the appalling employment figures; of the young people emigrating in search of work; of mature couples having their houses repossessed by the banks; of soup kitchens in the cities; and beggars on the streets? That's nothing new to anyone whether Portuguese or indeed a citizen of almost any country in the EU. It's been a prolonged 'época baixa' – a low period – a recession. The poster starts out by telling you just that in the appropriately thin script at the top of the poster.

But here's the good news. Ponte de Lima, as it next tells you in big, fat bold letters, is 'em alta', it's on the up! In fact it's almost the only municipality which isn't in debt. When others over-borrowed - and are now struggling to repay - Ponte de Lima was careful and it still has money in its coffers with which it can do things other municipalities might fear to attempt. And, not unreasonably, Ponte de Lima is proud of this and proclaiming loud and clear: "Ponte de Lima em alta."

So what is the town doing right? Just like my own city of York, Ponte de Lima is working hard to encourage visitors to come and enjoy its assets; sit and have a coffee in its pleasant squares; eat in its homely restaurants and chat with its friendly people.

Muralha restaurant
The restaurant a Muralha, which serves good, honest, plain food.

And just like York, which calls itself the city of festivals, Ponte de Lima is creating reasons for people to visit by holding festivals.

There are some long-standing festivals, known country-wide.

  • In early summer, the Vaca das Cordas is a bull running festival where the animals are restrained by ropes to prevent serious accidents, and the Vinho Verde Festival celebrates Portugal's distinctive refreshing, slightly sparkling young wines.
  • In autumn the Feiras Novas – The New Fairs – which, at over 180 years old are not really all that new, combine, street music, huge figurines, and eating and drinking in streets decorated with lights.

But for now there are new winter offerings celebrating Minhoto culture. Let's look at some of the 'feiras' for January and February promulgated on the notice board.

Wedding and Bacalhau Festivals
These and the other posters below are courtesy of the municipality web site.


  • Verde Noivos – Green Fiancés - a wedding fair including everything from dresses to reception venues, catering and honeymoons. Ponte de Lima calls itself the City of Lovers and the wonderful manor houses all around offer glorious settings for those looking for romance. To us this seems a pretty normal festival especially around Valentine's Day.


  • Bacalhau de cebolada – cod with onion sauce festival. Now this may seem rather odd to non-Portuguese people but remember that Portugal, on the edge of the Atlantic Ocean, has a long and distinguished tradition of maritime exploration – one of the family names in nearby Ponte da Barca is Magalhaes, or as we know it, Magellan – and deep sea fishing. It was Portuguese sailors who ventured south along the coast of Africa, when sailors of other nations feared falling off the edge of the world, discovering in the process the 'Cabo da Boa Esperança', The Cape of Good Hope, which opened the sea route to the spice islands. They also fished off the Grand Banks when cod were so numerous that it was said you could walk on the waters without sinking. And they are reputed to have a cod recipe for every day of the year. Cod with onion sauce is typical of the Minho. Not so odd after all?

Environment and Childrens Festivals

  • Feira do Ambiente e da Energia – the Festival of the Environment and Energy. In the Expolima exhibition areas there will be companies offering solutions to heating, lighting and air conditioning as well as lectures and explanations. Portugal is taking climate change seriously, obliging all new houses to incorporate solar panels and building wind farms on the high hills.
  • Festa da Gente Miuda –the small People's Festival – where children will be introduced to a world of magic through educational, creative and artistic activities. There will also be theatrical plays for children to watch

Lamprey and Sarabulho posters

  • Feira Gastronomica da Lampreia – the Gastronomical Festival of the Lamprey. This is a fish which is virtually unknown as a food item in the UK and its very appearance we find off-putting. Yet once it was a delicacy. In fact, to many of us it is the fish that is said to have caused the death of the English King Henry 1 in France in 1135 - the famous 'surfeit of lampreys' - a death which lead to the civil war between his daughter Matilda and his nephew Stephen. In Portugal it is still considered a delicacy.


  • Feira do Porco e das Delicias do Sarrabulho – the Festival of Pork and the delights of Sarrabulho. Now what is Sarrabulho? I hesitate to tell you as there are those with a serious prejudice against eating blood. Sarrabulho – or arroz de sarrabulho, rice cooked in blood with pork and a number of other bits and pieces of offal and sausage – is a hearty country stew made with all those bits of an animal that in Anglo-saxon countries we now tend to throw away. But we too have poor men's foods that people love. Have you eaten black pudding, now a respected ingredient on the menus of chic restaurants? What is that if not a blood sausage? Most countries have similar things: boudin noir in France, morcilla in Spain, Blutwurst in Germany... so don't pull a face. Try it. Old fashioned peasant food can de delicious. The French have made a whole cuisine from it as Elizabeth David told us in her famous book, French Country Cooking, as long ago as 1951.


So Ponte de Lima has put its thinking cap on and come up with a bunch of new ideas but, if you have the impression that the Portuguese only hold festivals of food, take courage. As we left again to visit England in January they were about to hold a cycle race and the whole town was lit up to celebrate.


Come back to see the pictures another time.


What is your favourite Portuguese food? Are there festivals in other towns and cities that you love? Do let us know.



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