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Portugal minho sistelo espigueiros c diego pura

Northern Portugal

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Tucked up in the far north, on the border with Spain, is a scenic pocket of Portugal unaffected by tourism, where no one is ever in much of a hurry and where the clocks seem to tick a little slower.

Portugal's oldest town?

As is the case with most countries with a long and winding history, the contest to claim the title as Portugal’s oldest town rumbles on. They’ve managed to narrow it down to two towns in the Minho region, where the roots of a nation first took hold. Settling the matter seems largely to be a question of wading into one of history’s great family disputes though.

The short version: in 1128 Alfonso Henriques battled his way to the throne of a newly independent Portuguese kingdom, just outside Guimarães. His opponent? His own mother - Teresa of León and the first Queen of Portugal. So it’s from that moment, the Battle of São Mamede and the dawning of a nation, that Guimarães is popularly afforded such claim, with the monuments and king-crowning credentials to back it up

But Ponte de Lima can confidently stake its own claim, having been granted ‘town’ status by Teresa, 20 years before mother and child took up arms against each other. Whether it was actually Portuguese, her having pledged vassalage to Spain’s Kingdom of León, is another matter entirely.

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Looking across to Ponte de Lima
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Walking the Camino towards Ponte de Lima

Ultimately, it doesn’t matter. The answer won’t make your holiday any better. What will though is the time that you spend in Ponte de Lima. This extensive history is reflected in the delightful assortment of ancient houses, pretty plazas and grand religious buildings found throughout this proud walled town. Perhaps its most striking feature is the medieval bridge which spans the languid waters of the Lima River, where once rose a Roman bridge along one of the Peninsula’s busiest roads.

History abounds, but here we have a town that feels intrinsically Portuguese. You feel it as you stroll through the market, or stop for coffee by the river and watch pilgrims nudging themselves closer to Santiago. You certainly feel Portuguese tucking into a traditional meat and rice stew or sipping on a crisp vinho verde - Minho’s famed young wine - as the sun slips away for the day.

It may, or may not be, Portugal’s oldest town. But it’s certainly one of the best to go nose around and give your feet a rest after a good day’s walking or exploring.

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Portugal porto sunset 4

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