The final installment of my Lima Valley Giants Route series takes me back to one of my favourite towns in northern Portugal. This time, I try my best to imagine what it was like 500 years ago as I delve in Ponte de Lima history.
Almost a saint in Ponte de Lima
The people of Ponte de Lima are still working on getting their giant, Blessed Francisco Pacheco, canonised but in their eyes he is already a saint. Inspired by his uncle’s martyrdom, Pacheco decided at a very young age to become a missionary.
He became a Jesuit priest and dedicated much of his life to promoting Christianity in Japan only to be burnt alive in 1626 for his missionary endeavours. Over 200 years after his death, his legacy of a community of practising Catholics was discovered when Japanese borders reopened to the world.
Walking the way of saints
It seems logical to begin the Ponte de Lima section of the Giants Route outside the house where Pacheco was born in Correlhã. From there, José and I walked along cobbled roads and country lanes, passing croaking frogs, stacks of corn, rows of gnarly sprouting vines, a medieval bridge and village women bent over their crops.
We linked up with the Caminho de Santiago (Way of St. James) for just over a kilometre, arriving in Ponte de Lima via the wide avenue of plane trees by the river. Legend has it that before he left Portugal, Pacheco made the pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela and called at his own home on his journey without revealing his identity. Thankfully, his ‘mystery shopping’ experiment was successful and he was given food and shelter just as any other pilgrim would have been.
Medieval architecture in Ponte de Lima
Halfway along the leafy riverside path, we passed the Museu dos Terceiros (Museum of the Third Order), which hosts a collection of medieval and baroque religious art and gold. The complex of museum buildings stem from the 15th century and would have been a convent in Pacheco’s time.
At Largo de Camões, José pointed out features of the square’s paving stones that I hadn’t noticed on previous visits. The darker stones delineate the former city walls, showing how far the iconic 14th century bridge originally extended before the square was built. Travellers entering Ponte de Lima via the bridge had to pass through a toll tower to pay their dues before gaining access to the town. Thanks to the coloured paving, you can make out the shape of the tower underneath the tables and chairs of the café that currently occupies the space.
The decorative fountain in Largo de Camões was installed during Pacheco’s lifetime in a bid to resolve ongoing problems with drinking water supply. The inscription carved into the stone opposite warns that littering the fountain will be fined. Repeat offenders will be charged extra.
Other significant structures that Pacheco would have known include Torre da Cadeia Velha (the Old Prison Tower), used as a prison from 1511 until the 1970s. The tourist information office now lies behind its heavy wooden door. Go through the Arco da Porta Nova (Archway of the New Gate) next to the tower and you’ll end up in a tiny square which is overlooked by the balcony of the former Misericórdia (Mercy) Hospital, another building from that era. Continue along the street to see the attractive medieval parish church in Ponte de Lima which underwent several changes during Pacheco’s childhood and now hosts his statue. Apparently, you can ask him for anything (except money) and he will oblige.
Chocolate fit for giants
I didn’t put in any requests but was nonetheless rewarded with chocolate. After all, what better way could there be to round off the Lima Valley Giants Route than with a chocolate treat? After having sampled the range of luxury chocolates created by Cidália Vez of Terra Rica, I can’t think of one. Following the success of the Brutus chocolates she designed as a signature chocolate for Ponte de Lima, Cidália was invited to invent four special chocolates, one for each giant. Made using Belgian chocolate, they all come in bags of broken slabs and are sold in local gourmet and souvenir shops.
Ponte de Lima’s giant, Blessed Francisco Pacheco, has the same recipe as the Brutus chocolates; a rich blend of milk and dark chocolate sprinkled with walnuts in recognition of the significance that walnut production used to have for the area.
Perhaps inspired by the colour of the cod which João Alvares Fagundes helped to make so popular in Portugal, the giant from Viana do Castelo gets the white chocolate covered with crunchy balls of milk and dark chocolate to represent new discoveries.
The navigator, Fernão Magalhães of Ponte da Barca has almond-sprinkled dark chocolate which is deliberately set unevenly to represent the waves of the oceans he crossed.
Genius inventor and renewable energy innovator, Father Himalaya from Arcos de Valdevez, gets my favourite of the four chocolates, rich milk chocolate dotted with colourful mini Smarties.
Where to stay
I stayed at Paço dos Calheiros again and saw the various improvements and additions that have been made since my last visit. Not only is the spa area with indoor pool ready for use, there’s also a new shop which sells the wines produced on the estate and other local produce.
Disclosure: My stay was hosted by CENTER. My opinions and observations are, as always, my own.