Festivals and events

Festivals and local events are big business all over Portugal, and the Algarve boasts hundreds, especially in the summer months, when you’re likely to come across several without even going looking for them.

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Portuguese festivals celebrate all kinds of foods and historical events, some of them rather obscure, such as the annual “Sausage Fair” in Monchique, and a regular festival celebrating octopus-based food in Santa Luzia.

All Algarve festivals share the same basic features: There’s always one or more mobile bars selling Sagres or Superbock, and anything from a handful to an abundance of stalls selling crafts and local artisan foods. No slow wander around an Algarve festival is complete without a light, flaky honey pastry and a shot of ginginha (cherry brandy) served in a crisp chocolate cup!

Two of the biggest annual festivals include:

1. The Olhão Shellfish Festival (Festival do Marisco)

The Olhão shellfish festival is probably the Algarve’s largest food-based event, and takes place every August on the seafront of this busy fishing town.

A large area of the seafront is cordoned off, as this is one of the few Algarve festivals that charges for admission. The central area is filled with tables, and attendees purchase vouchers that cover soft drinks, local beers and (oddly) bread and butter.

The latter makes perfect sense once you arrive at the food stalls, all selling beautiful shellfish including crabs, lobsters and prawns, as well as more obscure choices such as steamed razor clams.

After selecting and purchasing your shellfish, you retire to one of the tables (usually with several generations of your family) and eat your fishy feast with the aforementioned bread and butter. Entertainment begins with performances from local school groups and ends with a top quality band. Last year we enjoyed a fabulous performance from an international Beatles tribute band.

The celebrations continue long into the night, but the atmosphere remains family-focused throughout, with the Sagres-fuelled adults joined by children buzzing with sugar from the large and popular pick-n-mix sweet stall!


2. The Medieval Fair (Silves and Castro Marim)

Many medieval fairs take place in Portugal, but the two largest in the Algarve are those that take place in Silves and Castro Marim - two hill towns topped with imposing castles.

These fairs go all out to create a medieval atmosphere, complete with jousting competitions, camels and regular costumed processions. Everyone gets involved, and both fairs have areas where period costumes can be inexpensively hired.

Food is rustic, and eaten around huge tables with bails of straw as seating. Sangria, cider and beer are served in porcelain flagons. You pay a small deposit for these, but many people choose to take them home as souvenirs instead of returning them!


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