It’s the most wonderful time of the year!

No, not Christmas! The Portuguese festas season is about to start!

So, what are festas? Festa means “party”, but I’m using the word in a broad sense here as you’ll probably come across signs mentioning festas de (insert here name of local patron saint or city/town/village). These celebrations can also be related to medieval/renaissance fairs, food festivals, or any kind of main local attraction or important date. More or less traditional food and drink, sweets, snacks and, of course, music, are sure to be included. Keep reading if you want to know how to make the best of this time of the year in Portugal. 

From late May to mid-September there are plenty of festas going on all over the country: they happen outside, in open spaces, they’re loud and they’re fun!

manjerico
Meet the manjerico: this plant is actually cousins with basil! It’s tradition to give a small potted manjerico to someone you like (thanks, Gran!) and it traditionally has a paper carnation and a small rhyme. This one says: “I picked this carnation on the night of St John’s to bring my loved one close to my heart”. These rhymes can sometimes be a bit cheeky, though!
You can usually buy manjericos from street vendors.

June is the time for Santos Populares (literally, popular saints) but before that there’s a national holiday on the 10th: the day of Portugal, Camões and the Portuguese Communities. Then comes Santo António (Saint Anthony), in Lisbon: the 13th is the holiday itself, but most of the fun happens on the 12th, so that means booze on the 12th and hangover on the 13th. This same logic applies to São João (Saint John), celebrated in Porto and several towns, mostly in the North, on the 23rd and 24th, and to São Pedro (Saint Peter), celebrated in Sintra and other towns, on the 29th and 30th. These three are the most well known patron saints festivities, but there are plenty more across the country.

In terms of medieval and renaissance fairs the most famous ones are probably in Óbidos, Santa Maria da Feira “Viagem Medieval em Terra de Santa Maria”,  and Silves. Again, many other towns will also have a similar festival during the summer. 

If you happen to be in Portugal in the summer just do a bit of research and I’m sure there’ll be some kind of festa taking place not far from you.

Here’s some info and quick tips for enjoying the festas in the best possible way:

1 – typically there will be stalls grilling sardines (sardinhas) and mackerel (carapaus). You can eat them with a slice of bread underneath the fish or on a plate. Usually it comes with roasted bell pepper salad and boiled potatoes, but there are variations. If you’re not a fan of fish there are meat alternatives, like bifanas (sliced pork, which can be grilled or cooked in sauce, traditionally served in a bread roll called paposeco or carcaça and with an optional drizzle of mustard). Vegetarians and vegans will do better in the cities, where they’re more likely to find stalls with suitable alternatives.

2 – drinks means mostly beer, wine and sangria. Especially in the cities don’t expect the sangria to be strong enough to make you drunk – not unless you drink a lot of it, anyway! Most stalls are trying to make a quick buck (like half of the world population!) and they’ll usually add more of the fizzy stuff and less wine. So, basically, there are variations in the quality of the sangria – still, it’s refreshing and you can’t argue with that! In cities it’s also easy to find caipirinhas* or mojitos.

3 – when it comes to desserts there will usually be a few stalls selling some local cake or pastry, but you’ll always find at least one stall selling churros and farturas. The dough is similar for both and they’re both deep fried but there are differences: the dough of the farturas comes out of a big metal syringe and goes straight into boiling oil in a spiral like shape. It’s then cut into pieces and rolled in a mix of sugar and cinnamon powder. They’re more soft and chewy than their friends, the churros: in this case they’ll add bits of dough into the oil using a syringe but you can either get the small ones (in paper bags of 6 or 12 churros) or you can have a bigger churro which is then rolled in sugar and cinnamon and filled with a “jam” of your choice. I used brackets because this is obviously not real jam, but a sugary thing tasting more or less of strawberry, sweet condensed milk, chocolate, mint, egg custard or any other flavours available. Both churros and farturas are best eaten warm.

churros
Tasty churros in Vila Real. 

4 – like I mentioned above these are street festas, so if you take a car it’s best to park it somewhere central and walk a little because more likely than not some streets will be closed to traffic.

5 – if possible take coins and small bills/paper money (5, 10 and 20 Euro): it’ll avoid difficulty with change and if you’re like me you can just keep a few coins in your pocket so you don’t have to reach for the wallet when you want another glass of sangria. This might seem silly but trust me that it will make life easier for you and the people selling. I’ve also started seeing stalls where they accept MBWay payments (if you live in Portugal, I’m sure you’re familiar with this payment option). This is not likely to be used for food and drink, but mostly for the stalls selling products, like handicrafts.

6 – comfortable shoes. Seems obvious, right? Well, I’ve lost count of how many women I’ve seen in Santo António alone walking up and down the streets with a glass of sangria in their hand and stilettos on their feet. Comfort is key!

7 – the above rule also applies to clothing: no need to dress all fancy. If you really lived the festas you’ll be going home smelling like a big grilled (and sweaty) sardine and probably with a stain of wine on your shirt. So just dress casual and comfortable.

8 – this is the time for dancing in the streets! Without David Bowie or Mick Jagger, granted, but it’s fun to dance in the streets with dozens of other people, even if the quality of the music is not the best. Actually, nevermind that: most of the fun comes from the fact that the music is *not* great. Ever heard of pimba?

silent3.blogspot.pt
Meet Quim Barreiros, the king of Portuguese pimba (even before it had that name)! I’m not sure of the date, but judging by the amazing shoes on the cover I’d say late 70’s.
Photo credits: http://silent3.blogspot.pt/

9 – tourists don’t usually make an effort to speak Portuguese and I get that: it can be intimidating. But a smile and a few words in Portuguese will go a long way. Our Portuguese hearts melt when tourists say things like obrigado (thank you) and por favor (please). Even if you’re a little tipsy and your accent isn’t perfect, trust me on this: intention is key and makes a world of difference.

Enjoy the festas and don’t forget to get yourself a manjerico!

*Caipirinha is a drink of Brazilian origin, made with sugar, lime juice and cachaça (a hard liquor made from sugar cane).

16 comments

    • Well, if you’d like I can help you with some info on things to see/do, depending on your time, interests, etc. It’s free of charge! I’m just trying to be a nice person 😀

      • Ain’t I lucky 🙂 thanks that will be great. I’m an Architect so I’ll love to see old stuff, culture, and I’m also interested in history, and food, food, food, maybe some adventurous things too. you can just send me an email at greensandgardens@gmail.com will really appreciate it.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.