First stop on the festival trail: Portugal

By far the best way to be introduced to the spirit of Portuguese folklore is through the Popular Saints’ Festivals that happen in June throughout the country.

Festa dos Santos Populares (Popular Saints’ Festival)

There are three major saint’s festivals. St. Anthony, the patron saint of Lisbon, is celebrated on June 12th and 13th, St. John, the patron saint of Porto, is celebrated on the 23rd and 24th of June, and St. Peter is celebrated on the 29th of June in some smaller cities such as Evora. Sometimes all three are celebrated in one town, and generally, the most popular form of celebrating is an ‘arraial’ or open-air party with barbeques of sardines and smoked sausages, folk music and free-flowing beer and wine.

In Lisbon, the party starts with a parade down the largest avenue in the city (Avenida da Liberdade), and continues with all-night parties in the old quarters of Alfama, Graça, Bica, Mouraria and Madragoa. It ends on the 13th with a mass wedding at the XII century Cathedral (Sé de Lisboa) followed by a procession of the married couples through the streets of Lisbon.

Credit: Festa Flor Campo Maior

An important part of the St. Anthony festival is the ‘manjerico’: a small type of bush basil that people give to one another with small messages of love or luck for the future. Historically a man would give this plant to his intended wife and she would have to keep it alive for a full year to demonstrate that they were a good match.

In Porto, the celebration of St. John is set in the quarters of Miragaia, Fontainhas, Ribeira, and Massarelos, and is much the same except without weddings. The tradition there is not to offer basil for good luck, but rather to hit each other on the head with small plastic hammers as an homage to an older tradition using leeks that dates back to Celtic harvest rituals. The festival in Porto also includes fireworks and releasing coloured lanterns in the air, as well as a quick dip in the Ocean at dawn for those brave enough to endure the cold Atlantic water.

While smaller versions of these revelries can be found throughout Portugal during June, travellers will find a special joy in discovering the capital of Lisbon and Porto through these festivals. They not only offer an opportunity for a proper immersion into the best array of Portuguese folk music, food and culture, but they are also the most light-hearted way for locals and tourists to blend together in celebration.

International Chocolate Festival in Óbidos

Located just an hour and a half from Lisbon, and perched strategically high on a hill, Óbidos is one of the most well preserved medieval towns to be found in Portugal.  It was a gift from King D. Dinis to his wife D. Isabel in the XIII century and its history whispers through the walls that still stand encircling the town.

Within the wall, a well-kept castle and a maze of streets and white houses cluster together with Manueline balconies, flowered windows and small squares. Anyone who visits will want to see the many beautiful churches, the Roman Aqueduct and the Municipal Museum of Óbidos, where the works of Josefa de Óbidos, one of the very few female artists of the XVII century, can be found.

Ginjinha at the Óbidos Chocolate Festival

Once a year, for about 10 days in late April and early May, the greatest draw of this medieval town is the intoxicating smell of chocolate at the Óbidos International Chocolate Festival. For younger visitors, the ‘Kids’ Chocolate House’ offers recreational and pedagogical activities and a kitchen where they can prepare several recipes. Adults meanwhile can attend culinary classes where chocolate is always the key ingredient, watch competitions involving professional pastry-makers and marvel at a collection of intricate chocolate sculptures made by artists for the occasion. The most important activity is to try the local delicacy of Ginjinha (a liquor made with sour cherries) which is traditionally drunk out of tiny chocolate cups.

Travellers will find it worthwhile timing their Portuguese adventure around this foodie affair where international chocolate lovers will be immersed in a truly authentic Portuguese celebration steeped in history and tradition.

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EDP CoolJazz Festival in Cascais

For those looking for a more relaxed music festival ambience, nothing could be more soothing than the CoolJazz Festival in Cascais every summer. This festival gathers some of the best jazz, blues, alternative, indie and classical artists from Portugal and the World over various days in July.

Unlike the weekend-long festivals, these are more formal open-air concerts set in various locations such as the serene gardens of the Marechal Carmona park where peacocks freely roam, or inside the walls of the medieval Citadel suspended on a cliff over the Ocean. The event sells tickets with both assigned seating (75 Eur) and standing only (35 Eur). Drinks and food are also available and there are usually 2 to 3 concerts a night, spread throughout the month of July. Some of the artists already set to perform in 2021 include John Legend, Lionel Ritchie, Yann Tiersen and Herbie Hancock.

Travellers will find an evening concert in Cascais as the perfect way to close a sun-drenched day-trip to Sintra or a short road-trip along the coast following the 30 km of winding road on the Estrada Marginal out of Lisbon.

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Credit: Rui Cunha