In the 17th century, the Viseu region depended on the waters of the Pavia river to irrigate the farmland and power the watermills. In 1652, after a terrible drought, farmers built dykes that reduced the river flow to a trickle. As a result, the watermills in the village of Vildemoinhos stopped working. The millers clashed with the farmers over water rights until, in 1653, the royal court resolved the case with a verdict favorable to the millers.
To show their appreciation for this life-saving decision, the millers organized a cavalcade called Cavalhada through the city of Viseu. The Cavalhada was so successful that it became an annual event. It is held on June 24 (St. John’s day). Farmers sell pots of wild basil and children feast on Viriatos, a local sweet. There are marching bands, traditional dancing troupes, groups of drummers, and giant paper-machê dolls.
This Cavalhada is one of the many Summer feasts organized everywhere across the country. If you see a sign for Festa Popular (popular feast), be sure to stop by. They’re always fun events. And they celebrate the ancient traditions that make Portugal more than just a pretty landscape.
November 11 is the day dedicated to S. Martinho (St. Martin), a Roman soldier who gave half of his cape to a beggar during a heavy snow storm. Impressed by this gesture, the sun came out and melted the snow. Centuries later, the star still remembers the saint’s generosity and shines with gusto to give us a taste of Summer in Autumn.
The Portuguese celebrate these warm days with a feast called magusto (magoostoo). We gather outdoors to eat roasted chestnuts and drink a small glass of jeropiga, a fortified wine. It’s an ancient tradition that reminds us that there’s no place like Portugal.
Peniche, a sleepy fishing village, used to be an island. But the waves worked tirelessly, carrying mountains of sand to connect Peniche to land. The sand banks they built created beaches that are perfect for surfing: Supertubos, Molho Leste, and Baleal. Every October, the waves enjoy the fruits of their labor, watching the best surfers in the world compete at the Peniche Rip Curl Pro event. You don’t have to cart any sand to be part of this grand surf celebration. All you have to do is drive to Supertubos on the third week of October.
Farturas are similar to Spanish churros but they are larger and softer. A light dough made of eggs and flour is squeezed out of a pastry bag to form a large spiral shape. The dough is gently fried in oil and then cut into pieces with a pair of scissors. These pieces are sprinkled with sugar and cinnamon and served immediately. Eating a warm fartura makes you feel like a kid again: everything is simple and wondrous and the infinite future looks sweet. You can find farturas in many fairs. Our favorites are from the São Mateus fair in Viseu. This year the fair runs until September 23. So, you still have time to go and be a kid again.
Cistercians monks started producing wine in the Bombarral region in 1153. The Bombarral wine fair, which takes place in early August, celebrates this ancient wine-making tradition. You’ll find few tourists there. It is an event designed for the locals, which makes it a lot more fun. You can buy a glass for a nominal amount (about 3 Euros) at the entrance of the fair. You then use it to try the wines of many producers, including one of our favorites, Quinta do Sanguinhal. You can meet the famous D. Amélia, maker of an incredible pear cake and many other delicacies. And you can eat outdoors underneath the foliage of ancient oak trees at the Zélia restaurant stand. They serve an astonishing grilled rabbit and a lot of other great fare. Mark your calendars!
If you’re in Portugal in July, you might want to visit the Óbidos medieval fair. It features jugglers, jesters, and jousting tournaments, all in the shadow of the majestic Óbidos castle. You can also taste the delicious pork roasted on a spit, a delicacy that, in the Middle Ages, only kings could afford.