Legend has it that in times gone by, Martinho, a Roman soldier riding through a bleak November storm came across the outstretched hand of a beggar in tatters barely sheltered under some bushes. Without hesitation, he took off his red military cape, sliced it in half with his sword and covered the poor man. As he remounted his horse, rays of glorious sunshine broke that tempestuous wintery day and the clouds were wiped away by clear, blue skies.
For centuries since, this event is celebrated on 11 November and has become known as the Summer of Saint Martinho. Everyone looks forward to the certainty of a couple of days of sunshine early in the month and autumn festivities begin throughout the country. The most popular are “magustos” – gatherings where chestnuts are roasted on large open fires kindled with gorse and the first wines of the season are tasted.
Nowhere in the Algarve is it better to experience this tradition than inland in the Serra de Monchique. Not only do the normally green hillsides glow in gold and russet hues but the views of the coastline seem more enhanced in the autumnal light. Local restaurants serve typical, hearty stews of game, chestnuts and wild mushrooms and magustos are held in the villages of Monchique, Alferece and Marmelete. These celebrations feel almost pagan in spirit as everyone gathers around the embers scratching out chestnuts, the chords of an accordion linger above the chatter and smoke spirals into the twilight. An experience not to be missed when visiting this region.
This year, the Summer of Saint Martinho has surpassed all expectations as the Algarve has enjoyed magnificent blue skies, warm days and spectacular sunrises and sunsets throughout the month of November. Long may Saint Martinho bless locals and holidaymakers alike with a second summer but also remind us that an act of kindness can have amazing consequences.