Mid-February is Carnival time in the Algarve.
The children have three days off school, the shops are full of carnival costumes and in the streets, Carnival in the Algarve is celebrated with three days of parties and revelry. In ancient times, the festivities, which go back to Roman Pagan rituals, symbolised the rebirth of Nature and the hope for a favourable harvest.
The town of Loulé has one of the oldest and best-known parades in the country, dating back to 1906. This is one of the biggest, brightest and boldest street parties in Portugal, a three-day extravaganza of mirth, mischief and merrymaking. The procession of floats heaves with a colourful theatre of costumes, masks and hats. Festivities continue into the night with dancing till dawn. If you are holidaying in the Algarve at this time of year it is well worth a day trip to Loulé to watch the famous parade of floats, with cabeçudos, samba performers, and a mix of live music. It is a true tradition and a celebration for everyone. You will see masked individuals, and costumed cross dressers enjoying making a racket in the streets. Traditional stores line the route selling local fayre in both liquid and solid form. Madronia, the famous Monchique lacquer from the Madronia berries is popular – and extremely strong. Little cakes and sweets with marzipan, chorros, farturas, dried figs stuffed with almonds and a range of savouries – petiscos – will be on offer.
Carnival antics of the past included disguising ones voice and playing tricks on people – known as “entrudos”. Masked balls often followed as evening entertainment but are less prevalent nowadays. The “estudantinas” were groups of people dressed as students seen wandering the streets singing quartets about Carnival life and celebration. Today, the most common sound of Carnival is the sound of the Brazilian Samba. As in the UK, each city chooses a Carnival King and Queen, and they will be given pride of place on one of the many flower covered floats.
Most carnivals have a theme, with much good-natured satirising of life, with a particular proclivity for ridiculing politicians. Taxes attract a special level of repent, and this year’s theme in Loulé was “Troika and the Crisis”. In Moncarapacho Greek Gods and Godesses were seen, probably in either borrowed or second hard robes!
Algarve carnivals are policed by the local GNR, but the officers maintain a very low-key presence, in keeping with the spirit of the events. There are usually children’s parades and special events, and even though fewer adults dress up these days, the children love it and the Primary school parades are a must to see. The children’s processions tend to be in the morning and the main events are after 3pm. So, be prepared to get wet, dodge a flying egg or two, drink too much and dance into the night to the sounds of Samba, all in aid of living the tradition and enabling the full travel experience.