Portimão is known locally as the ‘Sardine Capital’ and each year the Sardine Festival is one of the highlights on the local calendar. This year it is entering its 19th year and we wandered over to the Portimão riverside area on the first night of the event to see what was happening.
The riverside has many fish restaurants, all jostling for customers – but this year the atmosphere felt a bit less jolly and a lot more strained. At the first restaurant we stopped by, where we know the waiters well, they were very friendly and chatty – until they realised we were only looking and not planning to eat – then one of the waiters literally pushed us away and walked off!
At another restaurant we witnessed a waiter loudly barking orders angrily at a junior waiter in Portuguese; then when a couple walked past he turned to them with a big false smile and said ‘Hello’ in the most hilariously ‘posh’ English accent imaginable.
I have to say we had walked past the same restaurants the night before – and apart from the fact they are now displaying the event posters – none of them had anything different on offer on their boards – or a special price on sardines – in fact most of them weren’t even advertising sardines!
Round the corner under the road bridge they have set up a small stage and some seating – I love the sprayed on fishes and sign on the back wall:
It is spoilt a little bit though by the burger vans!
Reports suggest that the town council have decided to save money this year and have turned the Festival into more of a street party feel – there will be live music every evening at 9pm which is good. It does feel a little tame though and the traditional theme of ‘sardines’ really seems to have been lost somewhere in the disco lights and fast food stalls.
Under the bridge in the restaurant quarter, all seemed to be business as normal – restaurants were busy and fish being eaten a-plenty – although it is like that most nights at this time of year to be fair to them:
I did manage to spot some sardines though!
Back to the fair area – and one of the old buildings has been opened up for a small craft market which is nice
And then we went for a walk along the riverfront as we often do in the evening – there has been a small funfair and lots of ‘market stalls’ (all selling the same stuff!) for about a week now, so you can’t really say that they are part of the ‘Sardine Fair’
If you want to experience the real ‘Sardine’ story then I can recommend visiting the Portimão museum – I have blogged about that before – you can read about it here via this link:
The museum gives a detailed and fascinating insight into the history of this fishing community:
We also missed the procession which happened last year – lots of local people walking along the riverfront waving silver cardboard fishes in the air and singing – all accompanied by local music. It gave the festival a more traditional feel – and was a great start to the event.
Sadly for me, this year’s event is summed up by the sign on the riverfront above – and we were left feeling quite saddened that such a traditional event had been overtaken by funfair rides and burger vans.
Let’s hope next year it returns in its former glory – and we can again enjoy a plate of delicious hot sardines whilst marvelling at the proud and simple fishing history of this area.
The fair runs from the 1st to 11th August.