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Following the Smuggler's Footsteps
A party on both sides of the river...
Festival do Contrabando
The three-day event was held from the 24th to the 26th of March. Started in 2017, by means of a three-way partnership between Alcoutim, the Spanish town of Sanlúcar de Guadiana, and an Algarve tourism organization the event was coming off a three-year hiatus due to covid. And while the two prior events had been a roaring success, the towns this year had to move forward without their major sponsor. And move on they did.
The festival celebrates the history of smuggling which took place in the mid-1900s. Of course, prior to the EU, duties were levied on the import and export of goods between countries, so smuggling routes developed among many border towns. If you read our prior post on Alcoutim you know that Martin Borgmeier (the 2022 long-drive champion) could likely hit a golf ball across this part of the river. So the Portuguese took advantage of their proximity and brought coffee, sugar, and spirits to Spain and returned with Spanish fabric.
The Floating Bridge
We decided to plan our visit for Sunday morning…hoping that many would be in church and we would beat the crowds. We arrived in Alcoutim at about 9:30, traffic was already heavy and barriers had been erected to keep cars out of the center of town. We found a dirt parking lot about 5 blocks from the center of town and made our way into town on foot.
While there were LOTS of food vendors, craftspeople, bands, and street performers, the major draw was the pedestrian bridge that had been installed just for this weekend. We purchased tickets (€3/pp) and followed the crowd. The walk across the floating bridge was a fun experience, occasionally made more exciting by an occasional gust of wind. However, plenty of wetsuited men stood guard on nearby boats and ski-doos and we hadn’t had an adult beverage on our first crossing so we felt safe.
We toured the small town of Sanlúcar de Guadiana, population 400, and had a bite to eat. We were entertained by passing street performers, bands, and impromptu musical performances. By 13:30, it was so crowded that we waited nearly 20 minutes in line just to cross the bridge again. It was estimated that 50,000 people participated in O Festival do Contrabando this year, and as we drove out of town we passed cars that were parked more than a mile from the action.
We had no idea what to expect when we suggested this excursion to our visitors. They had just spent three days in Lisbon and we hoped to show them another side of Portugal…how small towns and villages celebrate their unique histories. A few weeks later I learned that Siesta Campers listed it among its 12 Best Portuguese Festivals. And now I know why.
Final Note (not a pun): I have turned on a new Substack function called Notes. It seems a bit like Facebook, Instagram or Twitter (the first two of which cause me concern, the later makes me want to “hurl”)…however, it permits me to add a quick note, photo, etc. without sending you an additional email.
You can access Notes on the web at substack.com/notes or find the “Notes” tab in the Substack app. As a subscriber to Expat in Portugal, you’ll automatically see my notes. Feel free to like, reply, or share them around!
On Wednesday of last week I stopped by the house and snapped a photo…so if you want to see the photo before anyone else, head over to Notes. You can also share notes of your own. I hope this becomes a space where every reader of Expat in Portugal can share thoughts, ideas, and interesting quotes from the things we're reading on Substack and beyond.
Do you like this idea? Love this idea? Or does it make you want to “hurl”? Let me know.
Na próxima semana um relatório de progresso da casa, até lá, tchau
If you link to their website, you will find a video promoting the event.