When the almond trees burst into bloom, Carnival time brings decorated floats and parades across most of the Algarve. Loulé, in particular, is noted for hosting one of Portugal’s biggest Carnival parades.
The Sovereign Mother festivities in Loulé are among the most intense religious traditions in the Algarve. On Easter Sunday, the Small Festival sees the litter descend from the Chapel to the Church of São Francisco (St. Francis). Two weeks later, at the Big Festival, the procession winds it way back up the steep hill to the chapel, the litter-bearers running all the way.
In São Brás de Alportel, at the Flower Torch Festival, men carry torches decorated with sprigs of lavender, French lavender and flowers, forming the wings of the procession that signals Christ’s resurrection.
The first of May is a festive day in the Algarve. These popular festivities are deeply rooted in the Algarve’s culture and include, picnics, snail-eating, dancing and singing. Another tradition is to make big rag dolls called Maios (“Mays”), decorate them and place them at the door of the house with amusing verses. These dolls symbolise spring and fertility. The origin of this tradition lies in certain customs from pagan Rome, connected to the worship of nature.
In June, the Algarve takes on a special charm during the Popular Saints festivities. There are festive gatherings and dances in various parts of the cities and villages, and people eat barbecued sardines and pork steaks, drink red wine, dance and jump over rosemary wood bonfires, all in a cheerful basil-scented ambience.
August is the month of the Banho 29 or Banho Santo (Holy Bath), which brought the country folk to the seaside. Today, it is not so much the country folk as groups of friends, who take the opportunity afforded by the tradition to socialise around a bonfire. In Lagos and at Manta Rota beach, the celebration includes period bathing costumes.
All along the coast, in August and September, seamen take part in processions at sea to give thanks and ask for blessings for their dangerous professions.