An abundance of craft fairs in Portugal
Like me, Portuguese people seem to be quite fond of handmade arts and crafts. I’m basing this opinion on the number of craft fairs that are held every year. Most reasonably sized towns hold at least one dedicated artisan fair, and there are usually a liberal sprinkling of handicrafts for sale at foodie fairs, too.
Some of the creations may not be my cup of tea but I’m usually impressed and inspired by the ingenuity and craftsmanship on display. Ceramics, wood, stone, leather, glass, metal and fabric are converted into ornaments or utensils. Flower petals, fish scales, pencil shavings and egg shells all get put to imaginative uses as jewellery or artistic decorations.
Some craft fairs, like ‘Poiartes’ in Vila Nova de Poiares, only last a weekend and there isn’t always much advance warning, sorry, publicity. Still, if you keep your ears to the ground, an eye on Facebook, and look out for posters on lampposts and roundabouts, there’s a chance of finding out about them before it’s too late.
Others, like the national arts and craft fair in Vila do Conde, just north of Porto, go on for a couple of weeks, filling the gardens of Avenida Julio Graça with stalls and live entertainment at various points during the day and evening.
You can actually see the artisans at work at most of these places.
Watch the wooden spoon man flick wood shavings onto an ever-increasing pile on the floor beneath his stool as he whittles away at lumps of wood.
Marvel at the dexterity involved in twisting and moving around to make the lace that Vila do Conde is famous for. The wooden bobbins make a nice clacking sound, too.
Learn how fish scales can be used to make pictures or be fascinated by the amazing things that women from Penacova and Vila Nova de Poiares can do with balsa wood.
All that observing is likely to make you hungry but what better excuse do you need to check out some of the regional delicacies on sale? As well as the ubiquitous Serra da Estrella cheese and layers of presunto, you should be able to track down some traditional cakes to snack on or sit yourself down for a full regional meal, depending on the venue.
Whilst every artisan fair is unique, and attracts a different line-up of vendors, I’ve been to several now and I’ve noticed that a few familiar faces, like the wooden spoon man, crop up at different fairs around the country.
I realised this quite recently as I was ambling along the handicraft stalls in Coimbra‘s pretty riverside park.
After recognising some woollen capes from Serra da Estrella and the fish scale art, I got quite excited about the possibility of finding the man from São João da Madeira who makes sculptures of animals and flowers from metal and stones.
I’d seen his work the year before, in Vila do Conde, but didn’t have my car or husband with me so I didn’t buy anything as the pieces are too heavy to cart around. Luckily for me, this time I had both Mike and the car with me and we soon found the stall I was looking for.
We are now proud owners of a couple of stone flowers, which look fantastic in their new stand, a piece of rust-coloured schist from our garden.
If you’re interested in checking out what Portuguese artisans have to offer, here are a selection of fairs in Portugal:
For a mega dose of handicrafts, head to the Park of Nations in Lisbon for the annual International Handicraft Exhibition at the beginning of July.
Coimbra combines its annual craft fair with a book fair in the park by the river. It’s on for about a week at the end of May.
The National Artisan Fair in Vila do Conde usually runs from late July to early August.
In Estoril, the handicraft fair lasts all summer and can be found just outside the congress centre.
‘Poiartes’ in Vila Nova de Poiares is usually mid-September. Check the municipal website nearer the time for dates. And look out for posters along the EN17 road.
This calendar lists craft fairs and medieval fairs throughout Portugal (in Portuguese) but it hasn’t got all of them.
If I find out about any others, I’ll share the details on Facebook or Twitter so if you don’t already ‘like’ or ‘follow’ me, click the links on the left of this post.
If you know of any good craft fairs in Portugal, please let me know.