Christmas in Portugal was rather magical for our first couple of years here, helped by the beautiful lights in our local town of Tavira. I talked about them in this post, and it’s really hard to believe I wrote it five whole years ago!
Due to the financial crisis, things have been a little flat in many Algarve towns in recent years, with slashed budgets meaning that last year Tavira only really got a tree. Still, it did better than some towns that got nothing at all.
We’re hoping Tavira has the “old” decorations back this year, but we’ve not had a chance to visit after dark (and given that our six month old son screams during dark car journeys, that chance won’t come easy!)
Anyway, we wanted to go somewhere where Christmas cheer was guaranteed, so we headed to the border town of Vila Real de Santo Antonio, which always makes a big effort for Christmas.
The highlight, as ever, was the huge indoor nativity scene, featuring thousands of animated figurines, complete with impressive lighting and water features. This year, there was the addition of “flying” doves over the scene too. It was as enchanting as ever and the aforementioned six-month-old seemed suitably spellbound.
As well as the nativity scene, there’s ice skating (on a rather small scale), a Santa’s grotto, and a small craft and food market.
All the typical Portuguese “festival foods” were present and correct: farturas (akin to donuts), smoked octopus and (most importantly for Christmas) freshly roasted chestnuts. Mulled wine was the only thing absent, but we can’t expect to find British drinks on the border of Spain and Portugal!
In case you’re not familiar with the place, Vila Real also boasts some decent kitchen and textile shops, so is a good place to grab gifts. However, it’s worth noting that everything starts to wind down quite early for Portugal (8/9PM), which is surprising when summer markets often don’t get started until after that point.
If you’re in the Algarve during the holiday season, I highly recommend a trip to Vila Real de Santo Antonio. It may not quite match Hyde Park’s Winter Wonderland, but it’s cheaper, easier, and just as likely to spark that festive feeling.
If you’d like to read more about our five years in Portugal, please check out our book.
Or find it here on Amazon.COM, for US readers: