The first Harri and I heard about the famous traditional chouriça festival in Querença was immediately after it had taken place last year. This time around we were determined not to miss the festivities so, along with a group of friends, we headed into the mountains to find out what it was all about.
The first thing we noticed when we arrived in the little village of Querença was the temperature difference compared to the coast. Back in Albufeira, it had been a bit nippier than usual; however, at 266 metres above sea level, it felt more like a sunny winter’s day in Wales than the Algarve. I was relieved I’d packed a spare fleece and was soon pulling up the zip, but poor Harri spent the day shivering in his hiking shorts.
We first visited Querença when we were walking the Via Algarviana link route from Loulé to Salir back in October 2015. Having decided against following the 550-metre uphill detour on our outward trek, we’d changed our minds and popped into the village on our return route. There are fantastic mountain views from the hilltop village and we’d enjoyed a few beers in the peaceful praça overlooking the lovely Igreja Paroquial de Querença/Igreja de Nossa Senhora da Assunção (our two-day hike is covered in More Algarve Hiking).
This time around, Querença was anything but peaceful. Festivals like this one attract hundreds of local people and visitors alike, and the praça was already bursting to the seams when we arrived. The Festa das Chouriças celebrates the traditional sausage of the area as a way of honouring the local patron saint of animals. The belief is that São Luís will continue to protect the locals’ livestock if they offer him homemade choriças once a year.
The festival actually started yesterday evening with a grand fado night. Despite the amount of time we’ve now spent in Portugal, we have yet to see fado performed. We really need to put that right in the near future.
Despite it being barely 12.15pm, there were already people queuing for huge bread rolls stuffed with equally enormous chouriças. There was no way that one person could devour a portion on their own … unless they possessed an equally enormous appetite. Most of the Portuguese sitting at the long wooden tables seemed to be sensibly sharing a plate of food. Our group decided to delay the savoury delights of the festival and instead opted for some of the delicious batata doce pastries (deep-fried and covered in sugar) and other sweet treats. Tina showed us how her Northern Portuguese family enjoyed fresh figs by stuffing them with almonds (delicious).
The beer, wine – and smoke – was flowing freely around us; however, some of our group (mentioning no names but including me) had engaged in a rather lively session at Arte Bar the previous evening, which meant alcohol was the last thing we wanted to indulge in this lunchtime (we couldn’t do much about the billowing smoke). Instead, we opted for some rosemary tea, which was much nicer than it sounds.
What is so wonderful about these traditional Portuguese festivals is how well-supported they are by people. The Festa das Chouriças is clearly an important date in the local calendar because hundreds had turned out on this cold January day to eat, drink and celebrate in the open air together. The Portuguese group next to us left an half-finished carafe of wine on the table and invited those taking their seats to enjoy it. There’s always that sense that sharing is a good thing, which I love.
We wandered around for a while, stopping at stalls selling cakes, honey, fudge (very dark), olives, wine and even plants (it’s always the plant stall that tempts me most). I overheard an English stallholder (a fluent Portuguese speaker) telling someone that the procession was taking place at 3pm so we vowed to stick around to watch it.
With time to kill, we took a stroll out of town, heading downhill to the point where the Via Algarviana link route crosses one of the roads into Querença. Within minutes of leaving the square, we were back in the peaceful, rural countryside with fantastic views towards Salir, and Rocha da Pena beyond.
To be honest, I’m not sure what I was expecting from the promised procession. Perhaps some flamboyant costumes or local musicians, certainly some colour … or even something sausage-related as this was a chouriça festival. In the event, we hung around in the biting cold until gone half past three to watch some ageing Catholic clerics carry a statue of the Virgin Mary out of the church and down the hill (we had no idea where they were heading). There was one heart-stopping moment when the Virgin looked certain to tumble from her bier, but she was soon steadied and the procession was able to continue past the gathered crowds, albeit at a snail’s pace.
It was a bit of an anti-climax after such an enjoyable and lively afternoon, but I guess it’s an important part of the festival if you happen to be Portuguese and Catholic. We decided against following the Virgin Mary to her destination and returned to our car.
We were going to be missing the auction of chouriça and the Alentejan singers; however, we wanted to get going before sunset when the mountain temperature would plummet. We’d enjoyed the festival immensely but it was time to leave.
The Portuguese love their festivals – I read that there is another one here in Querença around Christmas-time, which celebrates the humble cabbage. Perhaps I should make a note of it in my diary now.