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THERE’S ALWAYS plenty going on in the Algarve throughout the summer, but if you fancy a more traditional celebration of the high season there is a very special festival that takes place in August in the north of the country – so why not take a break from the modern day Algarve and experience a taste of traditional Portugal?
The festival of Nossa Senhora da Agonia is held on the weekend nearest August 20 every year. This year, the festival will be held between August 17 and 20. It takes place in the historical town centre of Viana do Castelo, Minho, and is one of the best preserved in the country.
Highlights include the Praça da República with its 16th Century fountain in the centre and colourful esplanades are lined with splendid buildings such as the old town chambers and meeting rooms. Be sure to visit the Santa Luzia Basilica, the Santiago da Barra fort and the Municipal Museum.
The festival is the largest in Minho and one of the most popular and lively in the country. It is much more than a local religious occasion and has many different facets: the procession, fireworks, traditional parades, dances and parties with lots of food and drink. Avenida dos Combatentes, which leads down to the right bank of the river Lima, is filled with stalls, colourful balloons and flowers, and you can hear the constant beat of drums announcing the arrival of the carnival players.
Some of these colourful processions are filled with people in traditional dress while others have folk singers and actors wearing enormous paper heads. These processions go up and down the avenue during the four days of the festival starting on the Friday night. The fairground on the western side of the town near Santiago da Barra fort is a hub of activity with a large number of stalls selling food and drink and other colourful tents for sellers.
At one end of the ground is the chapel of Nossa Senhora da Agonia where the image of the patron saint will emerge and the chapel itself is bathed in light at night. Viana do Castelo has always been known for good food and the festival is as good an excuse as any to the thousands of visitors to pop into the taverns, restaurants and snack bars.
The festival comes to a spectacular finish on the Sunday night with a firework display set off from the banks of the river Lima and watched by thousands. It is a magical experience that you are sure to want to repeat.
Far from the madding crowd
Once you’ve had your fill of food, drink and festivities, head up the Santa Luzia hill to look out over the town, the estuary and the Atlantic. You can either travel in the 100-year-old funicular railway, which has recently been renovated and leaves from beside the railway station, or stretch your legs and climb the hundreds of steps that lead up to the basilica. These steps were designed in the 20th Century by Ventura Terra and were obviously inspired by the Sacre Coure in Paris.
There are lots of services from Oporto Campanhã railway station up the Minho line to Viana do Castelo every day. The journey takes one-and-a-half to two hours and there are also special trains laid on during the festival period. The station is right in the town centre on Avenida dos Combatentes where all the parades pass, so you arrive right in the heart of the festival. For more information about hotels, including the Pousada do Monte de Santa Luzia, and trains to Viana do Castelo please call your local travel agent, who will be happy to organise all aspects of your travel.
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