Festival do Contrabando / Smugglers Festival

Festival do Contrabando
Last weekend, 29, 30 and 31 March, Alcoutim (Portugal) and Sanlucar de Guadiana (Spain), hosted an amazing festival which I am delighted to say we were able to enjoy to the fullest! Ourselves and, at a rough guesstimate, 10 000 other people too. Well done to both villages!

Overlooking both villages and the river and footbridge, Festival do Contrabando
Both villages border the Guadian River, which forms the border between Spain and Portugal. In the olden days there was a lot of smuggling between the two countries, especially moonshine it would appear! Throughout the festival, people dressed in olden day costumes (and behaving in character to said costume) wandered the streets creating all types of fun and amusement for the festival goers.
making moonshine, Festival do Contrabando
Washing and leather ladies, Festival do Contrabando
There were witches and widows, whores and holy men, pregnant brides and policemen, craftsmen and fancy pants, moonshine distillers, washer women and leather workers, just all types of folks that would have been about at the time. My favourite was the grumpy woman sitting on a suitcase (hey you, I’m the one in pink next to her and not the grumpy one!!!) Ooh yes, and the wailing widows were amazing. They would grab people walking by and sob and wail, just brilliant. And all festival goers joined in the fun which I think is just as important.
Pregnant bride, Festival do Contrabando
Grumpy and I! Festival do Contrabando
Wailing widows, Festival do Contrabando
But that’s not all! There was live entertainment all over the place too! We got the programme and saw all the things on offer, but then just wandered about and discovered a lot of them by chance and then others too that weren’t even on the programme. Next time I might follow the programme more closely, but actually, we saw so much, I’m not sure we would have had time for more.
Flute and drums, Festival do Contrabando
Singing accordian players, Festival do Contrabando
Band playing down at the quay, Festival do Contrabando
Friday was the opening ceremony and all the dignitaries from both sides gave their speeches. Not understanding much Portuguese or Spanish (minor understatement here!) left us a little in the dark, but it was fun just watching them all dressed in their finery. The Portuguese and Spanish police have such interesting uniforms and caps, but I liked the lady with the red hair best!
Spanish uniform, Festival do Contrabando
Portuguese uniforms from behind, Festival do Contrabando
One of the VIP’s, Festival do Contrabando
They opened the foot bridge over the river and streams of people flooded over the river to Spain (all puns intended, thank you). This floating bridge isn’t normally there and is just put up for the weekend. An amazing feat and I felt like Jesus walking on water every time I went over it. It was an experience in itself when the wind was blowing and the tide was pushing it about and the “crazy ones” were rocking it…but it was very safe and a great experience. There were people on jet-skis and rubber ducks at all times to ensure the safety of all.
Jetski hero, Festival do Contrabando
Ballons crossing the bridge, Festival do Contrabando
In the evening we walked about town and happened upon our favourite band/entertainment group of the whole festival, Crassh_Street. They were amazing. They are like a mixture of drums and blue man group. They wandered around town performing and interacting with the crowds. Absolutely superb. You can find them on YouTube too. They performed till well after 10pm and then when they sadly stopped playing we went to bed to prepare for the next day.
Crassh_street, Festival do Contrabando
Crassh_street, Festival do Contrabando
Crassh_street, Festival do Contrabando
Well Saturday was a whole nother ball game as thousands of people turned up for the festival. We were there in our camper van, so we just rolled out of bed and headed over the “Jesus” bridge to Spain before the masses arrived. On the Spanish side there were also all types of goodies one could buy (I bought a piece of cork oak bark with succulents planted in it – soooooo sweet as was the saleslady!) and more music and entertainment.
Looking across to Alcoutim, Festival do Contrabando
Made it across the bridge! Festival do Contrabando
Creative with cork, Festival do Contrabando
We had pork that was on spit roasted in front of us – a whole porker on the spit. No offence intended to vegans and vegetarians, but it was super. Then we headed back into the throng of people and continued the entertainment on the Portuguese side. There were accordion players, traditional music and dancing (similar to Irish river dance if you ask me), choirs singing, just a never stream of entertainment. We unfortunately missed Rojo, which if the photos on the official Facebook website are anything to go by, was majorly good entertainment.
Pork on the spit, Festival do Contrabando
Lovely juice pork and chips, Festival do Contrabando
In the evening we happened upon Manto, which was just such spectacular ballet / performance ballet that seeing them alone would have justified visiting the festival. Sadly we only caught the last half hour, which is a pity as they were superb. The female ballet dancer delivered an exquisite performance (as did he) and was just a joy to behold. The perfection of the performance is indescribable. Next time I will be there an hour early just to be sure to see her/them!
Fantastic ballet, Festival do Contrabando
Excellent ballet performance, Festival do Contrabando
What really amazed me on Saturday was the lack of aggression considering the very long wait to cross the bridge and all the people standing in queues in the heat without getting perturbed by it. Super. Praise to the Portuguese for their patience and civility, thank you.
Queuing to cross the bridge, Festival do Contrabando
Oh yes, I was interviewed by the local TV station!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! I was just sitting there watching the thousands of people queueing peacefully and they interviewed me! I feel like a superstar, even if I haven’t managed to find the footage online yet. I will persevere and find it!
Alcoutim by night, Festival do Contrabando
Alcoutim by night, Festival do Contrabando
Roll on Sunday and we rolled out of bed and walked over to Spain again. Because it was slightly overcast, I decided to “climb Mount Everest” or rather the mountain with the castle on top of it overlooking the town, the river and Portugal. I could have done with oxygen it was so steep! Okay, okay, not quite, but still. Great views though.
Looking across at Sanlucar, Spain, Festival do Contrabando
From the castle at Sanlucar, Spain, Festival do Contrabando
The clocks changed at midnight on the 30th, but we had failed to notice this, so the bridge closed for the usual shipping hour at lunchtime and we were on the wrong side, so we took the water taxi back which was cheap and great fun too. The festival manages the bridge crossing well – you pay €1 per day and get a triangular scarf with different colours for the different days. Brilliant idea and one has the scarves as souvenirs afterwards.
Water taxis crossing the river, Festival do Contrabando
So back to Portugal and lunch at the church restaurant. It’s got nothing to do with the church, it’s just right there at the church entrance. We were lucky to get a spot overlooking the river and the quay and had a great meal of fire grilled chicken and black pork, both to die for. They were massively overwhelmed with guests and underwhelmed with staff, but I think this is cured with lots of great Portuguese wine and so we had a superb lunch, thank you so much! Our waitress was the best in the whole town, make that province, so we will be back!
Spanish musicians and singers, Festival do Contrabando
We were able to watch Spanish singers come over the river in beautiful costumes, who then sang just for us (!) right where we were having lunch. Other groups of men came with percussion instruments and sang right next to our table. A very pleasurable afternoon.
Right near the restaurant, Festival do Contrabando
After a little snooze, we returned to the festival and arrived right at the start of my next favourite performance, The Clown Mimo Huenchulaf, from Chile, with his performance, Todo Puede Pasar. It was the best clown performance I have ever seen. Just superb. He was funny, smart, cheeky, and borderless without being rude, just plain and simply excellent. Thank you, thank you, thank you.
The best clown ever! Festival do Contrabando
The best clown ever! Festival do Contrabando
The best clown ever! Festival do Contrabando
The best clown ever! Festival do Contrabando
And with his performance, the festival ended. The market closed at 7pm – I forgot to mention earlier that there was a market throughout the town with all types of interesting things on sale – and so did the bridge. We sat in the quay area and had chorizo and beer for supper while a men’s choir sang without any musical accompaniment – again just super and a lovely way to end the weekend.
Part of the choir, Festival do Contrabando
Lovely grilled chorizo and bread, Festival do Contrabando
Thank you to both Alcoutim and Sanlucar de Guadian. The festival was a major success and I am grateful that we had the chance to be part of this superb event. We look forward to coming again next year!
Festival do Contrabando

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