Whilst there are a variety of ways to celebrate Carnaval in Portugal, there isn’t much in Porto, so we have to travel outside the city to experince the revelry. Last year, we went the traditional route, by travelling to Podence to see the Caretos. This year, we opted to enjoy the colour and sounds of the carnaval in Ovar.
Ovar is located about 39km south of Porto. It would be an easy drive/ride but parking could be a challenge due to the thousands of people who descend on the town for the carnaval. The easiest option is to take the train – a 45 minute journey that costs €2.25 per person. But be prepared for a crowded train on the return journey, after the carnaval parade ends!
The carnaval celebrations are spread over several days and nights in Ovar, with different activities scheduled. But the biggest draw is the big parade that involves 14 carnival groups, six passerelle groups and four samba schools, totalling about 2,000 participants. This parade occurs twice during the Carnaval week – on the Sunday and on Fat Tuesday (the last day of the event). With rain forecast for the final day, we headed to Ovar on Sunday 23rd February.
The parade takes place inside a fenced-off parade route, so spectators need to purchase tickets to enjoy the show. A ticket booth is set up directly outside the Ovar train station, making ticket purchase easy. In 2018, we had been able to buy tickets for the seated grandstand area (bleachers), but this year the grandstand was sold out. We had to settle for the €7 peão tickets, which is a standing area prior to the grandstand. To get a good spot, we had arrived about two hours before the start of the parade. Fortunately, vendors were selling little fold-up stools for only €2.50 each, so we had some basic seating until the parade started.
A group of gigantes (aka gigantones) wobbled along the route to get the parade started. These traditional giants, with over-sized papier-mache heads, were introduced to Portugal in the late 1800s, but they date as far back as the 14th century in other parts of Europe. Each one is carried by a man inside, who can only see the route ahead of him through a small mesh panel in the waist of the gigante.
Behind the gigantes came a succession of groups, each with their accompanying music. Many of these groups featured participants festooned with brightly coloured flowers and feathers, according to their various themes.
Some of the groups had decorated floats to convey a particular theme, with participants acting out that theme alongside the floats as they moved along the course.
The Melindrosas group had a Freddie Mercury theme, including a full-sized piano, two ‘Freddies’ and two groups of dancers performing to Queen songs.
Bull-fighting and Mexican mariachis also featured in performances by the Pindericus group.
The circus came to town with this next group’s theme.
This lady certainly brought some colour to the parade!
And here are a few more performers who caught my eye.
Overall, it was a very enjoyable way to spend an afternoon. Next year, I think we’ll try a different location for a different carnaval flavour.