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Portugal’s Festival Route 2014

Paredes de Coura
Place: Paredes de Coura
Photo: Hugo Lima
Photo: Hugo Lima

Portugal by... Condé Nast Traveler

With so much musical variety in Portugal, the hard part is choosing: from the Paredes de Coura Festival to the Sagres Surf Fest, through Milhões de Festa, Optimus Primavera Sound, Optimus Alive, the Sintra Festival and the liveliest event in the quiet fishing village of Zambujeira do Mar, the charismatic Sudoeste Festival. But these are not the only ones. This vibrant route crosses Portugal from north to south on the trail of the best settings.

Paredes de Coura Festival
Our journey begins in the north, almost on the border with Galicia. The Portuguese town of Paredes de Coura - 50 km from Vigo - hosts the doyen of the Portuguese festival scene. A true classic. For over twenty years, it has been possible to hear great music in the natural amphitheatre of the Taboão river beach. The programme gives little margin for mainstream music, because there’s a clear focus on Portuguese and international alternative music. Pixies, P.J. Harvey, Morrissey, Arcade Fire, Calexico, Bombino, Hot Chip, Belle and Sebastian, Alabama Shakes, Delorean and John Talabot have topped the bill at the most recent events.

Milhões de Festa
Still in the north, near Barcelos, between Braga and the Costa Verde, the coastline that runs from the Galician border to Porto, Milhões de Festa has been steadily growing and now has a prominent place among the tough competition of the summer festivals in Portugal. Its latest line-up had more than 50 bands and a risky programme: new sounds and new bands, from both Portugal and the rest of the world. Bands like Austra, Orange Goblin, Adorno, Killing Frost and The Partisan Seed were revealed. A breath of fresh air.

Optimus Primavera Sound
From Braga, head south to Porto. City of hills and cobbled streets, with fine wines, a view over the Douro in all its splendour and great underground music. Porto hosts the Portuguese edition of the Primavera Sound Festival, which has taken place in Barcelona for twelve years. Suede, Wilco, Yann Tiersen, The XX, Nick Cave, Blur, Dinosaur Jr., Explosions in the Sky, The Breeders, Do Make Say Think and Los Planets have featured in the programme.

A diversity of styles, a focus on new values and the charisma of long-established artists have transformed Optimus Primavera Sound into a mandatory festival on the southern Europe festival circuit. Three days of real spring in the Parque do Cidade by the sea, well positioned within the city and easily accessible. An ideal location that has been known to accommodate about 75,000 people of 40 different nationalities. Waine Coyne, lead singer of Flaming Lips, made it clear: "This festival is the most beautiful in the whole summer" (although the event actually takes place in the spring).

If you visit Porto in any other season than the spring, take a look at the programme for Casa da Música (www.casadamusica.com). This unique, avant-garde building designed by the Dutch architect Rem Koolhaas opened in 2005, and offers the city the best international music throughout the year.

Optimus Alive
The route continues to the Portuguese capital and to a festival that turns Lisbon’s Riverside Promenade in Algés into California: Optimus Alive is every bit as good as the legendary Coachella festival, the event that brings together as many Hollywood celebrities in the neighbourhood as it does great indie bands on the stage. Since 2007, talents such as Bob Dylan, Neil Young, Green Day, Depeche Mode, The Cure, Radiohead, The Stone Roses, Pearl Jam, LCD Soundsystem, Alt-J, Kings of Leon, Phoenix and Tame Impala have all performed at Optimus Alive. The festival offers a huge programme, with almost a hundred bands playing on its stages for three days in July. Its slogan is worthy of the Champions League: 'The best programme. Always!'

Sintra Festival
Do you prefer classical music and dance? Take the train from Lisbon’s Rossio station, and in less than an hour you get to Sintra, the 'Old Town', the city of palaces and enchanted woods that Lord Byron described as one of the most charming places in Europe. This is the setting for the Sintra Festival, which every summer focuses on young performers with huge artistic talent paying tribute to the great composers from musical history, geniuses like Giuseppe Verdi, Richard Wagner and Charles-Valentin Alkan.

Super Bock Super Rock
Another old-timer in the festival circuit is held in July at Praia do Meco, in Sesimbra, about 40km south of Lisbon. Super Bock Super Rock is a rock festival. Groups that draw the crowds, a large number of Portuguese bands and a lot of decibels. We’re talking about bands like Muse, Metallica, The Strokes, Arctic Monkeys, The Killers, Kaiser Chiefs, Queens of the Stone Age and Manuel Fúria & Os Náufragos, to name but a few. The festival provides free buses to the rockers taking them to the area’s beautiful beaches, one of its main attractions.

Festival Músicas do Mundo de Sines
Our vibrant festival route next heads south to Sines, on the Alentejo coast, that every year hosts the largest World Music festival in Portugal and one of the most important in Europe. After fifteen editions, it has become a summer festival must for lovers of traditional, folk, popular, ethnic and roots music. It’s a festival noted for its diversity, featuring names like Rokia Traore, Femi Kuti, Hermeto Pascoal, Trilok Gurtu and Rachid Taha.

Festival do Sudoeste
Leaving Sines, continue to the peaceful fishing village of Zambujeira do Mar, on the Alentejo coast. That is, peaceful until the Southwest Festival begins. The first event was held in 1997 and since then it has revolutionised the village every August. Five days and several stages are available in this macro festival that has moved into more commercial music and features an eclectic programme with names like Pitbull and Fatboy Slim, David Guetta and Eddy Vedder, Luciano and Calle 13. Lots of beach, many hours of sunshine and music styles for all tastes.

Angra do Heroísmo International Jazz Festival
Now leaving the Iberian Peninsula behind, head out into the Atlantic Ocean, to the splendid Azores islands about 1500 kilometres west of Lisbon. Here, the centrepiece is jazz. Every autumn, Angra do Heroísmo, the capital of Terceira, hosts the interesting AngraJazz festival, which has seen more than 400 musicians perform on its stages. The town is transformed into a jazz club throbbing to the sound of swing ensembles such as Dave Holland Quintet, Dave Douglas Brass Ecstasy and the piano of Chano Domínguez.

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