Normally it is impossible to walk from the Algarve into Spain as the only bridge is inhospitable to pedestrians. However this week the impossible became the possible thanks to the wonderful ‘Festival do Contrabando’, and we were able to follow musicians as they walked across water into Spain.
‘Festival do Contrabando’ is a fabulous event which is now in its third year. For a few days in March in the south west of Spain and south east of Portugal two communities come together to commemorate their shared smuggling heritage.
Smuggling in this area was rife in the 1930s and 1940s, due in part to the challenges of the Spanish Civil War and the beginning of the second world war. And one Spanish smuggler from this period still survives today; he doesn’t attend the festival but you can read his story here. Whilst the smugglers may have gone their memories are very much present in this weekend’s festival; from artisan craftsmen and women, to traditional foods and music.
And in Alcoutim there remain signs of the smugglers from their sacks, to their home and if you are really lucky you may even see the odd smuggler crossing the Rio Guadiana!
We elected to avoid the larger crowds and visited yesterday afternoon when the festival began and the bridge was open. This of course meant we had to ‘suffer’ the 6 or was it 7 dignitaries making their speeches but we also got to benefit from easy access to the stalls and plenty of choices and empty seats when we came to eat in Alcoutim. As whilst there are multiple food stalls and restaurants open in both Alcoutim and Sanlúcar de Guadiana for the festival, I suspect that today and tomorrow there will be thousands of visitors descending and so places might be limited.
There is apparently a dream of having a permanent bridge here to unite Alcoutim and Sanlúcar de Guadiana, however I suspect it is a bit of a pipe dream! So in the meanwhile if you fancy walking into Spain, across a secure if somewhat wobbly bridge on a changing tide with strong winds, then do head up to Alcoutim tomorrow. There is a tiny charge to cross the temporary bridge, and for that not only do you get to cross both ways but you acquire a bandanna. As the tickets come in the form of a smuggler’s bandanna are available from various ticket booths in Alcoutim.
By the way please note the bridge is only open from 9am to 11:30am, and then again from 1pm to 6pm (Portuguese time). Outside of these hours you will find there is a rather large gap (see below) in the middle! If you do get struck on the wrong side, or perhaps find the thought of crossing the bridge too scary, and some did, you can always jump on the small passenger ferry which is also running.
We had a fabulous walk yesterday, and also came home laden with goodies from the markets. For more information on the festival do visit their Facebook page, and if you cannot make it here’s a few moments of music to make you feel as though you are there.