The first market in Portugal I ever went to was Barcelos – it kind of spoils you for markets thereafter, being in the nature of a gargantuan quasi-medieval bazaar rather than a mere place to buy fruit and veg. But as I got to know the country, I found that every region had its own special market, some large, some small, but each with its own particular interest and character. These are the five I find myself going back to most – you may know others, I’d love to hear about them.
Feira de Barcelos
Every Thursday the small Minho town of Barcelos turns into one big – make that humungous – shopping experience as the Feira de Barcelos takes over the vast central square. It’s extraordinary – quite simply the one market in Portugal you’d travel across the country for. It’s well known for traditional crafts, though you could happily set yourself the challenge of trying to buy anything here, from an apple to a tractor by way of the finest selection of Big Pants in Europe. A great tip is to stay overnight on the Wednesday (I recommend the Bagoeira) and get up at dawn with the traders – it’s the kind of scene that stays with you for life.
Feira da Ladra, Lisbon
Lisbon’s famous ‘thieves’ market’ (Tuesday and Saturday mornings) is a bit less edgy than it was, what with Lisbon being an up-and-coming style destination. Only a bit less mind. While the antiques, vintage and flea market stalls are all legit – and there are tons of them – there are still plenty of corners where ‘wares’ are displayed in a blanket-on-the-ground kind of manner. Put it this way – if I’d been robbed the night before, I’d still come here first for a look around, see if I recognised anything. And then think about buying a church pulpit and an Angolan army uniform.
I used to come here every Thursday when I lived in central Portugal – it’s not huge and it’s not well-known outside the region, but it is a genuine slice of traditional rural Portuguese life, from the little old ladies selling surplus veg to the stalls selling everything for the Man About Farm. At about noon, beat the rush and head into the market building to the little grill-house upstairs where they do barbecue piri-piri chicken and chips, salad and a challenging little red wine for some insanely low price. Or you can even buy a fish from downstairs and have them grill that for you. Warning – after the wine, you will buy some basketware and cabbage.
Feira Quinzenal, Ponte de Lima
The other big destination in the north for market hounds is beautiful Ponte de Lima, set on the banks of the wide River Lima. Every other Monday the riverside bursts into market action, and it’s the setting as much as the market itself that is enchanting. Everything about Ponte de Lima is attractive – unlike, say, Arganil or even Barcelos, you’d come here anyway, market or no. Mke a trip of it and stay in one of the town’s fabulous manor house B&Bs and this is another of those wonderful only-in-Portugal experiences.
Down in the deep south, in the Alentejo, there are quite a few candidates for great markets – in Elvas (alternate Mondays) and Évora (second Tuesday of the month) – but for me it has to be the Saturday market in the gorgeous marble town of Estremoz. Again, it’s partly the town itself – fashioned from marble hewn from the local quarries, topped by a medieval castle now a luxury hotel – but it’s also the opportunity to see genuine Portuguese ceramics in a place noted for them, from figurines to fruit bowls. Great for cheese too, either strong and tangy or mild and creamy, with stall-holders who’ll glady let you have a nibble here and a nibble there.