Sao Bras Sao Bras, Eastern Algarve, Portugal

A town built on cork and decorated with flowers...





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More simply known as São Brás ('sow' -as in cow- 'brash'), São Brás is an unpretentious small town in the hills, to the north and slightly east of Faro. The old town, centred around the church and Episcopal Palace,  perches on an escarpment looking down towards the coast. The town's main square is an entertainment in itself - a cross-roads between Faro to the south, Loulé to the west, Tavira to the east and the old road to Lisbon to the north. The new town is rapidly growing northwards and eastwards from here. São Brás boasts its own ethnographic museum and exhimition gallery, open air and indoor swimming pools, a good cinema and a pousada on a hill overlooking the town. It has a daily fresh food market which expands into the surrounding streets each Saturday. Drive out north through the village of Alportel on the old Lisbon road, and you enter the beautiful and empty forested hills of the Serra do Caldeirão, which stretch all around for miles. It is from here that São Brás's wealth has traditionally been drawn, the town being a major centre for the cork industry, a role you can see celebrated in the museum, in a town roundabout and in the cork factories and piles of drying cork still to be seen about the town. The museum is in the house built for Miguel Dias Andrade, a 19th Century cork baron, and is worth a look for the house itself.

São Brás is at its best on Easter Sunday, when the Festa das Tochas (Torch Procession) celebrates the resurrection of Christ. The streets are paved with patterns of flowers; fresh wild flowers. A procession of the town's men starts from the Igreja de Matriz, following the flower-strewn streets, each carrying a tocha -  a 'torch' - also made of flowers. The leader cries "Christ is risen" and the processions responds with three cries of "Hallelujah". Similar festivals were celebrated in many Algarvian towns in the 18th and 19th centuries, but now, the tradition only survives in São Brás (see 'History' for why).

History

The Episcopal Palace in the old part of town was once the summer residence of the Bishop of Faro. The beginning of a cobbled road that linked São Brás with Faro can still be seen and followed between the Palace and the church. There is also a local legend that it was up this road that the maurauding seamen of Sir Francis Drake and Sir Walter Raleigh proceeded after sacking Faro in 1596 - having already sacked Cadiz in Spain. Bent on more pillage in the hill towns, it was the men of São Brás, armed only with clubs and branches, who defended the town and sent the invaders back to their ships. The São Brás men returned home with their clubs and branches decorated with flowers to celebrate their victory. A mass was held in the Igreja de Matriz to give thanks for the victory - an event still thought to underlie the present day Easter celebrations which begin and end at the very same church.

At the end of the 19th Century, São Brás was the most important centre of cork production in the world, with around 60 factories producing cork supplied from the Algarve and the Alentejo. Though the town has declined in importance since then, the cork industry is now enjoying a revival, with several new factories having recently been built.



Facilities
Facility Comment
tourist office YES - on corner of main square
bus station YES
internet cafe YES
foreign language newspapers YES
post office YES
cash machine (ATM) YES
supermarket YES - Intermarché, Ali-Super
Facility Comment
food market YES
cinema YES - nice one
theatre YES
health centre YES - with A&E
chemist / pharmacy YES
art gallery YES
pousada YES



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