In Northern Portugal, the Serralves Em Festa keeps attendees busy with its 240 plus activities and events over the course of 40 hours. The backdrop of this contemporary arts festa, or festival in Portuguese, is Portugal's second largest city, Porto, already well known for its famous port wine. The Fundacao Serralves, or Serralves Foundation, has hosted the spring event for the past nine years.
The Fundacao Serralves is a private foundation that focuses on generating and increasing the public's general awareness of contemporary art. The bulk of events are hosted on the Serralves grounds, former home to the Count of Vizela. The count built this compound back in 1930, equipping the residence with an intoxicating rose garden, a fully functional farm, an immense and serene fountain and his contemporary home, all owned currently by the foundation. The foundation added a 13,000-square-meter museum in 1999 designed by architect Alvaro Siza Viera. Everything from the doorknobs, handrails, light fixtures and the building design contribute to the ideas of what the foundation represents. During the festa, the entrance fee to the museum and surrounding compound is waived, creating large, enthusiastic crowds eager to experience a local treasure.
The activities are not limited to the 18 hectares of land; the festa is well publicized and ubiquitous from the airport to many spots around Porto. It's nearly impossible to take in all 40 hours and attend all the activities as many are offered at different locations simultaneously across the massive compound. The events commence at 8 am and finish at midnight the following day. Early on, the activities tend to be family oriented, from arts and crafts stations for the kids to puppet shows, jazz troupes and circus style experiences for all ages. As evening descends upon the celebration, the program becomes more mature, with electronic music acts, free art interpretation ensembles and comedic shows captivating the crowds.
"One of the aspects of the festa that I really like is that it relaxes the idea of visiting a museum," Fundacao Serralves General Manager Odete Patricio explains. "You usually tend to think that a museum is something quite static, where you need to behave seriously. Serralves em Festa is quite the opposite: come wearing shorts and sneakers, have a beer, have a picnic in the Serralves Park, come at four in the morning, stay for 40 hours but enjoy it. That is our appeal."
Some of the highlights of this past year's activities range from a man who has a choreographed dance with a bulldozer to an acrobatic troop from Guinea hurling their bodies around a pole two or three at a time to two men downing a bottle of wine and only communicating with gestures for 30 minutes! However, this is only a snapshot of the happenings at this truly international festa that annually attracts 100,000 spectators.
The best way to really absorb the beauty of this event is to plan a vacation to Porto and attend. Here are two suggestions: First, make sure you pickup a map and the schedule at the entrance. Second, allow yourself ample time during those 40 hours to literally stop and smell the roses.