The invitation appeared unexpected. Lands Without Shadow (Terras Sem Sombra) was about to begin, and the opportunity came to accompany the festival’s first weekend.
Strangely enough, I’ve only recently heard about Lands Without Shadow and its concept. Surprising because this is the 15th edition and I had never woken up to this event.
But after all, what is the Lands Without Shadow? It’s a festival held in several towns and villages in the Alentejo region, Portugal. People are invited to participate through activities that involve local traditions, musical moments — mostly held in churches — and biodiversity initiatives.
So I packed my bag and headed for Vidigueira on my way to the promise of one of Portugal’s most famous bread, the melodies of an incredible American choir and the beautiful banks of the Guadiana River.
Living Vidigueira through Lands Without Shadow
To tell you the truth, I had never set foot in Vidigueira. When I travel to Alentejo, it’s almost always to the coast or to go to bigger cities like Évora, for example. Curiously, the Lower Alentejo region has appeared little on my radar. So it was with the highest expectation that I stepped on Vidigueira lands.
The Alentejo is well reflected here. The small houses, the tranquility in the streets, the curiosity for who passes, the good morning or good afternoon that we receive from a stranger with whom we cross. The pace slows down here, and it feels so good.
The bread baked in Vidigueira
Soon began the first initiative of this weekend of Lands Without Shadow: to know Vidigueira’s bread through the visit to local bakeries.
The initial stop was at the town’s museum, a tribute to the roots and traditions of the village and an introduction to the local bread and the project that has been developed looking forward to its valorization. A work that involved studies of eating habits, the creation of work groups and panels of tasters. Sensory tests were done, characteristics and methods of confection were studied, in a challenge that seems to have no end in a country where bread is one of the main foods at the table.
“Valuing bread and passing awareness of its importance to younger generations” has been the goal.
Once the presentations were made, it was time to visit the bakeries and those who work there every day.
We set course to the artisan bakery of Ti’Joana or, to be more accurate, to the Padaria D’Avó.
But in a small land, where the doors are often open, we couldn’t resist entering Manuel Carvalho’s workshop, bewitched by clay handicrafts on the shelves. He has been working on this form of art for 25 years but says that he’s actually the photographer of Vidigueira’s Town Hall and that this is just a pastime. Rui Raposo, president of the municipality, confirms this, with a smile of pride in his people.
Without much time to spare — because Ti’Joana is waiting for us — we set out for the first bakery, but with the notion that the Lands Without Shadow is this: to know the arts of the land and the people who give it form.
50 years of local wisdom
In fact, Ti’Joana is already waiting for us. She and her daughter, our hostess. But the matriarch quickly calls to her all the attention. Sitting in an armchair, in that small family room, which is also a waypoint to the kitchen, she begins an endless series of stories. And, we, the participants of this unique festival, surround her like children listening to bedtime stories.
“This belonged to my great-grandmother, and then to my grandmother Victoria. She had an oven and bake for the customers. She could only bake for four customers because the oven carried four trays of bread. My grandmother’s life was always like that. My grandfather was a woodcutter, he went to the woods with three little donkeys. He put six blocks of wood on the donkeys. He came every day with those donkeys loaded with wood for the oven. He used to make wood hills in the yard. He had five daughters and a son. I worked in the oven with my grandmother. My grandmother worked all day and came at night she would go to bed for a little while, and my grandfather stayed to attend to the customers.” The stories followed each other, and D. Joana says: “I gave myself one day the whim to make an oven, I had it built and I’ve been working here for almost 50 years.”
Gracinda, the daughter, puts an end to the conversation. After all, those people were there to see how bread is made in that house, and the mother quite possibly has stories to tell until nightfall.
She begins to explain the whole process, which, between times of production and rest of the dough, may well reach 5 hours. Tricks are shown — such as adding potato shavings — and beliefs are told, which involve little prayers to bring more customers: “God increase you, God adds you, So you may serve many people.”
From Ti’Joana we continue towards Peninsular, a more modern bakery.
Around here, the whole process is the same as shown in the artisan bakery, but it changes (and much!) in the size of production.
“D. Joana’s oven is supposed to take 20 loaves, mine takes 200. She can work 10 kg of flour, I can mix 150 kg. But the whole process, all the ingredients, is exactly the same. The way of working the dough is the same. The only difference is that I have to be faster because the amount of worked flour is larger,” explains the person in charge.
Despite the modernity that exists here, specific processes continue to be manual, for the sake of Vidigueira’s bread: “Most bakeries have a machine that cuts the dough. We already tried, but we didn’t like it. The machine tightens the dough, and Vidigueira’s bread has to be opened. For the bakers of Vidigueira, tight bread is dog bread, it’s badly made bread. Tight bread anyone can do it. Now, leaving the bread with enough eyes, that always requires another ability.”
From the bread, we go to the wine. After all, we’re in Vidigueira. We spent the rest of the day getting to know the amphora wine, Intangible Cultural Heritage considered by UNESCO, and also one of the most remarkable wine farms in the county. The traditional and modern again share these lands in Alentejo.
We go to António Rocha’s Telheiro Artesanal, who explains that the success of carving a good amphora has much to do with the quality of the clay used and he has been in an incessant search for the best material.
“These were some of the experiences I made. But everything is still very much in the beginning. I’m doing it and learning from it. Now I’m testing the best clay. The average amphora is already good, but the big ones aren’t yet at 100%. They aren’t perfect, and I’m still studying the process,” he says.
A humble person that seeks perfection in his art and it’s passionate about carving. In the midst of the handmade utensils, he feels right at home.
Still, none of the amphoras that he made is in use, because Mr. Rocha prefers to test everything very well first so that his product is certified and guaranteed quality.
From the carving, we passed to the bottled wine, and Quinta do Quetzal, a beautiful winery with a surprising contemporary art center.
The afternoon ends tasting some amphora wines at the Adega Zé Galante.
“There are four qualities: red, white, straw and sweet. This last one, a result of the stop of the fermentation with the use of brandy,” explains Mr. Galante, inviting us to sit at a table full of regional delicacies: cheeses, chorizo, local cookies and, of course, Vidigueira bread. “Pass over some of that sweet amphora wine,” I said, which was the one that won me over.
With a comforted stomach came the musical moment of the first weekend of Lands Without Shadow. In the Church of St. Cucufate, in Vila de Frades, echoed the female voices of the North American choral group Spelman College Glee Club. A group of students from Georgia, who crosses liturgical music with more irreverent melodics. A spectacle that paid homage to that religious building and that captivated the public. There were so many people inside the church that the priest even wished they were the same number on the average days of worship.
Knowing the land and the river
After a night that ended with traditional Cante Alentejano and the spiritual music of the American choir, it was time for the last activity of Lands Without Shadow in Vidigueira.
The sun was modest and lurking behind the clouds, and the wind made the cold seem more intense, but nothing, not even the few hours of sleep, prevented dozens of people from meeting in the Pedrogão Dam.
The Pedrogão Dam is 23 km downstream from the Alqueva Dam and has an essential role in the production of electricity. However, as explained by Diogo Nascimento, director of EDIA – Empresa de Desenvolvimento e Infraestruturas do Alqueva, “it’s an artificial obstacle that was created in the river.” To know the impact it has on the species that go through the Guadiana and how to get around this barrier was the purpose of the visit.
We started the route on the left bank of the River Guadiana, on the Serpa side, and, ascending to the dam, we went to see the fish elevator, built exclusively to allow the connectivity and the passage of some species upstream. Then, crossing to the other shore, we walked along the watercourse, and we observed all that’s geology and rocky outcrops along that section of the Guadiana.
In the end, the tiredness of the weekend was widespread, in part because of the full schedule, but Vidigueira presented itself with the best postcard, and Lands Without Shadow created the desire to travel to other villages and towns in Alentejo.
Until July, 7 you can participate in the event. Here’s the program and know that you just need to appear at the place and time of each activity. Watching or participating in Lands Without Shadow is free!
Lands Without Shadow's Upcoming Events
# 9-10 Feb.
[15:00] Oficina de Cante: Ao Encontro da Tradição Musical Alentejana
[21:30 – Musibéria] À Vol d’Oiseau: Aves e Biodiversidade no Repertório Pianístico – do Barroco ao Presente
[9:30] Bancos de Genes: As Raças Autóctones e o Genoma do Sobreiro
# 23 e 24 Feb.
[15:00] O Bom e o Mau Juiz: Alegorias da Justiça na Audiência de Monsaraz
[21:30 – Igreja de Nossa Senhora da Lago] A Ordem Natural das Coisas: Música Espanhola e Portuguesa dos Finais do Século XIX
[9:30] Interpretar a Paisagem: Reguengos de Monsaraz e o seu Hinterland
# 9 e 10 Mar.
[15:00] Pedras que Falam: Paisagens Megalíticas da Região de Alcântara
[19:00 – Igreja de Nossa Senhora de Rocamadour] Navegar é preciso: Charles Ives, João Bruno Soeiro e W. A. Mozart
[9:30] Em Águas do Tejo Internacional: Avifauna e Biodiversidade
# 23 e 24 Mar.
[15:00] Do Passado ao Futuro: Raízes Portuguesas de Olivença
[19:00 – Igreja de Nossa Senhora da Madalena] Uma Viagem Imaginada: Suítes Francesas para Viola da Gamba
[9:30] Jardins de Deus: A Serra de Alor e a Dehesa
# 6 e 7 Apr.
[15:00] A Cidade da Água: Chafarizes, Fontes e Poços Históricos de Beja
[21:30 – Igreja do Convento de São Francisco] Percursos Vitais: Trios de Pierre Jalbert e Franz Schubert
[9:30] Pela Rota dos Pastores: As Canadas Reais no Concelho de Beja
# 27 e 28 Apr.
[15:00] Confluências Raianas: Arte Popular e Arte Contemporânea em Elvas
[21:30 – Igreja de Nossa Senhora da Assunção (antiga Catedral)] Antonio de Cabezón: Itinerários pela Europa ao Serviço do Rei
[9:30] Resistir ao Invasor: O Jacinto-de-água e a Bacia do Guadiana
# 4 e 5 May
[15:00] No País de Fialho de Almeida: Lugares e Memórias do Autor d’Os Gatos
[21:30 – Igreja Matriz de São Vicente] Coração Viajante: Canções de Amor e de Embalar no Oriente e no Ocidente
[9:30] Tesouros da Terra: Geologia e Castas Tradicionais em Cuba
# 11 e 12 May
[15:00] Património do Tempo: A Villa do Monte da Chaminé e a Romanização no Baixo Alentejo
[21:30 – Villa Romana do Monte da Chaminé] A Música como Passaporte: Um Roteiro Magiar
[9:30] Vizinhos Discretos: Insectos e Sustentabilidade nos Campos de Ferreira
# 25 e 26 May
[15:00] A Montanha Mágica: História e Histórias de São Martinho das Amoreiras
[21:30 – Igreja Paroquial de São Martinho] Noutras Margens: Obras Americanas e Europeias para Flauta
[9:30] Mãe-d’Água: Expedição à Serra da Vigia
# 8 e 9 Jun.
[18:30 – Cine-Teatro Municipal] Convite à Viagem: Espaços, Memórias e Tempos do Canto Lírico
[21:30] Ler o Céu e as suas Tradições: Da Astrologia à Astrofísica
[9:30] Todos por Um: Prevenção e Combate do Fogo na Raia
# 22 e 23 Jun.
[15:00] Corte de Aldeia: O Palácio da Carreira
[21:30 – Igreja Matriz de Santiago Maior] Onde está a Minha Casa? Tradição e Vanguarda na Música Checa (Séculos XIX-XX)
[9:30] Mansa Corrente: O Curso Médio do Rio Sado
# 6 e 7 Jul.
[15:00] No Olho do Cíclope: O Farol do Cabo de Sines
[21:30 – Castelo] Longe, mas perto: Identidades Musicais Contemporâneas nos EUA
[9:30] Nereu e Proteu: Vigiar e Cultivar o Mar
What did you think about the Lands Without Shadow festival? Would you like to participate? What festival did you enjoy the most until today? Tell your experience in the comments box below.
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A Note from Surfer Girl: Surfer Girl On The Move traveled at the invitation of the Lands Without Shadow festival. However, all the reports, opinions and images are my own and reflect a genuine and unbiased experience.