Nossa Senhora da Praia

We completely missed the cues during our first summer in Praia das Maçãs. Granted, the town hadn’t advertised Nossa Senhora da Praia, its main festa of the season, as well as in the two years since. But still, we felt pretty sheepish when we returned home from whatever we’d been doing in Sintra that day—for the life of me, I can’t recall—only to find rose petals scattered on the beach and photos posted on Instagram of the afternoon’s procession.

The next summer, we had an excuse—work took us to the other side of the world (Singapore). My mom stayed home to look after our pack, and she immersed herself in the celebration. Again, though, we saw it only in her pictures.

But this year, 2018, we couldn’t miss. Not only was it to be the 125th anniversary of the town’s annual blessing, but the party would last for four days. Though traditionally limited to a mass followed by the iconic statue’s trip down the hill from her capelinha to the beach, on the first Sunday of September, the planning committee moved her big day up by a week to take advantage of a stage and food trucks and, yes, the kiddie rides crammed into a parking lot overlooking the ocean—normally occupied by campers and surfers’ vans.

Each night the music floated into our windows. On Saturday night, we walked over and had bowls of Pad Thai from “the first Thai food truck in Portugal.” Prove them wrong, I defy you! It was great. 

The next day dawned bright and clear—a big win for the festa as rain, clouds, and spackling mist mark every month on the calendar here. We planned to watch the missa from the street, and joined several hundred folks there for the same reasons anyone attends summer festas in Portugal: to honor the patron saints, to eat lots of special foods and drink beer and wine, and to see family. It felt like we stood in the midst of a homecoming, with the Colares marching band playing, and the horse-mounted guard leading the parade.

After the communion wafers made it out to the crowd, the patriarchy of the church assembled, lining up the various Marys, Jesus do Mar (cast like Neptune), and finally the rather diminutive Senhora da Praia, arched over with a garland and surrounded by dusty pink hydrangeas in full bloom.

We followed her in a big loop through the town, passing houses decorated for the occasion, flying their blue flags of Nossa Senhora and the red flags of the Baby Jesus…festooned with flowers and vines and bunting, reminding me of Mardi Gras in New Orleans. We walked over petals and stopped periodically to pray or to sing. (The band came along, of course.)

Marching down the hill, we turned onto her street (Rua da Nossa Senhora da Praia, along the beachfront steps), and she made a U-turn on her patrons’ shoulders onto the beach to greet her gathering family. Everyone waded into the water with her, blessing the town again with this ritual for another year.

A Robin flew low over the beach, nearly hitting three drones hovering by—no clear organization there—but twice they passed, and dropped rose petals from the airplane and safely departed to the southwest into the descending sun.

The arrival of Nossa Senhora da Praia to her beach

We drank down our canecas of Sagres, and headed back to the house for our own festa of food—led by a Portuguese version of a caprese salad, featuring Fernanda’s herbed goat cheese and the biggest, best coração tomato of August. Who says the Italians have a lock on the salad that to me is the epitome of summer? Viva a Senhora!

Portuguese Tomato Salad

Salada de tomates e quiejo

One large, ripe tomato from the height of the season

One 250 g round of goat cheese from Portugal

Herbs: Basil, parsley, thyme, or cilantro from the garden, fresh picked

Best quality olive oil from Portugal

Red wine vinegar from Portugal

Salt and pepper—local pink peppercorns if you have them

  1. Have all ingredients at room temperature for the best flavor.
  2. Make a vinaigrette: Put in a small bowl a ratio of 1:3 vinegar to olive oil, and sprinkle on a pinch of salt and 1/2 tsp of freshly ground pepper. Mix vigorously with a fork.
  3. Slice the tomato and cheese into relatively similar-sized slices—this will be based entirely upon how your tomato (or two if needed) is shaped, and the thickness of your cheese round.
  4. Layer the tomato and cheese alternating between the two.
  5. Drizzle with the vinaigrette.
  6. Scatter fresh herbs on top.
  7. Serve immediately, or let the flavors mingle a bit while you have your first glass of rosé.