It can never be said the Portuguese lack the spirit of celebration. No matter where you find us worldwide, we embrace the spirit of celebration with full abandon. Such is the case in the very small, medieval village of Obidos, Portugal. Every spring, this small place's population rises dramatically up to 200,000 people in 12 days as the Óbidos Festival do Chocolate (Óbidos Chocolate Festival) comes to town. Usually a quiet town, Óbidos transforms into the world's chocolate capital. In festival's 12 days, attendees are treated to an experience that is said to exceed the expectations of chocolate lovers from around the world. While chocolate is the main attraction, visiting Óbidos anytime is a real treat for a very good reason.
Óbidos is home to the stunning Castelo de Óbidos (Óbidos Castle), and it is through this castle that the festival's many activities take place. With a history planted deep in antiquity, this castle is one of Portugal's official wonders and a source of great national pride. What was once home to broken-hearted queens, a safe harbor to kings, and the famous 25 April Carnation Revolution's planning location is now also a magical venue for chocolate lovers.
The Obidos Festival do Chocolate holds delights for all ages. This festival is known as an engaging experience for all the senses. Since its first year, in 2002, the festival has grown in popularity and complexity. Don't let the fact that the celebration is centralized around one element, chocolate. The many ways it's showcased and the activities surrounding it make for a robust celebration. Chocolate lovers are treated to magnificent chocolate creations, tastings, demonstrations, workshops, culinary classes, concerts, various chocolate-related competitions, and even a chocolate fashion show!Besides enjoying the varied festival's program, visitors have the opportunity to sample and purchase delicious products from exhibitors from all around the world. Each year, over 40 companies specializing in chocolate from around the world present their products at Óbidos Festival do Chocolate.
While the festival is open to the public on Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays, many competitions and professional gatherings happen throughout the 12 days of this festival. Each year, there is a different theme chosen so those who attend are treated to incredible chocolate sculptures, presentations by world-class chocolate chefs. While adult's are being wowed by presentations, classes, shopping, and tasting, young chocolate connoisseurs can enjoy themselves in a space dedicated to kids known as The Chocolate House. Kids will be entertained by games, painting, face painting, and workshops. But no visit to the festival and Óbidos would be complete without pairing the experience with the famous Ginja liqueur! Emblematic of the Portuguese culture, this sour cherry liqueur dates back to an enterprising friar's work. Legend has it that it the friar Francisco Espinheira, of Santo Antonio's church in Lisbon, fermented ginga in Portuguese aguardente (Portuguese brandy). Originally used as a medicine, this delicious liqueur soon found its way to the glass of those drinking it for pleasure. Although serving it this way isn't exclusive to the festival, Ginja is served in a chocolate cup at the Óbidos Festival do Chocolate. Regardless of whether served room temperature or chilled, those who attend the festival and treat themselves to Ginja say it's the cherry on top of their experience.
Photo Credit Joanna Kosinska
Expert attendees of this annual festival have tips for those of us who have yet to go. Here are a few popular tips for attending the Óbidos Festival do Chocolate.
- Buy your festival tickets early to avoid the long ticket lines and the main office. Many shops in town, and the Óbidos Hotel, sell festival tickets.
- When booking accommodations, ask if there's a festival package available as many local hotels offer these.
- Use the cobbled alleys off the main street to make your way towards the castle. Avoid the main street into Óbidos.
- Despite it being a chocolate festival, shade is scarce, so load up on sunscreen and wear a hat.
- Show cooking tastings are worth waiting for, so don't miss them. While it requires patience to make your way to the front of the crowd, it's well worth it to taste the professional chocolate creations or world-class chefs.
- The fashion show is impressive, but if you don't make that, be sure to go where the costumes are displayed inside the castle walls. There's also a big screen in the main church square with a recording of the fashion show on a loop.
- Along with shopping, there is an extra cost for some activities such as cooking classes.
- There's plenty that doesn't cost extra, so be familiar with the festival's program. There are body painting demonstrations, show cooking by top chocolate chefs, and concerts, so be sure to have a schedule in mind for the things you want to see.
Whether attending the Óbidos Festival do Chocolate inside the castle walls or vising Óbidos without attending the festival, Óbidos ramps up its chocolate presence all over town during this magnificent festival. Even those who don't want to participate in the festival can still appease their passion for chocolate. In a culture that celebrates fully and often, it makes sense that it is the Portuguese who host the world to a celebration dedicated to chocolate in a national treasure such as Óbidos. After all, in the infamous words of another Portuguese national treasure, Fernando António Nogueira Pessôa, "Look, there's no metaphysics on earth like chocolates."