Inside Portugal’s ‘city of snow and wool’, Covilha

Inside Portugal’s ‘city of snow and wool’, Covilha, where art is welcomed and celebrated on every street

  • The steep, bumpy streets of this Portuguese mountain city are covered in art
  • From 16th century lgreja de Santa Maria Maior to old factories, all are decorated
  • Some street artists are very popular: Vhils is as celebrated in Portugal as Banksy

Jacqui Deevoy For The Daily Mail

 A short dress and platform sandals might not sound the best kit in which to traipse the steep, bumpy streets of an old Portuguese mountain city.

But our guide Ana is undaunted. ‘It gets easier each time,’ she says, adjusting a slingback.

We’re in Covilha – the ‘city of snow and wool’ – our first stop in Centro, the central region of Portugal, 160 miles from Porto Airport. A third of the size of London, but with just 51,000 inhabitants, it’s far from busy.

Up high: Covilha is just kilometres from the highest point in Portugal, Portas do Sol

Up high: Covilha is just kilometres from the highest point in Portugal, Portas do Sol

It’s evening and we’ve stopped to admire the Igreja de Santa Maria Maior, a beautiful, blue and white, tile-covered church, dating to the 16th century.

Ana is taking us on a street art tour.

When a building is abandoned -and since the Twenties, when the number of factories fell from 220 to six, many have been – artists can apply for permission to brighten its outer walls.

Graffiti and grandeur: The artistic Igreja de Santa Maria Maior in Covilha

Graffiti and grandeur: The artistic Igreja de Santa Maria Maior in Covilha

One street artist, Vhils, is as celebrated in Portugal as Banksy is here. The young Lisbon-born artist Bordello II is popular too. 

Both their work includes portraits of factory workers, carved out of disintegrating plaster, and sculpture built from junk, jutting out of crumbling facades. 

In the orange lamplight, we gaze up at a huge owl with tyres for eyes and old car parts for feathers. Created four years ago by Bordello II, it’s ominous.

Wild-eyed and lost, street artists in Portugal create sculptures from junk

Wild-eyed and lost, street artists in Portugal create sculptures from junk

The volume of pieces, as well as events like Wool Fest urban art festival, means Covilha is becoming a centre of urban art in the area

The volume of pieces, as well as events like Wool Fest urban art festival, means Covilha is becoming a centre of urban art in the area

There’s a darkness to much of the city’s artwork -with the subjects of several portraits either wild-eyed or lost. Many of the pieces are wool­ related, in honour of Covilha’s past. The creative action of the Wool Fest art festival means that Covilha is fast becoming the centre of urban art in the area.

As night falls on the highest spot, Portas do Sol, golden lights gleam beneath a navy sky. I’m relieved that we are heading back to the sumptuous Purala Wool Valley Hotel.

It’s been quite a trek. Our guide’s feet must be aching. Shoes, like art, aren’t always designed to make you feel comfortable. Ana’s platforms and Corvilha’s street art are proof of that. 

 


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