‘K’ is for Kings (three, or more?)


Hip hooray and happy day!  An opportunity has arisen for me to fill a gap in my much neglected Personal A-Z of Portugal.  You’d forgotten I was doing one, hadn’t you?  Me too, almost!  So today I have Frizz to thank for getting around to ‘K’ in his A- Z challenge.

A collection of kings

A confusion of kings- courtesy of Mike Bradley

First, a question for you.  How many kings do you see?  Three, or more?

I had arrived in the Algarve just after the New Year but in time for Epiphany, and was curious to see what kind of celebrations, if any, this might entail. I knew that in Spain the 6th January was dedicated to the Three Kings, and was hopeful that this might spill over the border into Portugal. I thought there was every chance, especially in my eastern corner of the Algarve.  The shops were full of Bolos Reis – the cake of kings- with their extravagant and colourful toppings.

The tradition of this cake dates back to Roman times, when a King was chosen at Roman feasts if he got the piece of cake containing a fava bean.  I rather like the legend about the Three Kings of the Orient disputing who should be the first to give baby Jesus his gift.  The decision was finally made in the same way- with a cake inside which the local baker had hidden a bean.

I was very happy to discover that there was to be a procession in Vila Real de S. Antonio, a small town on the very edge of the Algarve, with its toes in the River Guadiana.  Better still, the kings were to ferry across the Guadiana to Ayamonte, in neighbouring Spain.

Sure enough, a carnival atmosphere prevailed in Vila Real on Sunday, 6th January.  A Christmas market and ice rink were set up in the main square, Marques de Pombal, with jars of honey and every variety of cake adorning the stalls.  Trying to avert my eyes, I made my way to the Cultural Centre, where I knew there was a Nativity display.  It was enchanting.  As I emerged I was delighted to hear the ‘oompah’ sounds of a band.

Ambling along the street, with caskets of bonbons and flashing smiles, came a procession of kings.  Cordially they distributed sweets and paused to chat or have their photo taken.  It was all very casual and laidback, rather than kingly, but no less charming for that. A dais was set up awaiting them in the square, and soon they were enthroned, hurling the last of their sweets to the cheering crowd.

Beat a retreat?

Beat a retreat?

Thinking that I might manage two processions ‘for the price of one’, and wondering how it would be on the Spanish side of the border, I craftily caught the 12.30 ferry across to Ayamonte.  In January there is a 2 hour time difference between the two countries, so my arrival, 10 minutes later, was at 14.40.  A time at which all self respecting Spaniards are eating.  There was no sign of an impending celebration so, after a leisurely stroll and a delicious ‘biscuit’ flavoured icecream, I returned to the ferry terminal.

Sitting on board, gazing at the river, I became aware of a party of excited children boarding the ferry.  As we left the shore, the adults in the party proceeded to dish out sizeable portions of bolo rei, oozing with cream.  I had high hopes, but was obviously too tall to be regarded as one of their charges.  Nearing the Portuguese shore, I realised just what was happening.  The Kings, minus their band (who had presumably gone to lunch at Portuguese time), were strolling to the terminal, to meet the ferry. As the gangway came down, whistles and cheers and waving of flags greeted the sovereigns. Smiling amiably, they were destined for Spain, their caskets newly filled.

3 kings

I never did fathom out who were the genuine kings and who were the ‘imposters’, but they were a handsome bunch, don’t you think?  I hope you enjoyed my entry for ‘K’.

Many thanks to Frizz for hosting his A-Z challenge, and to Julie Dawn Fox, whose idea the personal A-Z series was.  Please click on the links or logos for more information.



  1. That’s a lot of kings, Jo, and, like you say, a handsome bunch at that. Too bad there were no festivities in Spain when you arrived! It looks like a fun time. You know I would have hard time avoiding those cakes. 🙂 Very festive for epiphany, but it sure looks like summer.

  2. These cakes remind me of the types of cakes you can get in New Orleans during Mardi Gras season. In fact, they call them King Cakes and they have the same shape. Instead of a fava bean, there is a plastic baby inside on of the slices. If you don’t choke on it, then you will have luck for the next year! 🙂

    1. Yes, I’ve heard all about them, Jackie 🙂 Eunice gave me a link to the traditional recipe for King cakes up in the comments. Not that I’m much of a cook- I’d rather do the eating!

  3. Such a great celebration love to see these kinds of traditions gathering communities together .Trying to think of ANYTHING we would have seen in this country at that time … miserable faces probably 😉
    I think you were definitely in the right place Jo … all those goodies for starters …

  4. I agree with you–even the impostors bring a lot of fun to the occasion. I’ve never had the special cake, but have heard of it, and it does look and sound delicious! I think this must have been a very delightful day!

  5. beh, certo anche i Re hanno preso sul seri ” crescete e moltiplicatevi-ha ha ha
    il tuo post è molto divertente e frizzante ( chissà Google come tradurrà questo aggettivo ha ha) ma se non capisci bene non preoccuparti è un complimento! 🙂

    well, of course even the Kings have taken seriously the will “grow and multiply”-ha ha ha
    your post is very funny and bubbly (who knows Google like this adjective result ha ha) but if you do not understand well no worries is a compliment

    1. ‘Bubbly’ is good, Ventis 🙂 Like champagne. Let’s celebrate!
      Do you have a parade for Epiphany in your part of Italy, or just a religious ceremony?
      Happy hugs this morning 🙂

      1. oh si che ce ne sono! c’è solo l’imbarazzo della scelta! la cosa però che per quella ricorrenza abbiamo in esclusiva è la concomitanza con la festa della BEFANA , una arzilla vecchietta che a cavallo della scopa viaggia di notte su dai camini, con le scarpe rotte, e porta i doni ai bambini buoni e carbone a quelli cattivi, e li lascia dentro le calze appese la sera prima al camino…io da bambina l’adoravo!
        buona giornata a te Jo

        oh yes there are! There is an embarrassment of choice! the thing, however, for that occurrence we exclusively is coincide with the feast of BEFANA, a little old lady who rides arzilla broom travels at night on chimneys, with broken shoes and brings gifts to good children and coal to bad ones, and leaves them in the stockings hung on the evening before the fireplace … little girl I loved it a lot!
        good morning to you Jo

      1. Depends on the cake…anything with chocolate will do. I am going to try to make a ‘malteser cake’ soon. But other than chocolate…i guess you’d say I am more a savoury girl.

    1. I’m a bit ambivalent 😦 Tanya (Chica Andalucia) says the Spanish ones are delicious, but the whipped cream is sometimes a bit yucky in my experience. They have a fabulous way with creme patisserie, though!
      I’m mixing my cuisines a bit, aren’t I? 🙂

      1. I like fresh cream in cakes, but not that fake stuff or the whipped air filled rubbish that comes out of cans! Creme patisserie is good though and I adored those Portuguese custard tarts – pasteis de nata. Yummy, I am drooling just thinking about them. Sadly our famous de Greys has closed – they did gorgeous cream cakes.

    1. It’s the same kind of idea, AG. I believe ‘favours’ and toys were used in the past, but that has been discontinued (too many broken teeth 😦 )
      Do you know what kind of cake the King cake is? Does it have fruit and spice, or a plainer confectionery?

      1. The king cake I tasted from New Orleans is like a cinnamon roll, shaped like a ring, with white frosting on the top that is colored green and purple. There were no fruits in it, it was mostly dough, but the middle was stuffed with cream cheese. Is the Portuguese one similar in composition?

      2. Yes, with whipped cream, but I have also seen them with fruit. Nice to have a bit of variety. I’d be more than happy to go to New Orleans for a try out 🙂

      3. Haha. So not much arm twisting needed on that one. I’m thinking perhaps this could be an exhaustive research project: “Tasting King Cakes Around the World”? There must be some unused grant money somewhere for an investigative report on the subject. 😀

    1. I do like a bit of maths, Guiseppe (but only a little bit 🙂 )
      Do you have a similar celebration of Epiphany in Italy, or is it simply a day to go to church?

  6. Although my trip to The Algarve last year was let down a little by the weather, my daily visit to the local bakers was always a delight. The choice of delicacies was overwhelmingly yummmmmy 🙂 Liked your K Jo.

    1. Ayamonte is a nice little spot and only 10 mins from Portugal by ferry, Sue, but completely different in character. We rarely go but it seemed the ideal opportunity. There’s a post to follow when I get round to it. Possibly when Frizz gets back to ‘A’ 🙂
      Glad you liked it.

      1. Such an amazing thing in Europe being minutes away from another country. Something in North America that’s hard to wrap ones head around. I will watch for the A post 🙂

    1. They were good fun, Jill 🙂 I’ve been going to write about them ever since we got back but was resigned to saving it for next year, till I saw Frizz’s A-Z.

    1. They seemed to enjoy themselves, Sami, as the Portuguese always seem to at these events. I loved seeing it. Next time I’ll definitely buy a cake- I didn’t realise they had cream in till I saw it oozing on the ferry. 🙂

      1. Oh yes, I think I could manage a chunk of that! Let me know next time you’re baking it, Eunice. I’ll be there! 🙂 Many thanks for the recipe.

  7. One thing is for sure … we can’t have too many of your kings in our world – very handsome and playful. Lovely post … I think I will go for the one with turquoise feathers.

  8. I’m not sold on bolos reis. They sure look pretty, but taste-and-texture-wise, I’ve found them to be a bit of a let down. Which is surprising, considering that the Portuguese really do know about their cakes 😉

    1. Granted, they’re not my first choice of Portuguese cake, either, but they have grown on me over the years. The school I work at tends to have a table full of goodies on Parents’ Day so I help myself to a slice now and again. I prefer the Queen’s Cake though – similar in size and shape to Bolo do Rei but with nuts instead of candied fruit so not quite as sickly sweet.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s