Should you happen to be visiting the sunny Algarve between the months of March and October, there is an event that attracts thousands of visitors each year and is well worth a visit. Located between Pêra and Algoz, The International Sand Sculpture Festival – known locally as the Festival Internacional de Escultura em Areia (FIESA) – is a celebration of the works of art that various skilled international sculptors build from sand.

This annual event started back in 2003, and since it’s beginnings has steadily grown to become the largest sand sculpture exhibition in the world.

sand sculpture festival

Image Credit: Paul Wilkinson flickr

FIESA covers an area of roughly 15,000 square metres and uses around 40,000 tonnes of sand, with some of the pieces reaching a massive 12 metres high. Each design features amazing detail, and the wonderfully creative sculptures include people, scenarios and objects, and are focussed around different themes each year. Sculptors accompany their works with a few words of explanation, detailing both how their sculpture was formed, and what it means to them.

The artists themselves come from all around the world, and employ a number of different techniques to create these sculptures. Some stand out more than others due to the size, the look, or technique that’s been used, and most feature instantly recognisable figures or characters that are fascinating to see.

FIESA Algarve

Image Credit: Paul Wilkinson flickr

How they create the sculptures is interesting; they typically use what’s called the ‘compacting’ technique where you take different sized containers and simply tread it down to squeeze the sand together. Other tools used tend to be little more than buckets and spades, with some other objects such as garden, kitchen and masonry tools (including spoons, melon ballers, spatulas, knives and clay loops) being used in order to create exquisite detail. However, the absolute purists will insist that you need nothing more than your hands and feet to create great sculptures! The only stipulations at the festival are that the structures have to be free standing, and it’s up to the artists to find ways of battling the elements such as rain and wind and keep them stable.

Interestingly, nothing else is added to the sand to make it stick together – no glue formula or adhesives of any kind are allowed – all that is required is sand and water, provided that the sand is of a certain size and shape. The grains of sand have to be mostly uniform to make it work, which is why the sand found in this part of the Algarve is perfect for this kind of activity.

Sand sculpture festival Algarve

Image Credit: Paul Wilkinson flickr

The theme for the event changes every year, covering all manner of subjects. Events in the past have included themes such as music, the animal kingdom, lost worlds, tales of enchantment, mythology and Hollywood films and characters. This makes sure that each year the artists are given a new challenge and are made to think of something original – no two pieces are ever the same.

It’s not all about admiring the work of others at FIESA though; included in the festivities are a number of activities related to sand sculpture. There are workshops and demonstrations as well as games and contests, so you can learn how it’s done and maybe even give it a try! There is also an area set aside for younger visitors who can have some fun, get creative, and try it for themselves.

It’s at night though when the exhibition really comes alive. The pieces are lit in a certain way that adds a whole new dimension to them, showing off angles and details that may have been missed during the day.

Sand sculptures FIESA

Image credit: Glen Bowman flickr

The International Sand Sculpture Festival is well worth looking ahead should you plan to visit to the Algarve. A programme is available online which allows you to read up on all the various live music performances, theatre, circus acts and dance events that happen during the evening. It really is a festival for everybody!

After a day spent at the festival, it’s well worth visiting nearby Armaçâo de Péra, which has a number of fantastic restaurants, bars, shops and beaches, and plenty to see and do.


See the sand and sun yourself

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