If you’re the type of person to drive kilometers out of your way to see hokey road-side attractions like the “World’s largest ball of yarn,” you’re in for a treat on your drive along the national highway between Mafra and Ericeira. It’s likely that you’ve already driven by it unawares while dreaming of seafood on the coast: Aldeia José Franco isn’t very well marked, aside from the charming blue-and-white windmill facing the street.
The ceramics artist José Franco came from a modest family of potters in Mafra and took to the family’s craft at a young age. Franco became best known for his religious art, as he excelled at making nativity scenes (one was later presented to and blessed by Pope John Paul II). He took this skill and modified it for the people and, over the 75+ years of his career, built a miniature replica of a village at aldeia de Sobreiro, and kept at it until his death in 2009 at the age of 89. The rural scene features automated figures ringing bells, churning butter, turning the soil, sawing wood, hanging clothes — you name it. Tiny wooden mills turn tiny trenches into babbling brooks. In another section, detailed model boats sit docked at a tiny fisherman’s wharf, complete with functioning lights and a family of cheeky fish.
A well-oiled merry-go-round and see-saw stand at the ready at a playground that’s only open to children under the age of 10. Winding passageways take you up castle-wall turrets and over tiny bridges, leading you around the miniature village and into life-sized dioramas of yesteryear: an old-style schoolroom with chalkboards on old wooden two-seater desks, a barber-dentist’s shop (yes, a one-stop-shop for a haircut AND a root canal back in the day) with daunting trimming relics hanging on the walls, a grocery store with old products on the shelves, and even a music room with dozens of old instruments ranging from a cow-bell row to a flat-back piano surrounded by accordions, horns, trumpets, and a bagpipe or two.
Suffice it to say that you aren’t exactly ready for what’s in store, but you won’t regret the stopover. Shop for a ceramic souvenir at the gift shop, there are bargains to be had if you like your fish bowl to look like a fish or enjoy storing wine in 50-liter jugs. And of course if you’re a fan of folk art and presepios, you could stock up on everything you need right here. Or just enjoy a homemade pão com chouriço with a cup of coffee and revel in the quaintness of it all.
Hours: Mon – Sat, 9h – 18h; Sun, 10h – 18h
Address: Estrada Nacional 116, Sobreiro, Mafra 2640-578
Tel: +351 261 815 420