Spain, the country that gave us the word ‘fiesta’ attracts revellers from all over the world to its towns and cities for the many festivals that take place throughout the year. Fireworks, noise, music, religion and alcohol all play a part in making the fiesta in each town an event that celebrates exuberance and joy at being alive. Fiesta visitors never fail to enjoy a truly memorable experience whether it is running with bulls in Pamplona, jumping over babies in Murcia or flinging tomatoes at anyone within view in Buñol. The fact that every town in Spain has its own festival tells you something about how proud Spanish people are of their home towns and how much they love to let loose and enjoy a riotous occasion. Finding a fiesta is as easy as stepping off a plane – here are one or two memorable festivals to give you a reason to take a trip.
1. Running with the Bulls at Pamplona
Time: Early to mid July
Location: Pamplona, Northern Spain.
What is it? A magnificent outdoor party that combines alcohol and stampeding bulls. What could go wrong?
Who is it good for? Anyone who enjoys letting their hair down, especially the mad, who like the idea of being chased by large, horned animals and the bad, who want to watch them do it.
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Few festivals have the name recognition of the Pamplona bull running festival. A week-long open-air party where hordes of tourists from Spain and all over the world dress up in white shirts and red scarves to eat and drink the night away. El Chupinazo is the pyrotechnic show that kicks-starts the festivities and the highlight at the end of each night is undoubtedly the encierro, therun of the bulls held in the early morning that sees revellers run for their lives down 850 metres of narrow cobbled streets, armed with a rolled-up newspaper and hopefully making it to the finishing line at the bullring. The three-minute adrenaline surge is unsurprisingly considered dangerous and the number of serious injuries every year numbers in the dozens, including broken bones, goring or even asphyxiation. On the last day of the celebrations, people embrace to sing Pobre de mi as they bid farewell to the fiesta for another year.
Nearest international airports: Biarritz (127 km), Bilbao (172 km) or Zaragoza (174 km). Pamplona also has a domestic airport.
Interesting fact: Since records began 15 people have been killed taking part in the bull run.
2. Cabalgata de Reyes (Parade of the Three Wise Men)
Time: Early January
Location: Nationwide but with a particularly lively one in Madrid.
What is it? A celebration of Christmas with giant toys, parades and enchanting puppet shows.
Who is it good for? Families.
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Christmas gifts in Spain are traditionally handed out on 5 January (Noche de Reyes) instead of 25 December and the Cabalgata de Reyes festival celebrates the end of the Christmas period with a big focus on present giving. Throughout the streets of Spanish cities and villages, floats adorned with the themes and colours of Christmas, Santa Claus and the Three Wise Men make their way proudly down thoroughfares on chariots overflowing with presents, throwing sweets to the watching children, who have presents of their own to look forward to at home. The most impressive cabalgata (parade) takes place in Madrid, starting at Nuevos Ministerios and finishing at Cibeles at around 21:00. A highlight of the parade is the Cortylandia, a famous show of puppets and giant toys that thrills children and adults alike. The participants traditionally sing the same song every year in front of the large El Corte Inglés department store on Princesa street.
Nearest International Airport: Madrid.
Interesting Fact: After the parade children leave their shoes out in a place where the Kings are sure to see them so that they will definitely receive their presents.
3. El Colacho (Baby Jumping)
Time: Late June
Location: Village of Castrillo de Murcia near Burgos in northern Spain.
What is it? Fiesta to banishing evils spirits from babies involving leaping over multiple newborns laid out on mattresses.
Who is it good for? Anyone who enjoys strange traditions or trying something just a little different.
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On the week of Corpus Christi the Colacho, men acting as the agents of the devil on earth seeks to free newborn babies from all evil by jumping over them in a single bound. A local fiesta dating back to 1620 and now made up of parades, music and other festivities, the highlight is an attempt by young men of the town, dressed up in a bright yellow costume, to jump over rows of babies. Groups of four to six newborns are placed on mattresses every few yards as cheering mothers ask the Colacho to jump multiple times over their babies to ward off all evil and bless their children for a lifetime. The ceremony is finished off when unwed women from the village rush to the babies, lift them off the ground and return them to their mothers, thus improving the women’s chances of getting married in the coming year. Throughout the day children shout and mock the Colacho, who run wild on the streets of the town, hitting a terranuela, a nut-shaped object to attract attention.
Nearest international airport: Bilbao (179 km) or Santander (182 km). Burgos itself also has a domestic airport.
Interesting fact: The Catholic Church frowns on the festival but local priests still turn out to bless activities.
4. La Tomatina
Time: Late August
Location: Buñol, near Valencia in southern Spain
What is it? A party where everyone gets together in the town centre to throw ripe tomatoes at each other and generally make a complete mess.
Who is it good for? Eaters with bad table manners with access to a clean set of clothes.
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Another world famous Spanish festival, La Tomatina is nothing but fun. The fiesta has its origins in the Second World War when a group of young people started a food fight, throwing vegetables at each other in the town square. Like most festivals in Spain there is a religious element to La Tomatina and it tips its hat to the patron saints of Buñol, San Luis Bertran and the Virgin Mary. However this fiesta is all about good, clean fun (or not!). La Tomatina was banned during Franco’s regime during the 1950s but was later restored because of people’s overwhelming desire to throw food their neighbours. There is a loose set of rules which mean that the battle starts when a ham is placed at the top of a soapy pole two stories high, with teams forming to climb to the top and loosen the ham. As soon as the ham hits the ground, a bell rings and the tomato fight starts. After 60 minutes, a second bell rings to signal the end of a fight, by which time around 125 tonnes of tomatoes will have been fired, landed and squashed. Over the years the fiesta’s popularity grew to the point where 40,000 – 50,000 people were attending every year. This created security and cost issues and in an effort to manage the event the local council limited numbers in this year’s Tomatina to 20,000 and began charging tourists to participate. It is the best ten euros you will ever spend.
Nearest international airport: Valencia (38 km).
Interesting fact: The tomatoes used are grown especially for La Tomatina and are not used for cooking.
Time: Third week in September
What is it? City street festival with four days of open-air entertainment including dozens of free concerts with plenty of music, food and all-round good times.
Who is it good for? Everyone!
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The La Mercé festival commemorates the Virgin Mary’s ridding of the Catalan capital from a plague of locusts in the 17th Century, together with intercessions from various military attacks down through the years. Nowadays the feast day of 24 September is an official city holiday and the four days preceding sees Barcelona peopled by gegandes (papier-mâché giants), drummers, correfocs (fire runners) and castellers – human castles rising up to eight stories high. There are a multitude of things for visitors to see and do and guests can enjoy it all while sampling the delights of Catalonian tapas and cañas of cerveza.
Nearest international airport: Barcelona or Girona
Interesting fact: Sparks will fly during the correfocs so wear clothes that aren’t flammable.