This country might be in the hall of fame for its beach-edged Costas, but Spain scores top marks for festivals, too. For starters, it’s got loads of them in the diary. Plus, from food-throwing to wine-splashing, and fire-starting to fireworks, festivals in Spain come in all shapes and sizes. Read on for our pick of the pack…
Tamborrada of Donostia – city of San Sebastián – 20th January
This beat-heavy festival’s held in honour of the city’s patron saint – and namesake – San Sebastian. The whole affair kicks off as the clock strikes midnight on the 19th – drumming groups start drumming and they don’t stop for the next 24 hours. This event’s been in the calendar since 1836, and it’s got its roots in local people resisting Napoleon’s troops by mocking their constant drumming. These days, the drummers – more than 15,000 of them – still dress up in traditional soldiers’ uniforms.
Las Fallas – city of Valencia – 15th to 19th March
These fiery celebrations attract thousands of tourists and locals alike. San José, the patron saint of carpenters, is the focus of this festival. In the run up, locals work away creating massive, detailed ninots, figures depicting anyone from politicians to celebrities. Made out of the likes of cardboard, wood, cork, plaster or papier-maché, the only condition is that these figures have to be flammable. Why? Because the festival’s climax, La Nit de Foc, sees all of these ninots, which have been stuffed with fireworks, being set alight. You can vote for your fave, and the winner’s spared this fiery fate. On the nights leading up to the festival’s finale, expect street parties and the whizz, bang and pop of fireworks.
Tenerife – city of Santa Cruz de Tenerife – a week before Lent
Tenerife’s Santa Cruz city is twinned with carnival heavyweight Rio de Janeiro, so it shouldn’t come as a surprise that this place puts on some spectacular celebrations of its own during the week before lent. The festivities begin with the election of the Carnival Queen and her court, and a no-holds-barred parade to celebrate her appointment. Double-take-worthy costumes, music and dancing are all on the agenda. Over the following days, even more rainbow-ready parades fill the agenda, and it’s all rounded off with – you guessed it – another parade. They’re all different, and completely unpredictable, though. The ‘Entierro de la Sardina’, for example, centres on a giant model of a sardine. Seriously.
Semana Santa – all over Spain – last week of lent
From small towns to big cities, wherever you go in Spain on the last week of lent you’ll see this festival being celebrated. Also known as holy week, Semana Santa’s a Christian celebration. Parades made up of intricately decorated pasos, or floats, take to the streets accompanied by marching bands. Some of these floats have been carefully preserved for centuries, and are paraded for Semana Santa every year.
Feria De Abril – city of Seville – two weeks after Easter
Seville’s April Fair’s got pretty modest roots. The festival’s origins can be traced back to a cattle fair in the 1800s, which featured a couple of casetas, or tents, for attendees to chat in. These days, you’re looking at an impressive 1,000 casetas, as well as a huge fairground, a circus, parades on horseback and, of course, plenty of partying.
Haro Wine Festival – town of Haro – 29th June
Spain’s La Rioja region bottles a whopping 250 million litres of vino every year, so it’s no wonder that they’ve got a fair bit to spare. The Haro Wine Festival makes the most of this tasty surplus. On 29th June at 9am – patron saint San Pedro’s day – a procession of people toting containers of all shapes and sizes makes its way through the town. We’re talking anything from cups and mugs, to barrels and boats, all full to the brim. And what’s in the containers? Well, Rioja, of course. After the parade, the fun really begins. The carefully carried wine is let loose in a massive wine-throwing fight.
Semana Grande – Bilbao – first Saturday after August 15th
Semana Grande lives up to its name – it’s said to be Northern Spain’s biggest festival. The locals in Bilbao get fully involved, for starters. Most of them take time off work so they can get stuck in. Lots of tourists get in on the action, too. The final headcount comes in at around 100,000 each year. Parades and firework displays fill the bill at this festival, but music’s the main player. You can expect to pull your fair share of all-nighters during Semana Grande, with concerts carrying on into the early hours.
La Tomatina – town of Buñol – last Wednesday of August
On an average day, you’ll find around 9,000 people in Buñol. On the last Wednesday of every August, though, this small town gets quite a bit busier. A whopping 20,000 lucky ticketholders flood the streets for a mammoth food fight. On the morning of the big day, huge trucks full of overripe tomatoes trundle into town. Water cannons signal the start of the festival – after an hour, over 100 tonnes of tomatoes have been hurled. The origins of this quirky tradition are pretty sketchy, but it all kicked off in the early 1940s.