The Best Festivals in Spain
When one thinks of Spain, often visions of olive-skinned flamenco dancers, ornately dressed bullfighters, and ponytailed guitar players spring to mind. Not to burst your fantasy, but nowadays these are merely stereotypes that bear little to no resemblance to the actual culture. For those of us who truly know and love Spain, we recognize that the cultural aspect that really distinguishes it from its neighbors is las ferias--the festivals.
Throughout the Penisula, every region, city, and pueblo has its own celebrations. Some are shared throughout the country, but most are just celebrated by those in the community--and the tourists that have come to share in the revelry. Here is a list of a few of my favorite ferias celebrated across the peninsula.
Situated in the Valencian province, the small city of Buñol is familiar to anyone who has made the drive from Madrid to Valencia. It is a point of reference for those who are growing weary of the journey. Passing through Buñol is a tell-tale sign that you've almost made it to Valencia.
However, during the last week of August, the city transformed from a place to just pass through, to the site of one of the world's biggest food fights. For one day, hoards of trucks filled with tomatoes and buses full of tourists pour in. Participants crush the tomatoes in their hands and before tossing them to anyone and everyone in their line of sight.
Since 1945 on the last Wednesday of the month, the hour-long festival has been held. If ever you are in need of tension relief, this is the party for you. Bring a group of friends or even your best frenemies and grab a handful of tomatoes. You are sure to have a great time!
Every city in Spain has its own patron saint. And every city has a day's long festival to celebrate him or her. In Madrid, the Patron saint is called San Isidro. Known for his dedication to laborers, farmers, and animals, he is celebrated every May 15th. But never ones to leave the party early, Madrilañenos begin celebrating nine days before.
Locals celebrate by wearing traditional dress and dancing the chotis. Women also don red carnations in their hair. As Madrid is the center of Spain, its celebration is unparalleled in size. Streets are shut down and city parks are turned into small carnivals--complete with rides, food and drink stands. Every day comes with its own celebrations: concerts, fireworks and even a parade of "giants."
For anyone interested in experiencing a part of Spanish culture that exists beyond the stereotypes, come on down for San Isidro. It is truly a sight to behold and a party to be experienced!
La Feria De Abril
This festival truly changed my life. Held in Seville for nearly two weeks in April, the festival is a celebration of the beginning of Spring. In the fairgrounds of the city, tents are erected by both private clubs and local councils. Inside and out people dance Sevillanas (a form of flamenco) dressed in polka dots and ruffles--much like what we foreigners often associate with Spain.
During the celebration, people go from tent to tent dancing, drinking and being merry. And when you tire of dancing, you can head to the rides and carnival games to be enjoyed. The most dedicated Sevillanos will even ride on horseback or in a carriage. If you are lucky enough to catch it, you'll feel as though you have taken a step back in time. And it was exactly what I expected from my journey to Spain.
Check it out for yourself next year. You may find what you are looking for here as well!
I've already done an in-depth post on this festival. But as truly the heart of this region, it bears repeating. From the very first day that I stepped foot in Valencia, I was inundated with stories about this festival. In fact, one of the first things that my students asked me in the first week wasn't if I spoke Spanish or where I came from in America. Instead, he asked me if I had ever heard of Las Fallas.
Suffice to say, it is a great time. This festival is in many ways more complicated than the others on this list. But, I'll try to keep the explanations brief and simple. During Las Fallas, every neighborhood creates their own Fallas, or monument. Usually, they are satirical and often have religious and political themes.
While visitors and tourists journey from neighborhood to neighborhood taking in the sites, the local falleros or members of this groups traverse around town dressed in their traditional garb. On the last day after midnight, the fallas are set ablaze. It is truly a unique custom and on that anyone who is able should experience at least once in his or her lifetime.
Running of the Bulls
And here it is: the most famous festival in Spain--El encierro or the running of the bulls. Celebrated primarily in Pamplona during the festival of Saint Fermin in early and mid July, it is undoubtedly the one festival of this list that you have heard of before.
As legend has it, the festival was started by accident. As the bulls in the countryside were brought to the city center for the bullfights. Not known for being particularly swift creatures, herdsman began trying to urge them to move at a faster pace. Thus began the "running" began. Over time, young men with nothing better to do began trying to out run the beasts instead of merely hurrying them along. And, thus began the inception of the festival.
If this is something you'd like to see in your lifetime, be sure to book lodging and transportation nearly a year in advance. Also, if you are one of those daring young souls who would like to participate in the run--don't. Nearly a hundred people are injured every year. Don't run the risk of becoming one of them. Instead, watch from behind the wooden fences, or from above if you are lucky enough to find room with a terrace overlooking the entire scene--safely.
So there you have it! Five festivals that are sure to delight your senses and enrich your life. Stop by and see them sometime!