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A summer of fiestas: the best cultural celebrations in Spain

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If Spain is in your sights this summer, add some zing to your trip by timing it with one of these distinctly Spanish summer festivals. From tomato-flinging and wine-soaking to watching a flurry of mystical creatures, a tour of Spain which includes its famed cultural fiestas is one way to make your trip particularly memorable. Here are our favourite street parties in Spain…

La Tomatina, Buñol

Arguably the most iconic festival in Spain, La Tomatina may mark one of the only events in which throwing food is encouraged. Each last Wednesday of August in the town of Buñol, people take to the streets armed with overripe tomatoes and take part in a mass food fight which is, apparently, the world’s largest. The origins of this event are somewhat vague, but it’s thought to have started from a town food fight that occurred spontaneously within the last 80 years or so – in fact, there were attempts to ban it in 1957. After huge outcry from townspeople, the tradition stuck – so be prepared to join in the fun or be pelted at all angles with tomato pulp if you head to Buñol in late summer.

Vineyards in region of La Rioja in Spain

Haro Wine Festival, La Rioja

If you’ve ever dreamt of wine by the bucketload, Haro Wine Festival is the event for you. Each June 29th in Haro, La Rioja, the Batalla del Vino (Battle of Wine) commences. Just like La Tomatina but more grape-based, thousands of people take to the streets and soak each other with wine-filled buckets, water pistols, jugs, or whatever wine vessel they can carry. The mass soaking commemorates a 13th-century dispute between Haro and the surrounding towns, over which vineyard territories were whose. Legend has it, the townspeople engaged in a light-hearted wine drenching to settle the debate (though it’s hard to imagine that working today). If you’re visiting at this time, rest assured it’s not all wine wars; revellers gather in the town square afterwards for live music and dancing, so you can relax, simply sip wine, and take a breather.

Madrid Pride

As one of the most diverse and progressive cities in the world, Madrid’s annual Pride celebration – locally called Madrid Orgullo – is a vibrant, rainbow haze of glitter, music and mayhem. With Madrid’s well-established gay scene, this huge LGBTQ+ festival becomes an all-out street party with such an electric energy, if you’re passing through you’ll find it tough to resist. Pride usually takes place in June and is a week bursting with theatre performances, film screenings, drag shows, live music, and art exhibitions. When the main day event comes round there are neon floats, costume parades and all kinds of performers, teeming the rainbow-flagged streets in a huge party to champion diversity, empowerment, and love in all its forms. Previous performers have included Kylie Minogue and Eurovision icon Conchita Wurst, so don’t miss it if you’re in Madrid at the right time.

Statue adorned with rainbow flag during Madrid Pride in Spain

The Patum of Berga

The Patum of Berga – which has earned itself UNESCO protection as an Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity – takes place during Corpus Christi, and is certainly a treat for the senses. Originating in medieval times (its first mention dates to the 14th century), the Patum of Berga involves an array of large-scale puppets depicting mystical and folkloric figures, dancing and parading through the Catalan town of Berga. There is a loud, thumping drum that accompanies the dancing, or sometimes a band, which is atmospheric enough – but fire is also a prominent feature, just to ramp things up a notch.

The Patum is a days-long affair; after the initial opening parade, there are further processions of papier-mâché horses, whip-wielding demons, dwarves with oversized heads, dragons and giants, all of whom perform to the crowd using fireworks, acrobatics and music. There’s an air of foreboding ritual to the Patum of Berga which makes it stand out among other cultural events in Spain, so if you enjoy that sense of mysticism and macabre, be sure to check it out. It usually takes place in late May or early June.

The Bonfires of San Juan

The emergence of summer gets most people in the mood to celebrate (especially those of us in the Northern Hemisphere) – but the season is welcomed in a big way in Spain’s coastal regions. During Las Hogueras de San Juan, large bonfires are set up in towns and on beaches in places such as Barcelona, Alicante, Galicia, and Andalusia. The locals gather and celebrate with fireworks, dancing and live music to honour the bonfire. In some regions, people line up and dare to jump over the flames for good luck.

Burning in this way is a symbolic ‘cleansing’, banishing any negativity of previous seasons to bring in the summer with positivity and renewal. This happens on June 23rd every year. The ‘San Juan’ in the name refers to John the Baptist, a prominent Christian figure most associated with feast day in Spain, which falls the next day on June 24th.

Bonfires of San Juan in Coruna, Galicia, Spain

Saint James Feast, Santiago de Compostela

If you’re adventurous enough to walk the spectacular Camino de Santiago, you may find yourself at the well-deserved party of Saint James Feast. The festival has religious roots, and commemorates Saint James the Apostle each July 25th, but has become a cultural event which everyone in Galicia takes pride in. As Santiago de Compostela is the last stop of the Camino de Santiago (of which the most popular route is 500 miles long), the celebration attracts a lot of hikers and pilgrims, exhausted and eager to raise a glass to their completion of the trail.

As well as the traditional church services, the Feast is all about music and theatre performances, dancing, and of course, gorging on lots of delicious Galician cuisine – empanadas, fresh local seafood, and their trademark octopus dish, pulpo a la gallega.

Aste Nagusia, Bilbao

For an excellent opportunity to experience the best of Basque culture, Aste Nagusia in Bilbao is one of the most anticipated events of the calendar. For a full nine days in August, Bilbao is flooded with lively parades, street performances, traditional folk music and well-loved Basque sporting events. There are rowing races on the Nervion River, competitive rural activities (think sheep herding and wood chopping) and Basque pelota games which often involve a racket and ball. Aste Nagusia is renowned for its huge firework displays in the evening, as well as a fairground full of rides and activities that runs throughout the day, so this is a great one for all the family.

Note that bullfighting is part of the festivities at Aste Nagusia. To celebrate the long-held Spanish tradition, bull fights take place at the Vista Alegre bullring, but lots of revellers choose to avoid this part of the festival.

Fireworks over Bilbao at night during Aste Nagusia in Spain

Make it happen

Don’t miss out on the festivities in Spain this summer! Let our locally-based experts in Spain guide you through the best celebrations and help you plan an unforgettable trip, exactly how you want it. Get in touch today.

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