When you think of Spanish fiestas and festivals which ones spring to mind? I'll bet that the bullrunning in Pamplona is probably top of your list. But what about the other major festivals?
Holy week (Semana Santa) in Andalucia is a personal favourite when every parish sends out elaborate floats carried by parishioners. A procession can go on throughout the night returning home early the following morning. Two weeks later Seville celebrates the April Fair which must go down as one of Europe's biggest parties.
Valencia in March is the 'Fallas' when huge papier-mache figures are burnt in the streets every night after a year has been spent building them. And in Bunyol in August it's La Tomatina, the world's biggest tomato fight. These are certainly some of the biggest annual festivals as far as foreign tourists are concerned but what about all the little festivals that take place all over the country?
Fiestas in every village
Every single city, town and village in the country celebrates its own unique fiesta and it's the smaller, local festivals that can prove just as rewarding to the visitor. In Miraflores de la Sierra in the Guadarrama mountains of Madrid we used to always go to the annual village festival of San Blas in February. The whole village heads out to a local hillside where a shrine to the village's patron saint stands.
Everyone is equipped with chairs, tables, food and wine and huge pots are put on open fires where 'bacalao con patatas' (cod and potatoes) is prepared for the whole village. By late afternoon all the villagers have returned to the bars which remain packed throughout the night. During the Carnival celebrations in the same village there's a day when a sardine is buried (El Entierro de la Sardina), a custom which I cannot explain!
There are many festivals of international interest which celebrate music and the arts notably the Granada International Festival of Music and Dance which takes place in the grounds of the Alhambra Palace. San Sebastian in the Basque Country is packed to the seams during its annual jazz and film festivals and the Benicassim Festival has become an important European music festival in a small town north of Valencia.
There are plenty food and drink related fiestas throughout the country and some bizarre festivals some of which involve donkeys and church roofs, but we won't go into that right now! In the coming months and hopefully years we'll be including interesting festivals both national and local in our newsletter and hope you'll enjoy hearing from us.
Semana Santa - Holy Week
The big celebration in april is Semana Santa (Holy Week) which is celebrated all over Spain but it is in Andalucia where the festival is at its grandest. We'll be off to Cordoba on Tuesday armed with a new Nikon DSLR so will hope to get some good shots to give you a taste for this enormous fiesta. I'm just hoping the weather stays fine as rain has been responsible for spoiling the occasion too often in recent years.
From the Basque Country on the Atlantic that we covered last month we now move across country to Catalonia on Spain's northern Mediterranean coast. Often at major sporting events you'll see banners stating that "Catalonia is not Spain". Pay a visit to the region and listen to the local people speaking Catalan then explore the distinctive culture of the region and you may well start to understand this (non-violent) separatist sentiment.
Catalonia lies in North East Spain bordering France and is made up of the provinces of Girona, Lleida, Barcelona and Tarragona. The region is centred on the city of Barcelona but there is much more to the region than its capital. It has 500km of coastline and a fascinating geography ranging from the high peaks of the Pyrenees mountains to the fascinating wetlands of the Ebro Delta. Salvador Dalí is one of Catalonia's most famous son's but the players of FC Barcelona are currently the region's best known celebrities.
Semana Santa refers to the whole week leading upto Easter Sunday. It is celebrated nationwide but nowhere comes close to the massive celebrations that take place in the main cities of Andalucia including Seville, Cordoba, Granada, Malaga Cadiz and Huelva. It is a solemn affair as the huge floats are carried in and out of churches and during the parades through the city streets. However, every city is full of visitors and locals who fill the bars and restaurants throughout the evenings making for a joyous celebration.