From fireworks, bonfires and the burning of giant wooden sculptures in the street to throwing marigolds and ripe tomatoes at strangers, festivals in and around Valencia are a wild, messy and colourful experience that you definitely won’t forget anytime soon. Read on for our guide to making the most of the biggest and craziest festivals in the region.
The Valencia region’s main festival Las Fallas revolves around fireworks and sculptures. Elaborate figures made from wood and papier mâché, up to 15 metres tall, are often a satirical comment on the past year’s events. Paraded around the city during the week leading up to the festival, they’re set ablaze at midnight on the last day – illuminating the streets and heating up the entire city. Most of the action throughout the week is at night, with mobile discos, outdoor concerts and street parties attracting huge crowds. Every barrio, or neighbourhood, in Valencia has its own celebration and the entire city is a riot of colour, fire and noise all night long. Some areas are designated fallas especial, meaning their sculptures – and parties – are bigger and more elaborate than the rest, but the smaller fallas tend to be less concerned with keeping important people happy, so you’ll find the edgier, satirical sculptures here. The festival involves a whole year of preparation, and to say it’s a big deal here would be an understatement. This year’s edition promises to be bigger than ever as it’s the first since Las Fallas was awarded UNESCO heritage status in November.
A new addition to the calendar for 2017 and a nice warm-up to Las Fallas, this international gastronomy festival takes place from February 27-March 5. Twelve of the best chefs with restaurants in Valencia have invited colleagues and friends from elsewhere in Spain and worldwide to cook special menus together for guests to taste; you can book a table at one of the host restaurants online. Other events during the week include free, informal breakfast talks at the Colón market, in which chefs will share their philosophies with the public. The festival aims to promote traditional Valencian cuisine and cooking techniques, showcase the high quality of local produce and contribute to Valencia’s status as FAO’s World Food Capital 2017.
Valencia is where you’ll find the infamous tomato-splattering festival of La Tomatina. One day at the end of August, tens of thousands of people descend on the small town of Buñol, just outside the city, to take part in this huge annual food fight. The madness begins with the the palo jabón; revellers scrambling up a greasy pole to reach a ham at the top. People climb over one another in the frantic struggle to be the one who reaches the ham first. Once someone manages to grab it, the tomato-throwing begins. By the end of it, the town square and everyone in it is red and tomato juice is flowing in the street. Accommodation is limited and very expensive in Buñol, so many people choose to stay in Valencia and take the train there in the morning. Whatever you do, don’t forget to bring a change of clothes. La Tomatina is actually part of a week-long festival in Buñol, and there’s a paella cooking competition held the night before.
Ferias de Julio
These flamboyant carnivals throughout the entire month of July are a time for feasting, drinking and dancing. Every town in the region has its own feria, or fair, at some point in July, and events vary from town to town; ask at the tourist information office about events during your visit. Highlights include the International Musical Band Competition (during the first fortnight), the Feria de San Jaime bullfights (in the second and third weeks) and the zarzuela, or Spanish light opera. In some smaller towns throughout the Valencia region, streets are barricaded off for the running of the bulls; don’t expect it to be on the scale of the famous event in Pamplona, but it’s a thrilling spectacle. Finally, the Battle of the Flowers marks the end of the festivities in Valencia’s city centre. Spectators gather along one of the main streets to throw marigolds at the occupants of elaborately-decorated floats, who return fire with more flowers while attempting to defend themselves with tennis rackets and other improvised shields.
La cordà de Paterna
Not one for the faint-hearted, this pyrotechnic festival marking the end of summer festivities is held in Paterna, a town just outside the city centre, at the end of August. It’s basically a huge fireworks fight in the dark. Participants dress from head to toe in fireproof gear, and many dunk themselves in the municipal fountains for extra flameproofing before they begin throwing bangers and rockets at each other in a chaotic, extremely noisy battle often resulting in minor burns. You have been warned.
Semana Santa Marinera
It’s a little-known fact that the Easter festivities – known as Semana Santa – in Valencia are quite different to those held in other parts of Spain and very much worth seeing. The city doesn’t especially celebrate Semana Santa, apart from taking holidays, but it remains nevertheless a major part of the cultural identity of Valencia’s maritime district, Grao and Cabanyal.
Just over a century ago this was a separate town which has since been absorbed into Valencia. As this happened, residents united around their Semana Santa traditions as part of the resistance to losing their identity. It’s now become a blend of a religious tradition and political statement, and this is why in Valencia, Semana Santa is called Semana Santa Marinera. There are processions throughout the week featuring a great variety of visually striking costumes and a notably lighter, more festive atmosphere here than the usually sombre feeling of heavily religious celebrations elsewhere in Spain. While the traditions are marked with the same respect as everywhere else, the maritime district buzzes with a party atmosphere for the entire two weeks.