Spain is famous for its festivals and, if you can arrange it so that your school trip coincides with one of these, it will add another dimension to your trip and could give your students a really exciting insight into the culture.
However, if you do wish to visit during a fiesta, we’d really advise that you book as early as possible, as accommodation in particular will be in high demand.
La Mercè – Barcelona
Barcelona’s official city fiesta, La Mercè celebrates the Catholic feast of Our Lady of Mercy (La Mare de Déu de la Mercè in Catalan). The official date of the festival is 24th September, although events usually take place over the week leading up to that.
This festival offers a really interesting insight into Catalan culture. You’ll see people dancing the sardana, a circular folk dance. And you won’t be able to miss the giant pyramids of people known as castellers. And prepare to be amazed by the huge gegants (giant figures often representing well known characters from history) which will be paraded in the streets.
Many events are free, and some of the city’s museums also offer free entry during the festivities.
Make sure you don’t leave before seeing the Piromusical show around Montjuïc’s Magic Fountain – a water, fireworks and light display set to music that your entire group will love!
Las Fallas – Valencia
Las Fallas is Valencia’s most famous festival and welcomes in the spring. Taking place in March each year, the festival is famous for its huge, beautifully crafted fallas, which are first paraded through the streets before being set alight.
The fallas feature ninots (puppets or dolls in Valencian), often in the form of famous characters. These can sometimes be satirical and represent figures from both national and international politics.
So much work goes into the fallas that a whole industry has sprung up around them. And this is centred in the area of the city now known as Ciutat fallera.
The festival lasts five days and nights. Every day, the city is woken up by the Despertà, which sees marching bands parade through the streets as fallers follow behind throwing firecrackers.
Each afternoon during the festival, the city’s focus switches to the Plaça de l’Ajuntament for the Mascletà. At 2pm the Fallera Major appears at the balcony of City Hall and instructs the pyrotechnicians to begin their firework displays.
The festival culminates in the burning of the fallas, with the one in Plaça de l’Ajuntament traditionally burnt last.
Image Credit: Copyright FOTOGRAFÍAS CANAL SUR RADIO y TELEVISION, CARNAVAL CADIZ (CC BY-ND 2.0) www.flickr.com
Los Carnavales de Cádiz – Cádiz
Carnival is celebrated all over the world and that includes Spain. And the best place to enjoy carnival in Spain is undoubtedly Cadiz.
Cadiz is home to one of the largest, best known carnivals in Spain. And the reason for this is the influence of Venice. As one of Spain’s largest ports, Cadiz traded regularly with Venice during the 16th century and adopted some of its traditions, including carnival.
One thing that makes carnival in Cadiz unique is the strong musical element. And one of the highlights of carnival in Cadiz is the music competition which takes place at the Gran Teatro Falla.
Various ensembles take part in this competition, some of are typical of the province of Cadiz. These include chirigotas, which are humorous groups that perform satirical pieces about current events, comparsas who are more serious and known for their classical skills, and romanceros who are soloists that often roam the streets performing during carnival.
There are also the more traditional parades to enjoy, and even a number of gastronomic festivals which precede the main carnival celebrations. So, if you want to experience carnival in Spain, there really is no better choice than Cadiz!
La Feria de Abril – Seville
Two weeks after the spectacle of Semana Santa, Seville plays host to another week-long festival, La Feria de Abril.
The fair had humble beginnings in 1847 as a livestock fair, but has now grown into quite the extravaganza.
Throughout the week of the feria, a vast area on the far bank of the Guadalquivir River is completely covered in casetas, or marquees, which apart from a few, belong to the city’s prominent families, clubs, trade associations and political parties.
The area in which the feria is held is known as the Real de feria and also includes an amusement park known as Calle de Infierno (Hell Street).
The feria starts on a Monday night with the alumbrao, when the lights of the portada are turned on. Everyone then heads to the casetas for dinner and to party the night away!
Each day of the festival begins with a parade of carriages and riders, as Seville’s high society make their way to the city’s bullring, La Real Maestranza.
Las Fiestas de San Isidro – Madrid
On 15th May each year, Madrid celebrates its patron saint, San Isidro. This is a great time to visit Madrid, as this family-friendly festival offers groups the opportunity to get a real glimpse into the culture of Spain’s capital.
The day starts with a pilgrimage to la Pradera de San Isidro (the San Isidro Meadow), followed by mass at the Royal Collegiate Church of San Isidro. After the Eucharist, the Archbishop of Madrid goes to the Pradera and blesses the water from the spring. Tradition then dictates that everyone drinks from the spring.
After the religious celebration comes the party! Everyone gathers on the Pradera for a picnic. Don’t worry though, you don’t need to pack any food, as lots of food stalls offers plentiful amounts of regional dishes.
One food that is very typical of the festival is the rosquillas, which are a type of aniseed doughnut. They come in various forms, the tontas (‘silly ones’) are plain, the listas (clever ones) have a layer of lemon icing, and the de Santa Clara variety come with a dusting of icing sugar. All are delicious!
Many of the locals will be dressed up in traditional chulapo and goyesco costumes, dancing chotis (the traditional regional dance) in the streets. Concerts are held throughout the city, zarzuelas (a Spanish lyric-dramatic genre) are performed and numerous other events are held, many of which are free.
A Gigantes y Cabezudos parade is also held. This is a very Iberian tradition that sees papier maché characters paraded through the streets. The name roughly translates as ‘giants and bigheads’, and there are two distinct figures – the ‘giants’ which can be several metres tall and the ‘bigheads’ which are more human sized but feature an oversized head. Your students are certain to enjoy this particularly fun aspect of Spanish culture!
These are just a few of the fascinating fiestas held around Spain – there are many, many more to enjoy. And visiting Spain during a fiesta is certainly a great opportunity to find out more about the Spanish culture.
But, as we mentioned, if you do want your school trip to Spain to take place during a fiesta, you’ll need to book early as availability will be very limited when it comes to accommodation. Contact us today for further information or to request your tailor-made quote.