It's hard to beat the experience of arriving in some small Spanish village, expecting no more than a bed for the night, to discover the streets decked out with flags and streamers, a band playing in the plaza and the entire population out celebrating the local fiesta. Everywhere in Spain, from the tiniest hamlet to the great cities, devotes at least a couple of days a year to their festivals. Usually it's the local saint's day, but there are celebrations of harvests, of deliverance from the Moors, of safe return from the sea - any excuse will do.
There are numerous colourful national and local festivals celebrated all around Spain, especially in spring and early summer. Concerts and recitals can be enjoyed throughout the year in Madrid. The Teatro Real reopened recently after many years of renovations and is now on a par with all the major opera houses in Europe. There are several festivals which feature visiting theatre and dance companies and orchestras - the main ones are Veranos de la Villa (music festival, July-mid-Sept), Festival de Otoño (theatre and dance festival, October) and Festival Mozart (classical music, June-July). Important events through the year include: January Epiphany: The three Kings arrive by boat, by camel or even helicopter; festivities in towns all around Spain. February Carnival: on Shrove Tuesday, celebrated everywhere. Cádiz city hosts one of Spain's best Carnival celebrations. March/April Semana Santa: Holy Week, religious processions in most towns. St George's Day, Sant Jordi: 23 April, day of books and roses - lovers' day (Catalonia only). Running of bulls in Vejer de la Frontera and Arcos de la Frontera.
The fallas, Valencia: on 19 March, the streets, plazas and balconies fill up with citizens, tourists and - most importantly - firemen, as colourful papier-mâché figures are put to the match, so that at midnight the entire city, illuminated with an orange glow, appears to be burning down. May Corpus Christi: flower carpets and other religious celebrations, late May and early June. Horse Fair, Jerez: display of horses and horsemanship. June St John's Eve: 23 June, bonfires and other pyrotechnics. International Festival of Music and Dance, Granada. One of Spain's leading festivals offers a varied programme of music and dance by national and international companies. Concerts in the Auditorio Manuel de Falla and the Palacio Carlos V in the Alhambra, dance in the Generalife. July Fiesta del Carmen: The fishermen's feast day on 15-16 July is celebrated at ports. September Vendimia: the wine harvest festivals are in mid-September. Verge Mercè festival: 24 September, Barcelona's biggest festival. Fiesta de Otoño (Autumn Festival), Jerez, including Sherry harvest festival. The best flamenco to be found is in the festivals and contests held between the end of June and the middle of September in small towns - there's one, or more, every Saturday, in Andalusia. The best known are the Potaje in Utrera (Seville) at the end of June, La Caracolá in Lebrija (Seville) in mid-July, the festival in Mairena del Alcor (Seville) at the beginning of September, and Fiesta de la Bulería held in the Jerez bullring in mid-September. The bullfighting season lasts from mid-March to mid-October.
There are also the events of the Catholic calendar, most notably Semana Santa (Holy Week), which in Audalucía sees theatrical religious floats carried through the streets, accompanied by hooded penitents atoning for the year's misdeeds. Each festival is different. In the Basque country there will often be bulls running flamenco and the guitar are an essential part of any celebration; in Valencia they specialize in huge bonfires and deranged firework displays (climaxing in Las Fallas in March). But this is just the mainstream. Fiestas can be very strange indeed, ranging from parades of devils to full-blown battles with water or even tomatoes.
Fiestas are an absolutely crucial part of Spanish life. Even the smallest village gives at least a couple of days a year over to partying, and happening across a local event can be huge fun, propelling you right into the heart of its culture. But as well Fiestas are an absolutely crucial part of Spanish life. Even the smallest village gives at least a couple of days a year over to partying, and happening across a local event can be huge fun, propelling you right into the heart of its culture. But as well as such community celebrations, Spain has some really major events: most famously the Running of the Bulls at Pamplona, the April Feria of Seville, and the great religious processions of Semana Santa, leading up to Easter. Any of these can be worth planning your whole trip around.
Following is a very basic calendar of fiesta highlights . For more detailed information, consult local tourist offices. Outsiders are always welcome at fiestas, the one problem being that it can be hard to find a hotel, unless you book well in advance.