“It is crazier than Vegas.”
Those are the words my American partner in crime used to describe one of the most well-known parties in the world, that is Las
The Spanish don’t need much of an excuse to party. Working in Spain, a colleague of mine asked what us foreigners think about the Espanish… I replied that they like fiestas and siestas coupled with tapas and good weather. She simply agreed. So when I realised the complete stereotype was coming up- a five-day long party near the beach town of Valencia- I just had to go. Basically Las Fallas is when crowds of mostly drunk people take photos in front of wooden statues that take a whole year (and money) to make that are then burned upon the festival’s conclusion…or is it?
Here’s the low-down*:
Por qué?! (Why?!)
Despite being one of the craziest and biggest festivals in Spain, it is also one that is deeply rooted in tradition, something that also make the Spanish, well so Spanish. Las fallas is a festival in Valencia that has become an annual party from March 15-19 that began as a feast day for St Joseph, the patron saint of carpenters. The story goes that back in the day streetlights were burnt in the name of Spring’s arrival. Now it is a chance to celebrate new beginnings and the Valencian identity as while las fallas is the festival’s name it is also the name designated to each Valencian community and the sculptures that they represent.
If you take a second to take in the sea of people, crammed in the streets like sardinas en una lata , you’ll realise that despite drawing such an international crowd, a large majority are Spanish families taking on the weekend as a mission to check off their list of must-see fallas. A list from a mere 700- no biggie. While at first the great paper-maché and wooden structures may appear the same, like trippy Disney cartoon characters, they actually have political and satirical messages with many commenting on contemporary issues or Spanish celebrities. One of our favourites is below for your viewing pleasure.
La comida (Food)
Situated on the coast, Valencia is known for its paella, a hot rice dish that originated from this city back in the 1800′s. In fact a Valencian restauranteur, Galbis, even earned himself a Guinness World Record in 1992 for the world’s biggest paella- enough to feed over 100,000 people. Las Fallas is therefore the perfect occasion to tuck into this dish, so perfect in fact that you may be fighting crowds to get your share as you avoid sitting at one of the expensive restaurants in the main plaza. It is worth it though to find, as you can’t get much better and if not you can always try the calamari which (if you’re lucky) may be served as a tapa along with your drink at a packed bar somewhere at night.
La bebida (Drinks)
Most people would know that Spain is famous for its wine and sangria yet lesser known is that not only is it incredibly cheap (cheaper than water) but at festivals like this it’s perfectly acceptable to drink on the streets without fear of being reprimaded, arrested, breathalised etc etc… all the things that control binge drinking and violence in countries like Australia. So in the name of viva la fiesta, either bring your own drinks or purchase a bottle or two of cheap vino at various shops throughout the city where vendors will be more than happy to not only sell it but open the bottle for you. And who said Spain lacked hospitality?
You are lucky if you have an affordable place to crash in Valencia during this time. Actually you’re lucky to find anywhere decent to sleep at all! As Spain’s third biggest city after Madrid and Barcelona, people come far and wide to take in the impressive atmosphere in this beautiful city that is only a short bus ride to the beach. If you are wanting to stay for the weekend you will need to book a couple of months in advance, especially as most hostels and hotels have a minimum stay of about 3 nights, some even up to 5. Your other options would be to stay at a campsite that allows you to stay for a shorter period with crazy travellers and copious amounts of sangria. Be prepared that these sites won’t be right where the action is, meaning that you’ll have to organise transport to and from the centre as well as from the bus or train station. Another option then remains, which is most ideal if you’re not lodging with a weirdo, and that is free accommodation with a Spaniard who has a holiday apartment, an exchange student or any seemingly friendly random you may met.
…o no dormir? (…or not to sleep?)
While at first not sleeping may seem like something that requires little thought, it is actually a strategic move that should be thought through carefully. Planning not to sleep means you should plan how not to sleep. To get the most from your tactical non-Z you have a few options:
– Go with an organised group where buses leave from a city such as Madrid and then take you back at the early hours of the morning. This was the tried and tested form and I give you just one piece of advice: make sure you know where the bus is leaving from and that someone else is keeping track of the time…
– Book your own transport there/back and either sleep at the bus station, which if travelling for long periods is definitely a plausible and effective option (better to do with one or two male counterparts) or just don’t sleep at all- party all day and all night and hopefully you will make your connecting journey.
These possibilities have obvious pros and cons, with the most important being that it may not be very viable (or safe) to be a drunk bum for the full 5 days so if you want to see the entire festival, especially the final day when the fallas are burned, it would be advisable to either come towards the end of the party or get your act together and organise something according to your budget. Of course being drunk with accommodation also doesn’t guarantee an effective observation of the festival.
Las Fallas takes place this month (Mar 15 – 19, 2016) in Valencia, Spain
*author accepts no responsibility for any misleading/sketchy information due to any possible distorted memories of said event. The writer attended the event in March 2013. This article was originally published in Food and Lifestyle on the AU.