Tasting the great culinary specialities of a region or drinking its best wine is priceless, but combine those with centuries-old traditions and festivities, and you’ve got my kind of party! When I am discovering a new place, I want to try everything…but also experience everything. The festivals, the big moments, the live music shows, the fairs…everything that adds flavour to my trip.
That’s why the first thing I do when I travel to any place is to check the local calendar for events near me!
But when you have 5 territories in one destination and so many events your fear of missing out spikes, a little guidance might be a good thing. That’s why I put together for you this list of key events you should not miss when you come visit. You can imagine that the selection was difficult because everything is worth experiencing but it’s a start!
Run with the bulls at the Sanfermin in Pamplona
Or just watch people running for their life – ahahah! Either way, it’s a guaranteed thrill!
If you haven’t heard of this celebration, you’re probably thinking I’ve gone mad. Nope, it’s real! This centuries-old popular tradition is known around the world and many have lost their shorts – if not more – on the occasion. Hundreds of wild bulls are released in the streets of the city, while locals and tourists alike run in front of them in a test of bravery, speed and endurance. Crazy, but tons of fun.
And this is just a small part of the Sanfermin festivities. From the 6th to the 14th of July, the streets of Pamplona transform into a non-stop party where you can watch giants and mythical characters wander through the streets, watch shows while eating churros, or dance to the rhythms of the street bands. So put your best red scarf on and come join the fun!
The Festivities of the Virgen Blanca
Are you a true traveller? Do you enjoy immersing yourself in the folklore of the place you visit and learn everything about the local culture? If so, put on a white blouse and come celebrate wih me the Virgen Blanca in Euskadi!
From the 4th to the 9th of August, Vitoria-Gasteiz brings together people of all ages and from all over the world. It is true that to experience the descent of Celedon (a mythical character of the region) and to attend the various and varied activities of the festival is unlike anything you’ve experienced before. Recitals, an Arab souk, a hoof-throwing competition and even sack races are just some of the things you can do with friends and family to immerse yourself in this unique culture.
The Hendaye basque festival
It is one of the most famous festivals on the Basque coast… full of history and traditional customs. If you want to take a step back in time, the Basque festival in Hendaye takes place on the second weekend of August and promises authenticity, fun, and small children in the cutest little outfits. You will be able to watch the famous cavalcade (parade of floats) but also fireworks, dances and of course fingerlicking pintxos and other basque culinary specialities.
In the beginning, back in the 1930s, the aim was to entertain the public but also to highlight the customs of the Basque Country and show that they could be an attraction for tourists.
So back then, everyone – even the audience – would play the game to the fullest and dress up in the traditional attire. Nowadays, I promise you that you don’t have to wear this famous outfit to fully enjoy the traditions of the region.
La Rioja Harvest Festival
Arguably, Rioja is the perfect destination for wine lovers. But it’s truly at its best in September when the grapes are ripe and ready to be harvested. The landscapes are enchanting, the weather is still warm and inviting, and the locals are bringing out their best attire for the Fiestas de San Mateo, also known as the Rioja Harvest Festival.
The festivities date all the way back to the 12th century, and since 1956 they have been associated with the harvest festival, growing into a holiday worth the trip! From live concerts to sport games, the programme has something for everyone, no matter your age or origins. It includes a competition of the region’s finest wines, wine tastings, stands displaying the many many local products, a demonstration of traditional grape crushing, fireworks and much more.
Join the festival in Logroño in mid-September for a week of festivities that will appeal to everyone in their legal drinking age!
The festival of the shepherds of Aramits
September has more in store for you! On the third weekend of September, the village of Aramits in Bearn invites you to celebrate the return of the shepherds and their flocks from the summer pastures.
I love-love-love animals, so seeing cute little sheep running around a village and watching herding dogs competitions while eating delicious creamy cheeses handmade from the milk of those very same sheep… it’s a real treat.
Simple, artisanal and full of tenderness, this festival doesn’t need to go big to put you in a good mood and give you a cuteness overdose!
Celebration of the Volatin and the Angel
Would you like to spend Easter a little differently than usual? In Tudela, Navarra, the people have a very special tradition of celebrating this religious holiday.
On Saturday at 10 in the morning, the Volatin, a wood and cloth dummy, is presented to the public with a cigar-shaped firecracker in its mouth, which then explodes in its face to the cheers of the crowd.
On Sunday morning, at 9am this time, the Descent of the Angel takes place. A child dressed as an angel flies above the audience towards a virgin with her face covered by a veil. As soon as the angel removes the veil, it means that Christ has risen again.
Enough of the traditions, let’s get trendy!
I’m going to stray a bit from the very traditional side of things, but I’m sure many of you will also enjoy some partying – 21st century style!
I spend my time listening to music of all kinds so I am more than eager to tell you about this festival!
For three days, attend – for free! – concerts by local bands for all styles and all ages, both on stage and in the streets. A fantastic display of the cultural wealth of the Béarn. The Hestiv’Oc festival During the month of August, go to Pau, capital city of the Province, and meet people, dance, sing, eat local products…enjoy your holiday to the fullest. I bet you won’t say no to a few days full of authenticity, sharing and good humour driven by music.
Biarritz in the lights
While this coastal city in the very southwest of France is typically known as a summer destination famous for its beaches, surfing scene and seafood dishes, it knows how to delight visitors all year long. Indeed, what better way to visit the city than with its beautiful monuments lit up with colourful light projections?
From the end of November to the beginning of January, the city of Biarritz comes to life in order to bring you a whole lot of Christmas magic.
During this month-long celebration, light installations will shine from 6pm to midnight and, from mid-December onwards, projections will take place in different areas of Biarritz. These shows will be projected onto buildings such as the church of Sainte-Eugénie, the facade of the tourist office and the Gare du Midi.
Shortly before the end of the festival, hundreds of paper lanterns are released from the beaches of the city, in a beautiful ethereal closing event. The perfect ending to a magical month.
Fantasy and Terror Film Week in San Sebastian
Keep your eyes peeled, I have the perfect plan for cinema lovers and fans of Halloween!
For a few days each year, on the week of Halloween, San Sebastian immerses itself in a whimsical and frightening atmosphere to make you discover terrifying short films and street theatre shows as well as frightening exhibitions.
I know not everyone enjoys a good scare. Maybe you’d rather watch a good comedy or even eat an ice cream in front of Top Chef, but truly you’d be missing out on some good old fun and a great experience to share with the kids.
For those if you who do like to get scared and want a good dose of adrenaline, the San Sebastian Fantasy and Terror Film Week awaits you from the 30th of October to the 6th of November.
For those of you who don’t, check out my list of other great things to do with your children in VISITGastrOH!
Actual Festival, the scene of contemporary cultures
Art can be appreciated in different ways and in different forms and this event shows that well.
During the first week of January, the focus is on modernity and renewal. Theatrical performances, contemporary art, film premieres and concerts of all kinds can be found throughout the city of Logroño during the Actual Festival. Culture fans will be delighted to enjoy a few days filled with shows and exhibitions taking place in the city’s streets and emblematic buildings such as the sports hall and the auditorium.
Every year, the capital of La Rioja welcomes around 30,000 people of all ages to attend this great cultural celebration. If you are tempted by the experience, you’d better not delay in taking your seats!
Now don’t worry, insatiable foodies! I promise you’ll still delight yourself on wonderful local products and dishes in every one of these events!
VISITGastrOH! is much more than a simple tourism destination. It offers amazing food AND many experiences that allow you to immerse yourself in the local culture and enjoy every minute of your trip.
And if you are not a big fan of the crowds and noise, I’ve got a list of great museums and educational workshops that will enrich your trip. Stay tuned!