On the last Wednesday of August, hundreds of people will flock to the town of Buñol, 40 km from Valencia. Here, the crowds gather to pelt each other with tomatoes for one very energetic – and very messy – hour to acknowledge one of Spain’s wackiest traditions, the Tomatina Festival.
Once upon a time
It all started back in the summer of 1945 when a group of young people caused a riot in Buñol’s town centre while a parade was taking place. In their fury at the disruption, the parade’s participants grabbed the first thing they could see – tomatoes from a market fruit and veg stall – and hurled them at the teens. The crowds then pelted each other with tomatoes until the local forces ended the battle. The following year, the youngsters brought their own tomatoes from home and chaos ensued – the fight was again broken up by police.
La Tomatina was banned in the early 50s and huge demonstrations took place including the infamous ‘tomato burial’ in which a giant tomato was carried in a coffin to the sound of funeral marches. Eventually, the festival was brought back by popular demand and today La Tomatina is infamous throughout Spain – and the world – as a fun-filled and very unique day out. In 2002 it was declared the Festival of International Tourist Interest by the Department of Tourism and it has since gained cult status, drawing crowds every summer who are desperate to take part in the fun.
Participants are instructed to begin throwing their tomatoes at 11am when a loud firework will go off. They are advised to squash the tomatoes before hurling them to make the impact less painful. The second firework will go off at 12 noon to indicate the end of the fight. But the fun doesn’t stop there. The palo-jabón event will see participants climb a soap-covered pole with a Spanish prosciutto on the top. The first person who reaches the top will win the prosciutto! This is definitely a festival that will attract the foodies among us…
With the tomato battles and prosciutto races of La Tomatina drawing bigger crowds every year, there is now a 10€ tax to access the ‘Tomato Area’ and tickets for this year are already sold out online. But don’t despair! You can buy tickets as part of the Official Tours 2014 that are being managed by SpainTastic, or through an agency that will usually include bus transfers. Plus, if you like to take a bit of a gamble there will be a limited number of tickets available on the day.
For those who fancy continuing the party (possibly with a change of clothes) the Tomatina Sound Festival will kick off at 9pm while foodies will be able to enjoy the Gastronomic and Cultural Fair which runs from 25-27 August and includes a series of activities devoted to sustainable cuisine and the slow food concept. Lectures, tastings, jazz concerts and competitions, tapas and cocktails will all feature as part of the innovative fair.
Once the tomatoes have been put away for another year, there’s yet more fun to be had. Buñol is a lovely place to visit in its own right – a dynamic town which boasts a range of budget to mid- and high-range accommodation along with impressive restaurants, a well-preserved castle and beautiful scenery including urban parks and fountains. The area is renowned for its music while Buñol town is surrounded by lush countryside and an abundance of natural beauty with opportunities for climbing, hiking and cycling around the lakes and mountains.
Photo Credit: TimJWWood