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 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 partying, and participating in such an event propels you right into the heart of Spanish culture.
Local saints’ days aside, Spain has some really major events worth planning your whole trip around, from the great Easter processions of Semana Santa (Holy Week) to the famous bull-running during July’s Fiesta de San Fermín in Pamplona. There are also fiestas celebrating deliverance from the Moors, safe return from the sea, or the bringing in of the grapes – any excuse will do. One thing they all tend to have in common is a curious blend of religious ceremony and pagan ritual – sombre processions of statuary followed by exuberant merrymaking – in which fire plays a prominent part.
Outsiders are always welcome at fiestas, the only problem being that it can be hard to find a hotel, unless you book well in advance. The other thing to note is that while not every fiesta is a national public holiday, or vice versa, you may well get stuck if you arrive in town in the middle of an annual event, since pretty much everything will be closed.