La Tomatina Festival – Enjoy The Fun And The Mess!
If you’re on the hunt for festivals in Europe that really allow you to get stuck into some fun, you may need to look little further than Spain’s La Tomatina. You will have never seen anything like it before.
Spain is a country soaked in tradition, ancient customs and fiestas. Never is this more apparent as in the village of Buñol in the last week of August. Thousands of tourists and visitors from other parts of Spain visit Buñol every year, to witness one of the most unique fiestas on the Spanish calendar. “La Tomatina”. As the name suggests, this is all about tomatoes, but tomatoes as you have never seen them before!
For one brief hour, the whole town and visitors alike are allowed to throw old ripe tomatoes at each other, get smothered in them, dance in them and generally behave disgracefully in them. All just for fun!
This may sound amazingly messy. And it is. But it is just what thousands of youngsters (and not so youngsters) do every year on the last day in August in the small town of Buñol near Valencia, Spain. Have no fear, you will not be locked up for a month for such anti-social behaviour. You will probable win a prize for it!
The Origins Behind To The Modern La Tomatina Festival
Spain’s La Tomatina festival is perhaps one of the world’s most famous food fights and while you may be aware that it sees revellers fling thousands of squashed tomatoes at one another, do you know how the event first began?
There are several theories behind the origins of the annual festival, which takes place in Bunol near Valencia. Some people claim it started as a practical joke being played on a terrible-sounding musician while others think it began after a lorry carrying tomatoes overturned.
However, the most widely believed version links La Tomatina’s inception to that of another festival – Gigantes y Cabezudos.
In August 1945, this parade was taking place through the town’s streets when some local youths decided they wanted to get involved. Rushing into the main square, one of the participants – who was wearing a traditional costume consisting of an enlarged, grotesque head – was knocked to the ground.
Upon getting to his feet, he became angry with the young people and a fight soon started. However, it wasn’t just punches and kicks that were thrown. Thanks to a nearby fruit and vegetable stall, tomatoes were also flung.
Although the police came to quell the disturbance, revellers had so much fun that they decided to hold another tomato fight in the same place the following August. This also resulted in chaos, people were thrown in the public water fountain and even those who were not taking part were hit by the fruit.
With several authority figures among the innocent victims, La Tomatina was subsequently banned for the following years. But this did not quell its popularity among the locals. In 1957 some youths decided to hold a tongue-in-cheek ‘funeral’ for the festival.
This saw a coffin containing a large tomato carried through the streets of Bunol, while sombre music was played.
Eventually, officials at Bunol town hall bowed to public pressure and soon afterwards La Tomatina was reinstated. However, with the council overseeing the running of the event it became more regulated and several rules were introduced, including the one-hour time limit on throwing tomatoes.
But, the festival was banned once again for several years after former ruler Francisco Franco decided that it did not have any religious significance. Since the 1970s it remerged and has steadily become more popular over the years, drawing in thousands of revellers from across the world.
La Tomatina certainly has a rich and colourful past but if you want to be part of its future, all you need to do is visit Bunol on the fourth Wednesday of August, thousands of people from across Spain and further afield descend on the Valencia town of Bunol to celebrate tomatoes.
But rather than tasting the fruit, they will be throwing it at one another. With around 40,000 people taking part every year, La Tomatina is the biggest food fight in the world. The event is located near the bustling city of Valencia, making it a great base to take in all of the fun of La Tomatina.
What To Expect
The tomato-throwing spectacle, which has been taking place for more than 50 years, sees the town literally painted red, as the fruit splatters against buildings and people over the course of a fun-filled, action-packed hour.
As trucks containing thousands of tomatoes make their way into the heart of Bunol, participants gather excitedly, preparing themselves for the action. And upon hearing the signal, you’ll find that it’s every man, woman and child for themselves as the fruit-flinging action commences and you try your best to avoid getting hit.
And as you’ve only got an hour in which to take part in the fight, after 60 minutes, a second horn will sound meaning that everyone must stop throwing fruit.
Of course, the fact that there are so many people taking part – not to mention tomatoes being flung – means that you’re unlikely to escape from La Tomatina unscathed, so this may not be the festival in Europe in which to wear your best outfit. But while you may end up being pulverised by the fruit, you are unlikely to be hurt – as tomatoes must be crushed before they are thrown. Indeed, you will find that you leave the event full of memories that will live with you for a very long time.
The festival starts with a “palo jabon” whereby a pole is greased and a ham is placed at the top. The aim is to climb the pole and knock the ham off, thereby signalling the start of the tomato festival and fight. The tomato fight usually starts at about 11am, once the ham has been knocked off and a shot is sounded or water cannon started. Crushed tomatoes are then thrown at the crowds of people waiting from large trucks. The trucks usually start in the Plaza del Pueblo area. The actual tomato fight usually only lasts about an hour and the end of the fight is signalled by a single shot into the air or the water cannons are switched back on, announcing the end.
Thousands of people line the streets to experience La Tomatina, with thousands of tourists visiting the area or taking escorted trips to the town of Bunol just to experience La Tomatina Festival, such has its popularity grown. There are so many people on the day of the festival that if you attend you may not actually get to see the trucks in the centre of the town throwing the tomatoes into the crowd. However, the streets all around are lined with partygoers and the atmosphere is lively and electric. Many people attending the festival wear goggles and gloves to help protect themselves from the tomatoes and tomato juice that covers every building and street in the area. It’s advised if you plan to attend to take a set of clean clothes to change into afterwards!
After the tomato fight has ended, the streets are washed clean using fire trucks and hoses and they sparkle from the being cleaned by the acidity of the tomato juice. The partying goes on into the night afterwards as the festival goers congregate in Bunol and Valencia.
That said, the food fight is just one of several things you can take in as part of La Tomatina. In addition to a number of parades and firework displays, the day before the tomato-chucking event sees people descend on Bunol’s Concurso des Paellas. Here you can tuck into a variety of food, including famous Spanish dish paella.
How To Survive La Tomatina Festival
La Tomatina is thought to have originated around the 1950’s although there is debate as to how the original festival and fight first started. What is clear is that the town council tried to ban it a number of times, finally agreeing to the tomato fight in 1959 as long as the fight started and ended at agreed times with the sound of a shot/horn was sounded. There are a number of rules now in place to ensure safety/security of the participants which are: 1) bottles or other items that could cause harm are not allowed 2) T-shirts must not be torn 3) you must stop when the second shot/horn/bang/water cannon is sounded 4) the tomatoes must be crushed before being thrown 5) you must carefully avoid the lorries carrying the tomatoes so as to ensure you don’t get run over/hurt.
As the town of Bunol (Bunyol) only houses about 9000 people there is limited accommodation for the tens of thousands of people attending the tomato fight. Many tourists book cheap package holidays to Valencia instead and then make their way to Bunol via train, bus or car in the morning of the festival. Some tour operators even offer La Tomatina short break holiday packages to the festival with hotels and transfers included plus souvenir t-shirts.
1) Wear old clothes that you don’t mind never wearing again
2) Bring a change of clothes (there are public showers in Bunyol)
3) Check out the timetable of local trains/buses beforehand and plan ahead as it will be very busy!
4) Book your accommodation early especially if you want to stay in Bunol as it gets booked up very quickly.
5) Wear shoes or trainers that you don’t mind getting covered in tomato juice and that have a good grip.
6) Wear goggles and gloves to protect your eyes and hands from the acidic tomato juice and to help you grip.
Top Tips For Doing La Tomatina On A Budget
More and more people head to Bunol, Valencia every year for the La Tomatina festival – but with the event attracting so many, how can you attend without breaking the bank?
All major festivals result in a rush on accommodation and flights months in advance – and La Tomatina, the world’s largest food fight, is no exception.
So if you want the cheapest travel and hotels, you should be prepared to book well in advance to ensure you get low-priced options. By doing so, you’re also more likely to have your pick of rooms located close to La Tomatina.
The festival takes place on the last Wednesday of August, so try to reserve your rooms and flights several months before this point.
Travellers who want the convenience of having their La Tomatina experience arranged for them might want to take the route of going with a holiday company offering budget festival tours.
These firms can be a godsend when it comes to booking travel and accommodation for a major event and you often get the benefit of helpful advice, guided tours and optional excursions along with attending the main festival.
You can usually choose from packages with or without travel, so if you already have your flights booked but are struggling to find cheap accommodation, it may be worth looking into a budget festival tour company.
If you’re in the dilemma of having your hotel booked but no flights, why not opt for rail travel instead? This can often be more fun than flying, as you get to take in some amazing scenery at your leisure, and it can also be much cheaper and more eco-friendly.
After you’ve arrived in Valencia, keep costs to a minimum by opting for public transport over taxis and researching the cheapest places to eat and drink on the internet.
You may also want to spend some of your evenings away from the centre of Valencia, where food, drink and entertainment costs can be high.
Cut the cost of your currency by researching exchange rates and avoiding buying your euros at the last minute. Find a bureau that will change your currency without charging commission to reduce expenses further.
If you’re looking for hands-on approach to festivals in Europe, La Tomatina is sure to be the event for you. Enjoy your vacation to Spain this year!
Visit information about festivals section to explore a full list of festivals happening around the world yearly!