It is loud, smokey, lively and it smells like gunpowder. There is a huge virgin Mary made with flowers, traditional music and costumes and a lot a fun. This is the craziest yet unique and most amazing festival I’ve been and undoubtedly it is now my favorite so far. I am talking about Las Fallas de Valencia. If you don’t mind crowds, love street food, pyrotechnic, and enjoy loud music and lots of fireworks. And when I say lots, I really mean A LOT, then this is your kind of festival.
Fallas happen in March, specifically from the 15th through the 19th , when after a year of preparation, Valencia gets ready to say goodbye to winter and welcome the spring. This is a tradition that has been alive for centuries. Nobody knows the exact origin of the festival, but many agree that it is very old, with pagan roots and that it probably began in middle ages when the guilds got rid of wooden artifacts used during winter by burning them in order to celebrate the spring equinox.
We took the train from Barcelona to Valencia after stopping by restaurant Can Culleretes which was recommended to us by one of the employees at LLuis Manuel (with two “Ls”) shoe store where we bought our espadrilles shoes. I’m so happy we took his word. This restaurant is on the Guinness Book of World Records for being the second oldest restaurant in Spain and first Catalan. When we got there we asked if the food would take a long time since we had a train to catch. This is something we hate to do. Food is meant to be enjoyed and should not be rushed. But this time we didn’t have much time if we didn’t want to miss our train.
They told us to not worry because they were going to be fast and good. And oh boy, did they deliver. The service was fantastic. Here the ladies take care of the customers while the guys do the cooking. For only 14€ we had a 3 course lunch (dessert & wine included). The lunch menu changes daily. Ours consisted of a Catalan fish soup, lamb stew (for me) or chicken ratatouille (for Alexis). The highlight for me was dessert: Crema Catalana. I stopped at 3 different places in Barcelona looking for the best Crema Catalana and I found it here. A stop by Can Culleretes is worth it, even if only to have their Crema Catalana, although I think it would be a sin not to try one of their authentic and delicious dishes.
A before and after of the Crema Catalana
Sorry, I lost track. It happens every time I talk about food. Now back to Fallas.
The 3 hour ride along the coast from Barcelona to Valencia was very pleasant. We had time to catch up on our readings, write in our journals, enjoy the view of the Mediterranean and even sleep. Our stop was Sagunto, where our friend Maria was waiting for us. We stayed with her for 4 days in her house in Faura, a small community of Valencia.
Apparently we brought the bad weather with us since according to locals they hadn’t had rain during Fallas for over 4 years. It was cold, windy and rainy. It kind of suck a little bit but it wasn’t an obstacle to enjoy the festivities. With or without rain the Fallas were expected to be as vibrant and lively as ever. We only had to pray for no wind, since the wind can be a detrimental factor during la cremà (burning of the Fallas) and luckily we didn’t have any wind that day.
The Valencians take their festival very serious and live it to the maximum. This festival attracts not not only locals, but people from all over the country and the world come to Valencia for this occasion. Even children here party hard. I saw kids on the streets at 2am and it was Thursday. Shouldn’t they go to school the next day? I guess you should start them young.
I forgot to mention that Fallas is not only the name of the festival, but also the name of the huge and elaborate wooden puppets covered with paper-mâché called ninots, which play an important role during the festival (I will explain later why).
This festival is also a satirical and ironic vision of local, provincial, national and even international problems and themes. They criticize almost everything and everyone imaginable. No mercy. There are Fallas looking like political figures and this year even King Carlos and Queen Sofia were not exempt from being converted into ninots.
Why are the ninots so important? Well, you see, while San José (Saint Joseph), the patron saint of the carpenters is the official focus of this festival, the “unofficial” purpose of Fallas (which literally means “fires” in Valencian) is to spend an entire year creating beautiful and impressive monuments, something definitely not easy to do and that requires some serious artistic skills, not to mention how expensive the project must be. Then after the creation is finalized, they are put on display for a couple of days for the whole world to see. Finally the ninots are destroyed when they are set on fire on the last day of the festival. Crazy, I know, but somehow it totally makes sense to me.
One of my favorite parts of Fallas was the street food. I had buñuelos de calabaza (pumpkin donut), hot chocolate, chocolate churros, churros filled with cream and more…
Then we stopped by Horchateria de Santa Catalina to try the Valencian horchata. Unlike Mexican which is made with rice, water, sugar and cinammon, the horchata from Valencia is made with water, sugar and tigernuts (chufas). Not my favorite but I’m glad I tried it.
We found the street Cuba-Puerto Rico which is beautifully illuminated during Fallas.
The falla in the Plaza del Ayuntamiento was a favorite to many.
Some of the festivities in the program include:
Every day from 1 to 19 March, at 2 pm in the Plaza del Ayuntamiento, the city vibrates to the sound of the mascletà, a gunpowder concert with intense explosions. This event is meant more to be felt than it is to be seen.
The plantà or mounting of the monuments take place from the 15 to 16 March when the falleros and falleras (how the men and women who construct the fallas are called), get together to work through the night on erecting them.
Fireworks and the Nit del Foc
Beautiful display of fireworks at 12 midnight night from 15 to 18 March. The fantastic Nit del foc (Night of Fire), a one-of-a-kind spectacle held between 1am and 2am on the 18th.
La Cremà (The Burning)
The mother of all spectacles. On the last day, (19 March) all of the ninots get burst into flames. Starting at 10 pm with the Cremà of the children’s sculptures, then followed by the biggest monuments and ending at 1am when the last falla in the Plaza del Ayuntamiento is burned. Fact: the bomberos (firemen) need to be present when each Falla gets burned in order to prevent city buildings from catching the fire of the fallas. The fire can’t start until they arrive.
I also enjoyed the “ofrenda de flores a la virgen de los desamparados”. This event takes place on the 18, when thousands of falleras and falleros bring flowers to the image of the virgin.
Things to be aware of…
I don’t want to be a party pooper, but there are things that need to be mentioned. First of all, if you are noise sensitive, then Fallas probably won’t be your cup of tea. It is going to be loud. Extremely loud and there is no way to avoid that. I think not even earplugs would help. The noise begin at 8am with a band marching (called la despertá) and the noise continues until 2-3am. I read reviews from people stating they couldn’t sleep because of all the noise, etc. Something perfectly avoidable with a little bit of research.
Also, pregnant woman are, if not forbidden, highly encourage to not attend. I saw people with dogs and babies. They should be fined. Completely unnecessary to put your dog or baby through all that noise and stress.
Be aware of fire. Everywhere. Every year hundreds of people are injured by a pyrotechnic artifact lit by themselves or by someone near them. Anyone here handles pyrotechnic artifacts, even kids, so be aware of your surroundings.
Pickpockets love crowds and they will try to steal your wallet, purse, phone or anything to their reach. Keep your belongings closed to you at all times. Do not carry your passport and important documents. Leave a back up credit/debit card at the hotel and do not carry crazy amounts of cash. Use a money belt or front pockets. Do not stay in the same spot for too long.
The perfect ending to the perfect week
We couldn’t leave Valencia without having Valencian Paella. The real deal. Our friend Maria took us to a family-run restaurant near Faura where only locals go. There we had paella, wine and natilla for dessert. Everything was amazing.
Here’s a little taste of fallas:
I can’t wait to experience this whole craziness again so maybe see you next year in Valencia?