The Tomato Festival in Spain conjures images of blood-red streets and hoards of tomato-soaked crowds enjoying one of the most fun and exciting of all Spain’s events and holidays. Also called La Tomatina in Spain, this Bunyol, Valencia based celebration occurs annually in August when the world’s largest tomato fight ensues, beginning at 11 a.m. and lasting two full hours. There is no ignoring the commencement of the event, which is celebrated up to a week in advance with nonstop fireworks, music and dancing, parades, and a cook-off featuring the famous Spanish dish Paella. The Spanish Tomato festival is not only one of the country’s best and most popular summer festivals, it’s world renowned and attracts thousands of visitors wanting to experience the unconventional festivities.
Tomato Festival in Spain Image: Graham McLellan
There are many theories that recount the history of La Tomatina in Spain. Some say that the Spanish Tomato Festival began in the mid 1940s with a promenade of giant-headed statues (said to be the festival Gigantes y Cabezudos) was disturbed by young Spaniards while being paraded through the streets of Bunyol. The tale goes on that the young men managed to knock over one of the bodyguards of these noble figures, and when attacked, retaliated by hurling tomatoes. The tomato-throwing episode transformed into an annual event, and year after year the youth of Bunyol went back to the city core to hurl tomatoes. Despite major police intervention each year, this Spanish fiesta did nothing but get larger.
The Tomatina Image: nedim.chaabene (flickr)
When the day for La Tomatina in Spain arrives, locals and shopkeepers have already carefully covered up their most prized possessions with huge, plastic sheets. Twenty-thousand strong spill into the streets as the tomato trucks arrive, hauling 125 tons of scarlet-hued ammo into Plaza del Pueblo. Squishy, slippery, juicy, and red as red can be, the streets and people become covered, from top to bottom, as the giant tomato battle ensues. Participators must adhere to only two rules: only tomatoes can be tossed and each tomato must be squashed in hand before it’s thrown.
Tomato Festival in Italy
The Tomato Festival in Spain is as popular as the running of the bulls in Pamplona. They are the top two events in the country, each attracting a massive quantity of visitors. The tomato event is free and requires little more expense than a few dollars for beer money or lunch afterward, and some extra for a bus or train back to Valencia. Alcohol is a definite contender in the event and most of the crowd is young, lively, and drunk. One very notable bit of information is, in all the years that La Tomatina in Spain has been celebrated, there has never been a serious mishap and the festivities are always all in good fun.
The little town of Bunyol that hosts the Tomato Festival in Spain each year is home to less than 9,000 people that welcome more than 20,000 visitors each August. Imagine the chaos! Due to its size, Spain hotels in Bunyol are limited and in no way can accommodate the droves of people that arrive. Valencia hotels are the closest and most easily accessed from Bunyol, but do get booked up quickly so advanced reservations are a must. The central station in Valencia offers trains to Bunyol, which is about a 50-minute ride. The good-natured community of Bunyol works together after the Spanish Tomato festival is over, hosing down tomato-laden streets, walls, and storefronts. To hose yourself down, head to the public showers close to the river to wash up and change before heading back to Valencia or exploring Bunyol’s dining and shopping options.