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SAN JUAN

FESTIVALS

Goats, horses and fire: the weird ways Spain celebrates San Juan

Nobody celebrates festivities with quite the same flair and diversity as Spain, and Saint John's Eve is no exception.

Goats, horses and fire: the weird ways Spain celebrates San Juan
A horse rears in a crowd in the Menorcan town of Ciutadella as part of the usual Sant Joan celebrations. Photo: Jaime Reina/AFP

Saint John’s Eve or the feast of Saint John, known as El Día San Juan in Spain, is a celebration that usually involves elements of fire, dancing and some debatable treatment of animals.

In Spain Saint John’s Eve is either celebrated on June 23rd or 24th, but it falls close to the summer solstice on June 21st and bears some resemblance to Midsummer celebrations in Scandinavia and other northern countries.

In simple terms, Spain’s Día San Juan was born from the Christianisation of the pagan ritual of celebrating the summer solstice. 

Whether it be effigy burning, dousing each other with water, or touching the belly of a prancing stallion, midsummer revelries take place from coast to coast and are some of the most popular fiestas in all of Spain.

The past two years, festivities were cancelled as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic and many municipalities cordoned off their beaches to prevent partygoers from gathering.

Things are back to normal this year, so townsfolk in coastal areas of Spain will again head to the beach for a night of revelry around huge bonfires, with dancing, drinking and feasting often culminating in a midnight dip in the ocean.

There are however other San Juan celebrations which are even more bizarre, in some cases – as is often the case during Spanish festivals – with some questionable treatment towards animals.

Photo: José Jordan/AFP

In Alicante elaborate effigies are paraded through the town before being thrown into the flames while the streets pulsate with music, dancing and firecrackers, similar to Valencia’s festivies during Las Fallas

Photo: Jose Jordán/AFP

Menorca has a strange tradition which sees horses (and their riders) gallop, dance and prance through crowds while onlookers attempt to touch the equine’s belly, a feat that ensures good luck for the year.

Photo: Jaime Reina/AFP

In Catalonia, the Sant Joan parties are held on the night of June 23rd. The following day is also a public holiday, which residents usually need to recover from the night before. The firework explosions begin at least a week beforehand as everyone readies themselves for the big night. On the night itself, crowds gather on beaches to set off and watch spectacular firework displays, whilst eating coca (a local type of sweet bread) and drinking cava. 

Photo: JOSE LUIS ROCA / AFP

Revellers in Lanjarón, in the Alpujarras area south of Granada, choose to celebrate midsummer with an almighty water fight when residents use every receptacle at hand – hoses, buckets, water pistols – to drench each other. 

In the Pyrenean town of Isil near Lleida (Catalonia), residents mark Sant Joan by zigzagging from mountain top to town square carrying burning branches. After a huge bonfire, townsfolk dance until dawn.


Las Falles in Isil involve a lot of burning log carrying. Photo: Andres Merizalde / Flickr

In the Tenerife town of Puerto de la Cruz, goats take centre stage during the celebration of the Baño de las Cabras. Goat herders bring their herd to the beach and the bleating animals are (somewhat reluctantly) dunked into the sea. The event has its origins in an aboriginal ritual celebrated by the Guanches – the first Canary islanders – to mark the summer solstice.

 Photo: Desiree Martín/AFP

In the Basque village of Bakio, evil spirits are banished by “Zanpanzar” who stomp to the rhythm of giant cowbells.

Photo: Rafa Rivas/AFP

While in San Pedro Manrique in Soria province (north-central Spain), the midsummer ritual involves men walking barefoot over hot coals without burning their feet… Oh, and with the added challenge (and weight) of carrying a woman on their back.

Wherever you are in Spain, Happy San Juan!

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DISCOVER SPAIN

Six beautiful villages and small towns which are close to Barcelona

Barcelona is an exciting city to live in, but it's also great for weekend getaways. Here are six of the most beautiful villages and small towns within a one or two hours' drive from the Catalan capital.

Six beautiful villages and small towns which are close to Barcelona

Whether you prefer hiking in the Pyrenees or strolling on the beaches of the Costa Brava, there are plenty of lovely places to visit just a short drive or train ride away from Barcelona.

In fact, if you live in the Catalan capital, you are spoilt for choice when it comes to ideas for weekend getaways. Here are six of the most stunning pobles (villages in Catalan) that are definitely worth a visit.

Sitges

Sitges is a popular weekend seaside destination for Barcelonans and foreigners alike, and for good reason. The town has plenty of restaurants and shops as well as a beautiful seaside promenade and beach. Don’t miss a visit to the Maricel Palace, one of the most emblematic buildings, which also houses a collection of painting, sculpture and medieval art.

A beach in Sitges. Photo: sytpymes/Pixabay

2. Castellar de n’Hug

Located on the southern slopes of the Pyrenees, this village is near the waterfalls that are the source of the Llobregat river, which reaches the Mediterranean just south of Barcelona. Its well-preserved cobbled streets and stone houses are typical of the region, and if you board the Tren del ciment (the “cement train” that used to lead to a former cement factory) you can visit the nearby Artigas Gardens, designed by none other than Antoni Gaudí.

The awe-inspiring vistas of Castellar de n’Hug. Photo: Josep Monter/Pixabay

 

3. Begur

Begur is one of the Costa Brava’s most picturesque villages and its turquoise beaches attract many tourists in the summer. Surrounded by rocky cliffs and pine forests, the town has a colourful historic quarter dating back to the 15th century, but it’s also known for its grand colonial built in the early 20th century with a distinctive Indies style.

Begur is a sight to behold. Photo: Enquire/Pixabay

4. Miravet

Nestled on the slope of a hill and on the banks of the Ebro river, Miravet is a tiny village of just 700 inhabitants in the province of Tarragona. It strategic location meant it was occupied by a long series of settlers, but its 12th century Templar castle is the main attraction. The warm springs of Fontcalda are a 40-minute drive away and well worth a visit.

Miravet is as picturesque as villages come. Photo: Ryan Hogg/Pixabay

5. Peratallada

Just 22km east of Girona, this picturesque village takes its name from its stone buildings (the Catalan words pedra tallada mean ‘carved stone’). As one of the most significant centres of medieval architecture in Catalonia, it was declared a historic-artistic monument.

Find peace and quiet in Peratallada. Photo: Jaime Alcolver/Pixabay

6. Besalú

If there’s one place that exudes the Catalan middle ages, it’s probably Besalú. This town’s rich medieval legacy includes the 12th century Romanesque bridge across the Fluvià river, the Cùria Real and the residence of Cornellà, with its vast arcaded gallery, as well as several churches. A trip to the village could be followed by hike in the Volcanic Zone of La Garrotxa Natural Reserve, which includes 40 dormant volcanoes.

Travel back in time during a visit to Besalú. Photo: Adolfo Rumbo/Pixabay

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