The unassuming town of Buñol in eastern Spain turns red for one day every year as they host the biggest food fight in the world: La Tomatina. Don’t forget your goggles, your ear plugs and your ‘Dolmio’ grin!
Where: Buñol, Spain
When: Held the last Wednesday in August (in 2017: 30 Aug).
What: The tomato growing season for this Spanish town, 40 kilometres from Valencia, always ends on the last Wednesday in August. What happens next is the local population is joined by tens of thousands of visitors for the cultural celebration of La Tomatina.
Then: Rumor has it La Tomatina started over a ‘you say tomah-to, I say tomay-to’ dispute, but more reliable sources tell us that the tomato throwing is in honor of the patron saints of the town, and that it started in the 1940s. Though its exact origins remain a mystery, the tradition caught on (and except during a ban during the Franco period) it has grown bigger every year.
Now: These days, Buñol, a town of 9000 swells to up to 40,000 during the La Tomatina week. The main event aside, other activities include parades, dances, music, fireworks and a paella making competition.
On the big red Tomatina day…
The tomato fight takes place on the Wednesday, starting at around 10am. In theory, the proceedings will officially begin when one person has successfully scaled a tall greasy pole and reached the leg of ham that has been placed on top. In reality, the combined unlikelihood of achieving this task and the eagerness of the punters means the tomatoes get thrown early.
For exactly one hour the city is a pulpy, tomato flavoured battleground and it’s every person for themselves. 125,000 kilograms of ripe fruit is trucked into the town and chaos ensues. The key is to wear clothes you won’t miss as even if you manage to escape the river of red (which you won’t), shirt ripping is also not unheard of (and practically a given if you are a bloke).
After the appointed time, the water cannons are switched on and the cleanup process begins. As luck has it, the town in sat on a river so most throwers will head there for a wash. Tomato soup for lunch?
La Tomatina dos and don’ts
1) Buñol is a very small town and there are a lot more accommodation options in Valencia, just a short train journey away. If you do stay in Valencia, get the earliest train possible on the morning of the festival to secure a good spot in the plaza and ensure you see the greasy pole climb action — which is well worth it!
2) Wear goggles to protect your eyes from acidic tomato juice and clothing that you don’t mind being ruined and that can’t easily be ripped – Ladies, there have been stories of girls getting their bikinis ripped off, so a good solid t-shirt is advised!. Also don’t forget a waterproof camera or camera case, as well as a waterproof pouch for money and train tickets as you and your belongings will get soaked!
3) Never underestimate how crazy and chaotic things are going to get — it’s really easy to lose your crew once the fight starts, so pick a meeting point in the town that you can go to once everything is over.
4) You won’t be allowed back onto the train to Valencia if you’re still covered in tomato pulp (and they are strict on this!) so make sure you wander down to the river, or take advantage of locals hosing down tourists trekking to the train station.
Tomatina travel and bed
Get there: The nearest airport to Buñol is at the sunny seaside city of Valencia, which is well serviced by the popular budget airlines. Many also choose to arrive by coach.
Stay there: Because of the limited accommodation options, many festival goers choose to stay in nearby Valencia and bus or train it in for the day. Buñol is about 38km from Valencia. Naturally, the region gets packed out so plan ahead or opt for a package tour.
IMAGES: La Tomatina in Spain (By flydime (La Tomatina (25.08.2010) / Spain, Buñol) [CC BY-SA 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons)