3 years, 6 months ago
Buñol has 300 fountains, apart from that, it’s just a small town about half an hour from Valencia on the Costa del Sol. Until the last Wednesday of every August between 11am and 1pm when the entire place is overrun by frenzied, tomato throwing madness. Yes, this is the home of La Tomatina. The most famous tomato festival in the world kicked-off in 1945 so isn’t particularly ancient – it’s not a Semana Santa type Spanish celebration and it doesn’t have the historical clout of some of the enormous summer Feria. The back-story’s fairly basic too: local boys throw vegetables at short-fuse Buñol butcher during annual town parade, butcher lets loose with pay-back, a legend is born. And it used to be townspeople and a few visitors from Valencia, but not anymore.
Now La Tomatina is firmly established on the ‘strange things Spain gets up to’ event circuit and if you don’t have a ticket you won’t get near a tomato – they do check. But it only costs 10€ (more crowd-control than profit). And, if you’re a complete rookie, there are La Tomatina tours a-plenty all over the Costa del Sol. They ticket-you-up, take you to Buñol, point you in the direction of the action and, when it’s all over, whisk you away – stinking, sticky and hopefully happy.
1000s of over-excited people will be ticking the Tomatina box on August 26th this year, so there are a few rules to keep things civilised. As always, we wish them luck with that lofty ambition, but for your own safety here’s what you should know. Arrive early, the tomato lorries turn up for 11am prompt and you want to bag a good spot. Don’t throw whole tomatoes, squish them in your hand first and hurl the pulp. Aim for the torso only, heads and faces are strictly off-limit. And play nice. La Tomatina might be a food fight technically, but it’s very friendly and getting benched by a Buñol bouncer is never going to be your finest moment.
Flying tomatoes get mighty messy after a bit and seasoned La Tomatina-ers don’t mind looking foolish to stay in the fray. Swim-goggles are a plan to protect your eyes from spraying juice – surprisingly painful. Plenty of visitors wear hats and soft helmets now to keep hair pip and pulp-free – the more outrageous the better for maximum Instagram impact. And don’t forget a change of clothes. There are showers in the town for hosing yourself roughly, but you’ll still be an unlovable, purée-drenched monster if you don’t pack a clean T at least.
With all the fuss you’d be forgiven for thinking La Tomatina was the only reason to head away from the coast and into the hills round these parts. Think again. There are dozens of wonderful sights and places to visit within an easy hour of Buñol and that’s without even mentioning Valencia.
The escalades round Chililla have earned it a reputation as the rock-climbing capital of Southern Spain. But if you’ve had enough of extremes after La Tomatina you can simply go and admire the stunning location and unspoiled prettiness of the village itself. Tucked away, high in the mountains just north of Buñol, Chililla is one of those unforgettable places you come across by accident or because we told you it was there. And if you missed the post tomato showers, Cascade Domeño, half an hour from Chililla, is one of the most spectacular waterfalls in the region.
Sierra La Calderona National Park is home to the amazing peaks you can see behind Valencia and a brilliant alternative to the city beaches and huge Mediterranean port. You could easily spend weeks wandering around but a few hours are just as enthralling if you’re focused. It’s great for mountain biking (you can hire bikes in Valencia) and another favourite with serious rock climbers – names like Pico del Aguila give you a hint of the type of challenge to expect. Walkers and hikers love La Calderona for its mix of rugged paths, historic sites and amazing views. If you’re tough and energetic, climb at least a little way up Monte Garbi and you can almost see the entire Valencia region beneath you. Magnificent Monasterio de Porta Coeli is here. Hidden away Fuente la Gota and Fuente la Frere are just two of the surprising and delightful ruins you’ll come across. And Laguna de la Rosa is perfect to kick your shoes off and catch some sun – it’s August and the Costa del Sol, hard as that is to believe in this fantastic wilderness.
Had enough of the great outdoors? Well, your clothes will take a beating at La Tomatina, guaranteed and that’s a perfect excuse to head straight for Bonaire next to Valencia Airport. This is Spain’s biggest shopping mall and no one ever left saying they didn’t have a thing to wear. We love the cute quaintness of Valencia’s old town specialists and the traditional Costa del Sol village markets are irresistible but Bonaire is right out there, all on its own and totally incomparable. But go early, the crowds here make tomato fights look refined.