Drill down into Europe and what you have is a eclectic collection of regions, cities and cultures. And within each of them are particular — and often quirky — traditions that survive to this day. Thousands of tourists will flock to Florence every year, but how many will see a game of the city’s historic local sport? Many will visit Valencia, but how many know of the bizarre tomato-throwing celebrations that take place just over 20 miles away?
Let the continent’s marvelous architecture, incredible cuisines and rich history draw you in, but dig a little deeper for an unexpected travel experience – you might find a Christmas demon, or race after cheese. Oktoberfest has nothing on them for creating lasting memories.
La Tomatina, Spain
One of Spain’s oddest festivals takes place in the town of Bunol, near Valencia, every August. It is celebrated in honour of the town’s patron saints, and is thought to have started around 1945 – though nobody knows the exact origins,
The premise is fairly simple: it consists of an hour-long tomato-throwing frenzy, with the 15,000 or so attendees provided with around 120 tonnes of overripe tomatoes. The fight begins after an even more strange opening event, in which participants climb a greased-up pole in order to reach a ham; once the ham is retrieved, the first tomato is free to be thrown.
The town is quite literally painted red during the festivities, so sightseeing will be off-limits until the next day. Consider making Bunol a quick stop if touring some of the rest of the province, from Valencia itself to nearby Sagunto or Alicante. Tickets to the event, which is often labelled “the world’s biggest food fight”, cost as little as €15 and are available from the event’s official website.
Where to stay
Accommodation is extremely limited in this town of only 9,000 people, so it is a good idea to stay in nearby Valencia. Hotel Zenit is a good option for an affordable stay in the city’s Old Town, located right next to the Estacio del Nord (where the trains to Bunol depart from). Rooms are contemporary and comfortable, with an…