While the British will be getting out the sugar and lemons for Shrove Tuesday this month, most of Europe (and indeed the world) will be doing something more exciting. Carnaval (or Carnestoltes as it's also called in Catalunya) is based on the same idea as pancakes—one last blowout before the solemnities of Lent (quaresma in Catalan)—only with less batter and more glitter. Towns across Catalunya are taken over by sequins and confetti, not to mention sardines; there’ll be parades, dressing up and general mayhem in many places.
Since 2006, Barcelona’s main carnival parade has taken place in a different barri each year. But Barcelona isn’t noted for its carnival, and like all good things in life, a bit of effort is needed to find the best celebrations.
While Tarragona is a good bet for anyone wanting to experience traditional carnival, gay hot-spot Sitges takes the event to another level. Parades full of feathers, masks and plenty of bare flesh culminate in a spectacular final battle and the death of the Carnival King (carnestoltes)—at least until next year. The cortège of wailing, black-clad drag queens has to be seen to be believed (14th). Meanwhile, neighbouring Vilanova i la Geltrú is known for les comparses, which sees uniformed teams compete in sweet-throwing wars (14th). Finally, the more adventurous could make the 90-minute train journey to Torelló, in the north of Barcelona province, where Pullasu night claims to invoke carnival’s roots in sex and debauchery (11th). This tiny town’s population soars to 80,000 as carnival fever takes hold and revellers pour in; grab yourself a costume and go with the flow.
And the sardines? Well, what better way to bring carnival to an end than to hold a full funeral for a fish. Ash Wednesday (17th) sees many towns lay a sardine to rest before enjoying a communal sardinada (sardine barbecue) to usher in Lent.
If that doesn't quite do it for you, but you still enjoy your food, celebrate Dijous gras (Fat Thursday, February 11th) with some botifarra d'ou, or egg sausage. And throughout Lent, cake shops will be selling bunyols, small fried doughnuts, traditionally available only on Wednesday and Sunday, but now generally on sale every day of the week.