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Photo by Michael Mawson
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Carnival Time 2
Photo by Michael Mawson
Carnival in Catalunya is an exuberant and colourful affair. Banned during Franco’s time, this week of hedonistic fun marking the beginning of Lent was revived with a vengeance after his death. Festivities kick off on Thursday, February 27th with the arrival of Carnestoltes, the carnival King. A loud and cheerful advocate of all things fun and sinful, Carnestoltes leads the parades until his demise on March 5th (Ash Wednesday). A funereal procession is held to mark his death and residents don their best mourning clothes in honour of this sombre occasion. The end of festivities are also marked with
The city doesn’t go overboard for carnival, but there’s plenty going on if you know where to look. There used to be one main carnival procession, the Gran Rua, along Avinguda Paral.lel. However that was scrapped in 2012 in favour of each of the city’s districts holding their own events. There are fancy dress competitions in all the municipal markets, masked balls and a parade in each district. If you want to see a big parade, the Gran Rua on Parallell is still the most spectacular. The Born also has plenty of activities.
Over 300,000 people flock to Sitges to enjoy a week-long extravaganza of raucous fun. Dating back over 100 years, the town’s carnival success is fruit of the rivalry between two local establishments, the Casino Prado and El Retiro, each one trying to outdo the other in flamboyant floats and costumes. The whole of Sitges is one big party this week with every bar and club packed with revellers in fancy dress and beating to the carnival rhythm.
Don’t miss: The main parades (and party nights) are the Rua de la Disbauxa (Debauchery Parade) on Sunday night and the Rua de l’Extermini (Extermination Parade) on Tuesday night. Be prepared for standing room only on the train from Barcelona.
Getting there: Trains leave approximately every 15 minutes from Sants and Passeig de Gràcia. The journey takes 35 minutes. www.renfe.es
Platja d'Aro (Girona)
The best-known carnival celebration on the Costa Brava, Platja d’Aro pulls out all the stops with glitzy processions that attract over half a million visitors. For over a week the town fills with costumes and music as well as lots of family-friendly activities for visitors to join in, such as the arrossada general and the xocolatada general. The huge Saturday parade has seemingly endless floats, with dancers and marching bands from all over Europe.
Don’t miss: If you’re taking children, the children’s parade on Sunday February 23rd at 4pm. The theme is “sweets” and all the costumes must be made of recycled materials.
For more information: www.ciutada.platjadaro.com
Getting there: Sarfa buses leave approximately every two hours from Estaciò del Nord. The journey takes about an hour and a half. www.sarfa.com
In 1971, after 35 years of absence, the residents of Solsona decided it was time to defy Franco and revive their carnival. The event was a big success and has continued ever since. It is one of the longest celebrations in Catalunya, with over a week of street events and concerts. Since 1978 the carnival has included “crazy giants”, a twist on the traditional gegants, as they pursue revellers with their articulated arms and legs.
Don’t miss: According to legend, a donkey was hung at the tower bell because it wanted to eat some grass that grew on the top of the tower. During carnival a stuffed donkey is hung on the top of the tower and on the Saturday night it pees on the crowds below by way of a water pump. Locals are called matarrucs (donkey killers).
For more information: www.carnavalsolsona.com
Getting there: Alsa runs one bus a day from Estaciò del Nord. The journey takes about two and a half hours. www.alsa.es
Local crafts, traditional food and political satire are the flavour of the Tarragona carnival. Events start with the building of a huge barrel and a sermon from Carnestoltes in which he invokes freedom and criticises a cast of local people. Effigies of the Carnival King and Queen are then placed in the barrel, which is set on fire. Carnival ends with the procession of the dying King in which one Doctor Mistela tries to revive the moribund Carnestoltes with alcohol. The Saturday and Sunday parades are a visual and auditory extravaganza of music and percussion bands, devils and a fire-breathing dragon, masked groups, dancers and animal figures.
Don’t miss: The folkloric characters and spectacular artisanal costumes that make this carnival special.
Getting there: Trains leave regularly from Sants and take between 30 minutes (on the AVE highspeed train) and an hour and a half for regional trains. www.renfe.es
Vilanova i la Geltrú
Just beyond Sitges, Vilanova celebrates a rival carnival with a plethora of local traditions. In 1985 this carnival was declared a fiesta of national interest. As in Sitges, the xató (a type of salad, made with endives, cod, olives and anchovies) is the traditional food. The comparses make sure everyone is joining in the fun and on the Sunday enjoy a good humoured boiled sweet fight in the streets. On the Saturday before carnival weekend, the Ball de Mantons (the Shawl Dance) takes place—bars and restaurants put on live music and everyone is invited to don a shawl and dance the night away. The party ends on Wednesday with the traditional burying of a sardine to signify the beginning of lent.
Don’t miss: the Merengada on Thursday. After a traditional meal of xató at home, locals take to the streets for a chaotic merengue fight. Wear old clothes.
For more information: www.carnavaldevilanova.cat
Getting there: Trains leave approximately every 15 minutes from Sants and Passeig de Gràcia. The journey takes 40 minutes. www.renfe.es