They’re weird, they’re wacky, they’re the weirdest festivals in Europe!
Or, as the Spanish say “los festivales más extraños en Europa”.
(Hint: Most of them are in Spain).
1. La Tomatina, Buñol, Valencia, Spain (August)
Traditional Valencian festival La Tomatina presents revellers with a unique opportunity to pelt each other with squashed tomatoes in the streets of this otherwise pretty little Valencian town, and this year promises to be a biggie, given that it’s the 70th anniversary of the chance quarrel between two boys that kicked the whole squishy business off. Buñol itself has a train station with regular services to and from Valencia on the day of La Tomatina. Be advised: You will not be allowed to travel if you are covered in tomato juice, so make sure you manage to get sprayed with water before boarding. Locals will be happy to oblige!
2. La Fete du Cochon, Trie-sur-Baïse, France (August)
If you don’t like bacon (yeah, right), you might want to give this one a miss as France’s Fete du Cochon (‘Festival of the Pig’) is a glorious celebration of everything porcine, with piglet-racing, pig-squealing competitions and, most importantly, the conspicuous consumption of a vast amount of pork products, all taking place in the lovely Pyrénéan town of Trie-sur-Baïse, once home to the largest pig market in the whole of France.
The Pyrénées region is pretty mountainous, so getting to Trie-sur-Baïse by rail can pose a little bit of a challenge. Thankfully, a number of surrounding towns have train stations, the closest of which is Tarbe, which means you’re only a half-hour drive away from making an absolute pig of yourself!
3. The Cooper’s Hill Cheese-Rolling, Gloucestershire, United Kingdom (May)
Roll Britannia! Every year since time immemorial, a motley assortment of thrill-seekers (and cheese-lovers) have assembled on a Gloucester hill-side before racing headlong, downwards, to glory. And Cheese. Yes, ‘the Running of the Cheese’ is a quintessentially quirky English event, in which competitors chase a giant wheel of Double Gloucester down a steep hill, the winner being the first to cross the finish line at the bottom. Assuming they haven’t ended up in a full-body cast after that, they then get to walk off with the cheesy prize!
Gloucester Train Station runs a service to nearby Brockworth, which is in turn a 5 minute taxi-ride from Cooper’s Hill.
4. The Running of the Bull, Pamplona, Spain (July)
From cheese-chasing to bull-running now, with an event so dangerous, only the truly loco need apply: Fiesta de San Fermin, or, as it’s more popularly known, the Running of the Bull. Brought to worldwide attention by American Author Ernest Hemingway, bull-running consists of six bulls being released into a section of Pamplona’s streets, with the intention of driving them to the bull-fighting arena. Festival-goers try to outrun the bulls and/or generally avoid being gored in the unmentionables. Whatever floats your boat, I guess…
Pamplona itself has a good-sized train station with decent regional links to the rest of Navarra.
5. Entroido, Galicia, Spain (March)
This ancient Christian carnival in the Spanish town of Laza is so surreal it could have been designed by Salvador Dali himself, with mud-slinging, sacks of ants being scattered around, men wearing enormous papier-mâché cow heads and general revelry, all culminating in the torching of a gigantic effigy of a sardine and followed by a flour fight. Sort of makes giving up crisps for Lent look a bit tame in comparison…
The closest major train station to Laza is Ourense, which is around an hour away from the town by coach.
6. Goat-throwing Festival, Zamora, Spain (January)
Whereas Entroido was just bizarre, Zamora’s goat-throwing tradition was actually fairly controversial, and with good reason, as this traditional religious celebration used to involve throwing a live goat from a church tower! Admittedly, the (presumably terrified) goat was caught in a blanket, but after successful campaigning by animal rights activists, the practice was outlawed, and villagers now throw a stuffed goat toy instead. And that’s the sensible option. Spaincan be odd.
The village of Manganeses de la Polvorosa, where the goat-throwing takes place, is around a 15-minute taxi ride from San Roman, which has a decent-sized train station.
7. Goose-pulling, Limburg, the Netherlands (February)
Ah, the Dutch. Whenever a list of ‘weird things in Europe’ is compiled, our friends from across the North Sea are usually never far away, and this next festival certainly doesn’t disappoint in the weirdness stakes; on Shrove Tuesday in the small Limburg town of Grevenbicht, competitors gather on horseback and attempt to pull off the greased head of a goose, as they ride past the (thankfully deceased) animal hung from a rope or pole overhead. Yes, you read that correctly.
Just in case that’s the sort of thing you’re into (and who wouldn’t be, amiright?), you can take the train to nearby Susteren, which is around 15 minutes away from Grevenbicht by road.
8. Ottery Flaming Tar Barrels, Devonshire, United Kingdom (November)
Some folks let off a couple of fireworks on bonfire night, maybe wave some sparklers around… Not the good people of Ottery; No, they’d much rather carry barrels of flaming tar through the town! A tradition stretching back literally hundreds of years, the tar barrel procession is a spectacular sight, as men and boys heave huge burning oak barrels through the night-time streets. Just don’t get too close – singed eyebrows a distinct possibility!
You can get the train to either Whimple or Feniton, both of which are roughly equidistant to Ottery St. Mary. It’ll take you around 10 minutes to get there by bus or taxi.
9. The Festival of Near Death Experiences, Galicia, Spain (July)
As we’ve already seen, when it comes to weird festivals, the Spanish do NOT mess about. This Galician religious ritual celebrates those who have narrowly escaped death in the previous 12 months, and what better way to do that than to be bundled into a coffin and paraded through the streets of Las Nieves in a mock funeral? Tremendous fun! Erm… Right?
Las Nieves has a local train station which is on the main regional line from Vigo Guixar to Ourense.
Contributors: Ryan Magee, Chris Lomas.