5 essential carnivals
Revelry and debauchery are two of the main ingredients of the Carnival of Vilanova i la Geltrú, filled with symbols and rituals thanks to its 300 years of history. The celebrations begin on Fat Thursday, with a traditional xató (Catalan winter salad) feast and a great battle that leaves everyone covered from head to toe in meringue. The Carnestoltes (Carnival King) makes his arrival on Friday, each year at a different location in the city, while Saturday is the day of another carnival king, Caramel, who is less acerbic than his counterpart and more popular with children. The parade of the comparses (parade groups) on Sunday morning draws thousands of people to the Plaça de l'Ajuntament, where they eagerly await the start of the famous sweet war. On Monday evening the Coros del Carnestoltes take place, when groups of singers offer a satirical take on the current state of affairs in the city. The Vidalot Dance, which takes place on Tuesday, is another unmissable event for fans of the Carnival of Vilanova. And on the next day, Ash Wednesday, it's time to accompany the remains of His Majesty Carnestoltes in a surprise-packed funeral procession.
Unlike in Vilanova, in Vilafranca del Penedès the Carnestoltes is welcomed on Fat Thursday. He is accompanied by the Royal Court, a series of entertaining and extravagant figures, and together they occupy the town hall. The Carnestoltes or Rei dels Poca-soltes (King of the Layabouts), as he is also known, delivers a speech giving citizens permission to subvert the established order, and then orders them to eat his sausage. No, you haven't misread anything! With these words, the cheeky Carnestoltes invites everyone to enjoy a delicious afternoon snack of egg botifarra (Catalan sausage)! If you'd rather visit the wine capital on Saturday, you'll enjoy the trip that the Carnestoltes and his retinue make to the market, where they have a whale of a time buying bananas and melons. Meanwhile, on Friday, the Resurrection Parade which follows the Burial of the Sardine is without a doubt the most popular parade in the Alt Penedès region.
However, the most transgressive parades are to be found in Sitges. During the Rua de la Disbauxa (Debauchery Parade) and the Rua de l'Extermini (Extermination Parade), thousands of people wander the town's streets in outlandish fancy dress, demonstrating that tradition can exist in perfect harmony with modernity. One of the most curious events of this carnival takes place on the Saturday, namely the Bed Race, where beds on wheels are pushed along by groups of friends in fancy dress, each with its own theme. The last to set off is, of course, the bed of His Majesty. Or did you think he was going to miss it?
At the Carnival of Sallent you'll have a great laugh at the Rua de la 69ena, a parade in honour of an exuberant virgin which takes place on Friday night, followed by the "Calcetada popular", a communal feast of calçots, a local variety of green onion. This is one of the star events of the festivities. The fun continues the next day with the Fancy Dress Parade and Dance and doesn't let up until Ash Wednesday, when the townsfolk bid farewell to the Carnestoltes at the traditional Burial of the Sardine.
Another town that really gets into the carnival spirit is Torelló. The so-called "Carnaval de Terra Endins" (Inland Carnival) has all the typical elements of the celebration, and with a few others to boot that you won't find anywhere else, such as the Mula Tita, a festive beast figure in the form of a large penis that takes part in the Pullassu parade. Then there's the Falatell, a mystical staff with infinite powers that must be found if a truly crazy Carnival is to be had, or the Night of Little Ladies and Little Men, a riotous parade in which the men dress up as women and the women as men.