By Maggie Deffense & Enrique Díaz
Is Spain a country with a weird cultural tradition? Well, as a Spaniard I would say that the answer should be 'not really'. As a visitor you would probably agree with that answer, except if you happen to land into one of the following weird Festivals!
El Colacho (Baby Jumping by the Devil)
There is nothing in life that you adore more than you kids, your little babies. Now take your babies, lay down them on the ground and allow the devil to jump over them.
This is the argument of El Colacho. This uniquely Spanish festival sees men dressed up as the devil (colacho) in red and yellow costumes, form a queue to leap over a mattress laden with babies born during the previous 12 months.
The ceremony is said to rid the babies of original sin and guard them against illness. This is one of the many Corpus Christi festivals held all over Spain on the first Sunday after Corpus Christi.
Festival of the Nearly Dead
Those who have had a brush with death in the past year are carried through the streets in coffins to thank Saint Marta de Ribarteme, the 'patron saint of death'.
Those that don’t have friends or family to carry them have to carry their own coffins. Rather sad. However, in true Spanish fashion everyone rejoices with music, food and drink and the telling and re-telling of their near-death experiences!
Human Tower Building Competition
The city of Tarragona in Catalonia celebrates the world's biggest human tower building competition, every other year.
The tradition of building these astonishing 10 meter-high human towers has a long history in this region, dating back to the 18th century.
As you can see, towers are made of people standing over other's shoulders and finally a small child climbs to the tip of the trembling tower (you can see one this kid climbing half way the tower in the photo above).
Human towers have a remarkable aesthetic and they are a sample of human achievement over the physical laws. In fact, human towers have been declared an intangible cultural heritage by UNESCO.
At the same time, we can stop thinking about the amount of weight the guys at the bottom are supporting, and how someone can feel when climbing over three or more floors of a not stable stair of humans. Absolutely insane!
Tamborrada, Drum Festival
Tamborrada of Donostia is a celebratory drum festival held every year on January 20 in the city of San Sebastián, Spain.
At midnight, at the Konstituzio Plaza in the Old Town, the mayor raises the flag of the city. The festival lasts for 24 hours. Participants, dressed as cooks and soldiers, march in companies across the city.
The origins of the celebration are not clear.
According to the most popular version, the tradition was started at the beginning of the 19th century, when Napoleon's troops invaded San Sebastian and the local women would mock the French soldiers who marched around the city streets by banging buckets.
Maybe you think that a drum festival is not so weird. Go there and experience that loud drum sound continuously non stop for 24 hours and send us your feedback.
Running the Bulls or Running Whatever
Sure you've heard about running the bulls, during the San Fermin Festival, where people run in front of big bulls through the old town of Pamplona.
This event, where runners risk their life, is weird enough to put in this list, but keep reading because it will get even more surreal.
Perhaps because using bulls as entertainment (that later in the afternoon will end sacrificed in the bull ring) is harming the sensitivity of more and more citizens, a trend of Running Whatever is becoming the new thing. A couple of examples:
Running the Bus
In Torralba de Ribota (Aragón), at the end of the local festivity, people run in front of the public bus that leaves at 8:00AM. I know you don't believe us, but have a look at this video:
Running the Ball (Boloencierro)
In this case, locals from Mataelpino, not very far from the capital Madrid, decided to run in front of a heavy giant ball. Supposedly, the replacement of the bulls is because the ball was cheaper than the bulls (at the end, they are not stupid). Also in the first editions they used a heavy ball of about 200kg but after several people got seriously injured they replaced the ball with something lighter, just 30kg rolling towards you. Still, in 2019 the major of the town broke his collar bone trying to avoid the ball.
Do you know of any other weird and wonderful festivals in Spain? Let us know in the comments below, or share your story right here!
Having nursed our injured team member and worried over her likely journey from here, we understood she was in excellent hands, so of course we were itching to get back on the bikes to finish our journey.
That meant leaving Burgos. It wasn’t a place with good memories so we weren’t going to hang about even for a few more hours after her husband arrived. It was bucketing down rain, but we didn’t care. On the bikes and away sometime late-afternoon, with no idea where we might end up that day.
I don’t remember how long we rode for but my memory is that it wasn’t very long before we decided the rain was too much and wasn’t looking like easing any time soon, so we decided to take shelter. Well back in 2003, information on hostels was very scant. We were aware there was one nearby, but had no idea what it was like or how to gain access to it.
Still bucketing down rain, we located the locked albergue with not a soul around. It was a very desolate small 2 storey building which was in degrees of disrepair in a fairly residential area. Not sure how we got the key, (I think by talking to locals with our very limited Spanish) but we got in drenched and dripping to a small room with mattresses stacked in a corner and not much else. I think we might have been the only ones who have ever used it, but we were grateful for it at the time.
In the morning we reflected that in fact our mad desire to get out of Burgos had been thwarted as we were still only on the outskirts of the city!! We were also as you can imagine, a little nervous about taking to the busy highways and agreed to continue on the “true” path, only deviating to roads when they were parallel to it and not heavy with traffic.
Waking to a clear sky, we packed and planned to head off for a very early start. We had been told to leave the key inside and lock the door as we left, so we dutifully did that and mounted up when we realised a helmet was still inside behind the locked door!
Throwing ideas around, riding back into Burgos to buy a new one was not on the top of the list as we both wanted to get as far away as we could from this city. Having exhausted most options in our minds, we scouted around the perimeter and located an opening window on the upper level. Hazardous you might think, but we were pretty desperate. Access gained and helmet retrieved and despite our desire to have an early start, at least we could now escape Burgos!
The first part of the road was fine until Rabe de las Calzadas but the trail then took us through fields with a very soft and pitted surface. As you can imagine, rain does wonders for this and bicycles. After trying to navigate sections with 3 or 4 inches of mud, it was walking time for me. I had ridden ahead and couldn’t see my travel companion behind me but figured she would likely be in the same boat. Ever tried pushing a heavily laden bike through mud? It was a tedious 8km into Hornillos del Camino.
At the entrance to the village a farmer saw my plight and offered me a hose to remove the mud. Making headway with the cleaning I looked up to see a bike yet another Camino angel, offered to take her and the bike on his truck the next morning to get it fixed - being carried between two people, one being a gallant young man with a huge backpack. My first thought was, oh how lovely, that did look much easier than my pushing my touring bicycle through the mud.
Putting the bike down I learned it hadn’t been a simple exercise at all. She had been endeavouring to ride through the mud rather than push it and a rock lodged itself and snapped her derailleur. She had tried carrying it on her own through the slippery mud, when, as the Camino always does, a saviour was provided in a moment of need. The closest place for any possibility of repair was, yes, you guessed it, Burgos!!
We both thought at that point that this was too hard and perhaps the cosmos was trying to tell us something. But no, the hospitalero, yet another Camino angel, offered to take her and the bike on his truck the next morning to get it fixed. So back she went to Burgos.
Leaving Burgos - again!
Three days later and only about 20km traveled, we truly escaped Burgos. In high spirits and fine weather we made sure each day from here on that we would seek local advice on the trail’s suitability for bikes and when it wasn’t we took to the road. This worked well and we had about 10 days of absolutely glorious riding through the plains of the meseta, Leon and Astorga until we came to O’Cebreiro. But that is another story...
On a day when COVID lockdown has got the better of me and the foetal position on the couch seemed the only option, an email came in from Cycling Tours in Spain (we had to cancel ours in 2019 and couldn’t even dream of doing one in 2021). Australia feels permanently locked down from any form of overseas travel in the foreseeable future so the concept of writing about one of my journeys rather got me going.
My first journey to Spain on a bike in 2003 sparked in me a love of anything Spanish so I have continued to visit and explore this fabulous country both on foot and on a bike. But let me tell you about this first trip.
By Sue Tomkinson
St Jean Pied de Port
Four gals, three from Oz and one Canadian, with ages ranging from 40-55 yrs, packed up our bikes and flew to Paris; successfully connected with each other; met up with a carrier to get us to Gare d’Este with the bikes still packed in boxes; and then on a train to St Jean Pied de Port. In a time when the Internet was available but a lot less booking options and information to be found, I still marvel at how we achieved this feat.
In Australia it has always been possible to take bikes on trains, in or out of boxes, but little did we know that wasn’t the same in Europe. The conductor told us we couldn’t board, but we thought he was kidding and a language barrier to boot, so we bluffed our way through this and found ourselves a disused toilet cubicle, stacked them all upright in there and settled down for the long journey through France to the Spanish border.
Three of us had flights booked out of Santiago de Compostela in 6 weeks, so we weren’t in any particular hurry. In 2003 there were no cycling maps for the Camino Frances, nor were Google maps and Internet accessibility so prevalent, so we figured we had to follow the trail as set down for the walkers in the paper maps provided. Little did we understand what this meant!!
Top of the Pyrenees
Excitement was building as we obtained our credential and a shell from the office in StJPP. At this point in time they had seen very few cyclists and as he wished us well I asked would we get tea and cake when we achieved the top of the Pyrenees. This was half joking on my part, but I also had a vision it was a possibility there would be a tea house at the top. He responded in such a way for me to believe that it was a highly likely possibility. We had all purchased the same orange bike tops with humorous motifs on them so we were very recognisable as a team.
We had trained hard and were very fit, but really, there are no mountains like the Pyrenees in Australia so day one was an extreme challenge. The trail itself is steep and walkable, but on a bike?? Needless to say we probably pushed our laden heavy bikes about 50% of the 25km and arrived tired and exhausted into Roncesvalles. And we must have been so tired we missed that dreamed of tea house at the top.
Riding to Pamplona
Day 2 was a much nicer day into Pamplona, a distance of about 40km, with the option of made roads running parallel to the trail and despite being hilly, was generally downhill. Our plan had been to stay in all the designated pilgrim albergues but the Pamplona one was full when we arrived so we found another with a room for 4.
Cracks started to appear in “the team”. About 24 hours on a plane; navigating Paris; two complex train journeys across France; a night in StJPP and pushing a bike halfway up the Pyrenees led a couple of us to want to take a rest day in the beautiful Pamplona. But the youngest, and probably fittest of us, was on a tighter schedule and created a very difficult situation.
We had all agreed before departing on this journey that if at least 2 of us wanted a break, then we would take it. Oh no, that agreement seemed to have been forgotten. On we went and cycled an average of 30-40km per day comfortably – stopping and exploring along the way. After a couple of days the “team” member wanted to ride further and so we told her to go ahead. That left three of us, much happier, I might like to add. And so we rode on in this manner until about 20km out of Burgos.
We had become tired of trying to manage the heavily rocky walking trail and so whenever we could we took the main road. On this beautiful sunny day we decided to take a very busy main road so we could make some speed. Yes, you guessed it, an accident waiting to happen.
One rider off and unconscious in the middle of the road. This is a story in itself, but suffice to say, a very worrying time and her trip was over with a broken collarbone and three fractures in her pelvis. When her husband arrived from Australia after about 5 days, the two remaining of us took a piece of her bike clothing and headed off to finish the journey.
Part Two to follow – Getting out of Burgos...
Due to the dynamic nature of the coronavirus pandemic, the rules and regulations adopted by each country vary and are subject to change at very short notice, so Cycling Rentals has altered its Term and Conditions to allow you maximum travel flexibility.
Read on to understand the current Coronavirus Bicycle Travel Restrictions for Portugal and Spain - updated September 2021.
Portugal Covid-19 Travel Restrictions
To enter Portugal, travelers must present either an E.U. Digital Vaccination Certificate or a negative Covid-19 test taken within 72 hours before departure or negative antigen test taken within 48 hours of departure.
Once in Portugal, travelers must show proof of vaccination or a recent negative test to stay at a hotel or vacation rental property. Travelers who test positive for Covid while in Portugal will face a 10-day quarantine at their own expense.
General behavior guidelines have been enacted, in which all people must adopt the following rules:
- Social distancing;
- Frequent hand washing;
- Mandatory use of mask;
- Respiratory etiquette.
In order to prevent the spread of the virus and the possibility of contagion, all services should take hygiene measures according to the indications of the Directorate-General for Health, with specific recommendations for various sectors of activity.
In tourism, the “Clean & Safe” seal, defined by Turismo de Portugal, was implemented, which allows tourists to have greater security and confidence in the use of accommodation establishments, in the various tourist services and tourist attractions.
You can find full details and requirements for travel to Portugal on the VisitPortugal coronavirus travel advisory page.
Spain Covid-19 Travel Restrictions
Since September 6, Spain requires either proof of full vaccination, a negative COVID-19 test or proof of recovery from Covid-19.
To enter Spain, all travelers must submit health information to the Spain Travel Health portal, which generates a QR code to show when entering the country. The system also sends each traveler an email with the QR code.
Full details at Spain Travel Health FAQs
Europe is one of the top global destinations for cycle and adventure enthusiasts. This is because of its cultural heritage, excellent food, and range of terrain.
Spain and Portugal take all of these aspects to the next level. So if you are looking for a long-distance biking adventure destination in Spain or Portugal, you are likely to find some of the best tours in the world. Read on to discover the 10 Best Biking Adventure Destinations Across Spain and Portugal!
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5 Best Biking Adventure Destinations in Spain
Due to Spain’s excellent year-round climate and incredible terrain, the country isn’t short of avid cycling fans. Part of the reason cycling is so prevalent in Spain is because of the excellent route, road and mountain biking opportunities available. Here are some of the best biking routes leading to adventure throughout Spain.
Ruta del Califato
The Route of the Caliphate is a prestigious route through Spain. It brings together some of the most significant and emblematic parts of the Andalus region in Spain. You cycle through a period of the past and get to enjoy the cultural heritage of one of Spain’s most beautiful regions.
Ruta del Cid
Ruta del Cid, or the Way of El Cid, offers cyclists the opportunity to get the true Spanish experience. If you aren’t interested in doing the better known and more popular Camino de Santiago, try Ruta del Cid instead.
It is a 2000 km route that offers a calm and beautiful tour through Spain. It takes you from Castilla along to the Mediterranean coast.
La Ruta de Don Quijote
Ever heard of the literary classic Don Quijote? Cervantes, a satirical Spanish author, may have written the book hundreds of years ago. However, the legacy it left behind is still living on.
This route takes you 2,500 kilometers from Castilla to La Mancha, tracing Don Quijote’s route through the region. In addition, there are national parks, cultural communities and more on the ten stages of the route throughout the country.
The TransAndalus takes you through one of the most scenic parts of the country, the southern region of Andalucia. The conception of the trail was to get cyclists to experience Andalusia’s eight provinces. The route takes you through the volcanic landscapes of Cabo de Gata along with wetlands and more. Keep an eye out for trail signs and keep a detailed map on you to successfully get through the 2,000-kilometer route.
El Camino de Santiago
No list of the Best Biking Adventure Destinations Across Spain and Portugal would be complete without The Camino de Santiago pilgirmage route.
This has been one of the favorites for cyclists and backpackers for many years. Since the bones of St. James the Apostle were supposedly discovered in 813 AD, the route has become a world-famous pilgrimage path. The Camino Frances that runs along the North of Spain is the most popular and sacred cycling trail that leads to Santiago in the North of Spain.
5 Best Biking Adventure Destinations in Portugal
Spain isn’t the only country with a beautiful climate and stunning cycle routes. So if you feel the inner adventurer calling out for the next trip, consider indulging them in a trip to Portugal along any one of these four routes.
Rota Vicentina is a bike tour that takes you along the coast of Portugal from Setubal to Sagres. You get to follow along the Alentejo and Algarve coastline to find your way along the scenic Rota Vicentina.
Along the way, take some time to explore the seaside villages and rural towns set next to the some of the most beautiful wild coastline of western Europe.
Douro Wine Valley
Douro Wine Valley is a UNESCO World Heritage site due to its ancient relationship with growing valuable wine. The vineyards across the countryside soak up the sun that shines down on them all year round.
Don’t only go for the sampling of wine, but indulge in vintage ports and unique landscapes that punctuate the whole ride.
Alentejo Marble Route
Alentejo is one of the least densly populated regions in Portugal. However, it is an area that is well worth visiting on the numerous bike friendly routes that criss-cross this part of Portugal, known mainly for wine, olive oil, cork and marble.
Starting and finishing in the postcard perfect town of Évora, you will cycle across the rolling fields past wild flowers, vineyards, ancient castles and cork trees along the way. Loop through the beautiful marble towns of Borba and Vila Viçosa, considered Portugal’s white gold where everything down to the park benches is made of marble!
Ecovia do Litoral Cycling Trail
Last but not least is the Ecovia do Litoral Cycling Trail. The route takes you through the well-known Algarve but gives you a different taste of the region than you would typically find. This almost entirely flat trail offers 214 kilometers of stunning cycling by clinging to the coast and swimming into the Spanish border.
Enjoy heritage sites like Cabo de Sao Vicente and Vila Real de San Antonio. If you prefer rolling terrain and don't mind travelling a little further inland, the Algarve interior offers superb cycling and very low traffic rides.
EuroVelo 1: The Atlantic Coast Route
The EuroVelo network is a criss-crossing route of 17 long-distance cycling routes that extend throughout much of Europe. The Atlantic Coast Route is the first route of the EuroVelo system. It is the extension that connects Lison to Oporto. Due to its beauty and positive standing throughout the communities along the route, it is widely promoted by the Portuguese National EuroVelo Coordinator.
It is quite a popular route among the EuroVelo network and we recommend riding from Porto to Lisbon, to take advantage of the prevailing tailwinds.
Spain and Portugal are fantastic countries for cycling, with great cycling conditions almost year-round.
It’s not just beautiful scenery that will tempt you to take a bike out on these routes, but also some of the best food in Europe. You can enjoy delicious regional dishes and wines on any of these bike touring routes.
These are just some of the wonderful sights and tastes await anyone looking for a cycling adventure in Spain or Portugal. Are you ready to explore?