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Spain's Unusual Festivals: Haro Wine Festival
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High up on the list of zany Spanish festivals is the Haro Wine Battle – this wacky event is held annually on June 29th in the tiny town of Haro in the La Rioja region which is world-famous for its Rioja wine.
The festival has century old history and harks back to the days when land disputes were rife between neighboring villages and the La Batalla del Vino has its roots in the days when disputes were settled using strange and unusual methods! The festival which was not very popular outside the region and was largely unknown in Spain itself has now become a major tourist attraction similar to the La Tomatina festival in Bunol. The actual festivities begin weeks ahead and if you have the time, it's a great idea to soak in the excitement and atmosphere as crowds begin to flood this little town and preparations are made to store and transport the wine.
On the big day, the shrine of San Felices is the meeting point for thousands of visitors who trek up the hillsides through the vineyards to render homage to the city's patron saint. They're dressed in pure white garments, with perhaps a red scarf round the neck as part of the tradition. Once mass is said, the fun begins. The neighboring hill-sides come alive with people splashing, squirting, spraying and pouring bucketfuls of wine on each other. Thousands of liters of wine run down the forest paths and some of it into the tummies of the participants too! Spray guns, buckets, barrels, bottles and glasses are used to drench each other in wine and everyone is fair game. Traditionally, participants used 'botas' or leather sacks in which wine was filled but today anything goes. The basic rules of not harassing people, harming or injuring them does hold but this is not always enforceable. So if you're concerned about safety and security, it's best to go in a group and stay together.
Towards the end of the festivities, people whose pure white garments are now stained purple and pink from the wine head towards the town's main square where they circle the plaza dancing to bands playing traditional folk music. The battle-weary and wine-soaked participants can spend the rest of the day recovering from their excesses!
Some simple rules to follow are: You have to dress in white so that you don't appear too obviously a tourist, and make sure that you have a change of clothing handy. The weather can get chilly on the mountain side and you could find yourself wet and shivering in no time. Bring lots of towels, tissues, extra plastic-bags for wet gear, and protective eye-glasses. If you've driven up, make sure your car seats are covered in plastic before you set out, otherwise you could end up soaking them in wine!
Haro is where you want to be if you're game for this unique Spanish festival.
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