There are many ways to experience Europe. For Escape Travel consultant Charlotte Reissis, that involved a tour, a tonne of tomatoes flying through the air and every taste sensation under the Spanish sun, from spicy chorizo to tapas. After snagging a great travel expo rate on a Topdeck La Tomatina festival tour, she was on her way to join in on the tomato-throwing frenzy at one of Spain's most famous festivals. "The festival has been happening every year since the 40s and with attendance now limited and it being my first tour experience, the whole thing was very special!" Charlotte says. Here she gives us a rundown on the tour with a sneak peek at her pics (taken with a waterproof camera!).
What was your favourite part?
I loved everything about it and was genuinely surprised because of the mixed reviews I’d heard about doing tours prior to actually going on one myself. What I enjoyed most was the sense of community that I felt being involved – particularly on the day of the fight. From the time our bus arrived in the little town of Bunol, we were welcomed whole-heartedly by the local residents.
Residents in the top of the town were all out in droves playing music, cheering everyone on, selling food and drink from fold-up tables outside their homes and just generally encouraging visitors to join their fiesta. As we walked down the hill into the main street where the fight is held, locals were waving and cheering from the balconies of their tarp-covered homes. But the sense of community did not end there. Fellow travellers and people from many countries, races and walks of life were all happily chatting to one another, watching over each other and helping complete strangers when things got a little over-crowded. Many of us had never seen each other before, but it felt like we had been friends for some time.
Would you do it again?
In a heart beat! It is by far one of the most memorable experiences that I have ever had! Not only did I face my fear of crowds and overcome it, but the atmosphere is electric...unlike anything I have ever experienced before!
What’s the benefit of a tour over doing it on your own?
Having done the majority of my travel as a solo traveller it was great to not have to worry about the logistics of this trip. From the time I booked to the time of the tour I was kept up to date and well informed about what was happening and any related requirements. This took a lot of worry and hassle out of the planning and left me free to be excited about my upcoming trip! The tour leaders were friendly, approachable, knowledgeable and above all, fun! Nothing was a hassle, no question was silly and they made sure each and every one of us was having a great time! There was plenty of time to be involved in group activities and still have the flexibility to do my own thing. This allowed me to really experience things in my own way while still having the guidance and structure that a tour provides. A thing to note about La Tomatina is that it used to have no limits to the number of attendees but this has recently been capped due to excessive crowds. Only specific contractors have access to tickets now in order to better control over crowding. Your trip leaders organise this all for you for around €10 each and you get a nifty souvenir shirt to remember your experience by!
What’s the story behind the La Tomatina festival?
La Tomatina is held yearly on the last Wednesday of August. The fight is not meant to commence until someone has managed to climb a greasy wooden pole to retrieve a ham. But given the time this can take (and believe me, it's interesting to watch) the festival now begins at 11am sharp with the echo of an air horn. Dump trucks full of tomatoes and eager local volunteers then make their way slowly down the street honking at everyone to get out of their way as the volunteers pelt the crowds with tomatoes. From there it's every man for himself with people catching, scooping and pelting complete strangers with endless amounts of tomato.
La Tomatina is said to have started on the last Wednesday in August 1945 with a group of young people having a little too much fun while participating in a parade featuring giants and 'big heads'. Their enthusiasm caused one participant to fall from a float onto a vegetable stand, much to the disgust of on-lookers who then commenced throwing tomatoes at the fallen man and one another until they were stopped by local law enforcement. The following year a group of youngsters decided to bring their own tomatoes and to purposely start a food fight resulting in arrests. Though police thwarted the attempts to make this a regular event, these youths had unknowingly started a tradition.
Are there any local sights you recommend?
This particular tour stays within Valencia and the small town of Bunol which is approximately 45 minutes’ drive away. You will have the opportunity to be involved in a walking tour which will take you to the most famous sights. But I highly recommend spending time wandering through the very sci-fi looking City of Arts and Sciences too. The architecture will blow your mind! For something a little more traditional check out the Plaza De la Virgen which houses the beautiful Cathedral Complex, Roman Museum and the Turia Fountain. The plaza also boasts a great selection of restaurants, some of which will battle it out for your attention by offering discounts. But if you want a really well-priced meal visit the Mercado Central – a marketplace offering all kinds of delicious fresh fruit, vegetables, cheeses, deli meats and baked goods at great prices.
Were there many single travellers in the group?
Half the group was made up of couples and friends and the other half of independent travellers. Everyone was really friendly and I was able to make friends very easily. The tours are great for anyone really!
Any favourite Spanish foods to try?
You cannot visit Spain without indulging in the many variations of tapas and paella – each is as delicious as the next. In the more tourist-dominated areas things are not as traditional and you will be served food that caters to tourists. But try taking the roads less travelled (by tourists at least) and dine where the locals dine. I fell in love with albondigas which is essentially meat balls in a spicy tomato based sauce. Oh, and you will not escape chorizo!
Would do you a tour with Topdeck again?
Definitely! I am actually about to register for the Czech Mate tour.
Did you go anywhere else in Spain before or after your tour?
After my tour I spent an extra three nights in Madrid and finished my time with three nights in Barcelona. I met amazing people, filled my days with beautiful sights, sounds and tastes and had a great time. Both cities were buzzing, the locals were welcoming and did their best to help despite language barriers. Spain should definitely be on everyone's bucket list!
Anything else to add?
If you're thinking about a tour - book it! You won't regret it!
Topdeck run amazing road trips across the world, including Europe, the USA & Canada, as well as Game safaris, pyramid expeditions, surf camps and other awesome adventures for travellers aged 18-39. Expect modern coaches, unique accommodation and fabulous crew, as well as more free time and included meals to keep the wanderlust at bay.