Every year, on the last Wednesday in August, festival go-ers cram into the street at Plaza del Pueblo in Bunol (about 30mins drive from Valencia) ready to be covered from head to toe in 140 tonnes of the locals finest (or not so) tomatoes.
Until 2013, it was a free-for-all and the number or people who went to this street was unlimited, meaning that anyone could drive out there, and turn up on the day ready for action. Now, due to safety concerns, the event is capped to just over 20,000 and you need a ticket which costs 10 euro each. Unfortunately tickets sell out mega fast, so the way to go is through various travel companies which offer a day package to the event.
We went with 'Festivals all around'. A company set up by an Australian (Ash) and his local Spanish mate about 6 years ago. They specialize in festivals all over Europe, mainly La Tomatina, San Fermin (running with the bulls) and Oktoberfest.
Firstly, we went to pick up our tickets to the festival, the staff who greeted us couldn't have put us more at ease that we had chosen a good company. We were given not only information about the festival, but also the local hangouts and even recommendations on campsites in the area.
The day of the fight was here, we woke up bright and early as our instructions were to get to the meeting point at 6am for a 6.30am bus departure. There was a thousand people meeting, all sleepy eyed. Unfortunately due to the sheer volume of people, the bus system turned out to be a bit of a shambles. Eventually we got away at 7.15am en route to Bunol (meaning we had missed out on 45 minutes precious sleep!). On the bus, our tour guide explained the proceedings for the day, which involved a sangria party, the tomato fight, then the timings for the return buses to Valancia.
Once we arrived, we were headed towards a carpark where 1000L of sangria was waiting for us. Nice touch! And this was definitely a point of difference from other travel companies. Free (all-you-can-drink) sangria with some tunes pumping to wake us all up. What more could one ask for ahead of a truly memorable day.
The tomato fight itself doesn't need much explanation. Just an intense, fun, slimy war, throwing the red stuff back and forth for an hour made for an amazing morning. Friends were made, then lost when they smudged tomatoes over your head. By the end everyone was partying in the streets, all as mates. The crew from Festivals All Around were brilliant, gathering up stragglers and letting everyone know where the best spots were to get amongst the fight of a lifetime.
Once the canons sounded, the fight was over and everyone dispersed through the narrow streets of the town, past the locals who were hosing people down on the way.
The buses returned to Valencia, and this time were on time and carried a very quiet bus load of sleepy travellers home for a bit of a siesta before the night time festivities.
Next up (if you had a ticket) was the after party which was also sanctioned by Festivals All Around. The official party which was out at a resort in the middle of no where was accessed by the free buses which were all included in our ticket (not to mention a free drink if you arrived before 8pm). Sweet!
The party was pumping, multiple bar areas, plenty of food, a few dance floors and a swimming pool in case you needed to 'cool down'!
A great time was had, but time to roll. Unfortunately it was the buses that let us down. After a hard night punching the air on the DF, the last thing you want is to wait for a bus which we were told were frequent. After waiting 45 minutes one bus arrived, but due to the amount of people, it was like trying to rush onto the last life raft off the Titanic.
All in all, a great day, many memories and definitely something ticked off the bucket list, not to mention many jealous friends back home. Although the washing lady might have thought differently.
Festivals All Around knew what they were doing from the start, unfortunately the buses let us down at times, but with the sheer number of people around, not everything can run to clockwork.
Definitely a recommended package.