Los Escobazos Festival (Road Trip Part 5)

Greetings! We’re still on the road! Actually, the road trip we’ve been writing about over the last few weeks was built around the festival we'll be talking about in this post. It’s a festival that takes place every December in Jarandilla de la Vera, a small, unassuming village west of Madrid, with a population of just 3000.

It’s a peaceful village, located in the mountains of the Extremadura region, and the area is apparently responsible for producing 35% of the tobacco in Spain. There is a castle, monastery, a river, a few shops, and it’s pretty much just your average, quiet rural village…apart from when the festival is happening!

Now, Spain has some crazy and unique festivals, like the world famous running with the bulls in Pamplona, and our favourite Las Fallas festival in Valencia. But Los Escobazos Festival is truly up there in our list of all things strange. This tiny town hosts a night of madness that involves broomsticks, a heck of a lot of fire, and the kind of disregard for health and safety that we, as Brits, just couldn’t handle!

If you would rather experience the festival for yourself, than read this, you can! Just whack on your VR headset and watch the 360 video we made. Shout-out to James and Emily for braving the flames and getting some excellent shots. Oh and a little warning: filming was a lot harder and scarier than usual so the camera is a bit shaky at times.

Anyway, back to the festival. It’s rooted in tradition from centuries ago, when goatherds and shepherds would come back from the sierra to celebrate a religious holiday. They began their descent down the mountains at night and it was a complicated and treacherous journey, so they made torches out of brooms and used them to light their way.

When the goatherds finally arrived to the town, their relatives and neighbours were overjoyed by their safe return, and demonstrated their excitement by playfully beating each other with the burning brooms. This celebration has now become a tradition and each December (the day after James’ birthday!), parties spring up in all the local taverns as they celebrate the only way they know how; by drinking, singing, and marching through the streets....with fire, of course!

On the day of the festival, we didn't really know what to expect. We’d already explored the town, so when things started to liven up we could give the event our full attention. As night descended, bonfires were built in a few tiny cobbled streets, where people lit huge bundles of twigs known as the escobazos (see picture below). They then ran through the town playfully hitting anyone in sight on the legs and sometimes in the groin! We managed to find a little hideaway on the main street, in the doorway of a bar where few of the fire fighters dared to venture.

Wearing shorts at the festival is a definite no-no, and a lot of people completely covered their face and eyes to avoid any burns, many of them wearing boiler suits, making the whole place look like it was full of escaped convicts! Em in particular was warned by the locals about her loose hair and exposed face and one man lent her some protective coverings so she could venture into the heart of the madness, somewhat protected.

The broom fighting continued for a couple of hours with us intermittently braving the streets to feel the burn and experience the festival. People congregated in one particular plaza, which ended up looking like a scene from a news story about a riot! 

The whole experience was accompanied by one song on repeat - a haunting chant that drove us a little mad over the course of the night. You can listen to it on YouTube if you want to get a better sense of the atmosphere.

After the play-fighting died down, huge bonfires were set ablaze around the town and they lit up the sky, filling the air with even more smoke and floating bits of ash, like fire-flies in the sky. James got involved in the lighting of one of them, chucking one of the huge bundles of sticks on the bonfire to set it ablaze.

Before-shot of the bonfire James lit. He seemed a bit too comfortable around the fire for my liking...!

It is a truly phenomenal and unique festival, and the experience will stay with us for a long time. Unfortunately, between the smoke, darkness and fearing for our lives, we didn’t manage to get many decent photos. But here are a few, and I really recommend watching the video of this one to get a better idea of what it was like.

Next week we’ll tell you about a beautiful old town just south of Jarandilla, and we definitely have some good photos of that!

Hours before the festival kicked off there were quite a few street parties around the town,
with far too much drinking going on, considering what was about to happen! 

This wasn't even the biggest broom we saw!

This was the terrifying epicentre/warzone

James' handy work!

Did we mention kids were wielding torches too?!

Pit Stop in Béjar (Road Trip Part 4)

Hola! Last week we told you about our visit to Salamanca. Well, after a lovely day in the city we stopped in a little town called Béjar, on the way back to our accommodation. This post is mostly about the photos, but here’s a little history first…

Founded in 400 BC, Béjar has a rich history of conquerors including the Romans, Visigoths, and Moors. The town’s name is of pre-Roman origin and is said to mean “place of the beehives”, though weirdly we didn’t see any bees when we were there...

With 11th century Moorish walls and views of the nearby mountains and river, the historic town is a nice place to spend an hour. While there are no must-see sights in Béjar, it’s always nice to see small towns like this, as you get a feel for what Spanish life is like away from the hustle and bustle of tourists and busy cities.

If you want to experience small-town life for yourself, check out our 360 video about Béjar and see it with your own eyes!

Next week we’re going to tell you all about a crazy festival called Los Escobazos, which was the inspiration for this whole road trip. It was probably the most mental thing I’ve ever experienced and while I’d say you have to see it to believe it, we’ll do our best to bring it to life in words for you, so stay tuned!

But for now, here are some photos of lovely Béjar:

We were disappointed to find all the doors to this church locked, but it was still lovely to look at from outside!

Another example of Christmas lights that weren't switched on! It was the same everywhere we went...weird.

I'm starting to think these guys were stalking us! We just kept bumping into them. 

Can't resist a sunset photo!

Have we mentioned the fog yet? Everyday, at some point, we found ourselves enveloped in thick fog!

A Day in Salamanca (Road Trip Part 3)

Greetings, readers! Did you know that the city of Salamanca is only 50 miles east of the Portuguese border? Keep reading for more fun facts!

Salamanca’s old town is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and we (me, David, James and Emily) visited the city with high expectations…which were thoroughly met! It’s day-trippable from Madrid and is well worth taking a day to wander the streets and look at all the old buildings. In fact, when James and Em were in Madrid earlier that month, Em had to really dissuade James from visiting Salamanca, because she knew we were going as part of his surprise birthday road trip!

It's a city that oozes history and you can spend ages just marvelling at the architecture. Like most big Spanish cities, Salamanca can be quite busy and it can sometimes feel like you’re trapped in these tourist hotspots, with little personal space. But other times, if you’re lucky, you can find a phenomenal building and can be in relative isolation with space to imagine and dream about past civilisations.

The history of the city reads like many in Spain, having passed through the hands of the Romans, Visigoths and Moors. It played an important role during the Nationalist reign of Franco and was the defacto capital during the Spanish civil war in the 1930s.

The most important institution in Salamanca is the university. It was founded in 1218 and is the oldest university in Spain. In fact, it’s the third oldest (continuously operational) university in the world! First and second prizes go to Bologna and Oxford, respectively. We enjoyed exploring one of the old university buildings, which contained a lovely little chapel and some freaky giant baby heads.

It’s definitely possible to see Salamanca in a day, or maybe two if you’re going to go into every church, cathedral and museum. I wouldn’t say it’s a must-see place, but if you’re in Madrid with a spare day, give it a look.

Next week we’ll take you down the road less travelled, but for now, enjoy these photos. OR if you have a VR headset, watch our 360 experience and get a feel for Salamanca in virtual reality! Please subscribe and we'll see you next time!

If you're not a fan of beautiful old buildings, you might as well stop scrolling...

Casa de las Conchas (House of the Shells) - built in around 1500 and currently home to a public library
Salamanca's main square. Each side is lined with cafes and bars, making it popular with university students

Can you see the Christmas decorations? Me neither.

One of the many university buildings dotted around the city. This one was home to those baby heads!

Even the shops are in ornate, old buildings!