Festival week in San Sebastián, Spain

When we arrived in San Sebastián, Chris and I were pleasantly surprised to find out the city’s annual weeklong festival called “La Semana Grande“, or “The Big Week” was happening. Not only did we get to see a new city in Spain, but we were also able to experience traditional festivities as the locals do.

San Sebastián, located on the northern coast of Spain and about 20 km west of the French border, is in the Basque Country and known to locals as Donostia. The beautiful, historic resort town attracts people for its beaches and tempting food.

After our afternoon in Bilbao, we embarked on San Sebastián, taking in the events for first day of La Semana Grande. As we walked through the Old Town, we heard bands playing music and were surprised when guns and a cannon were fired off. The noises echoed down the narrow streets.

That evening was also the first firework show. Each night, at 10:45pm, a different firework house from around Europe puts on their best display as part of a competition.

As the week went on, we were continuously surprised by different La Semana Grande events. One day around noon, we saw hundreds of young people dressed as pirates bringing rafting materials to the harbor.

Pirates going to the launching point

Later in the afternoon, they launched into the water and paddled toward La Concha beach.

Another evening, we were coming out of a pintxo bar, when we happened up on a parade with several giants, representing Basque providences.

The scariest part of the festival were 13 cabezudos (big heads), which are costumed people holding pig bladders attached by a string. The cabezudos would chase all types of people, adults, kids, tourists, and even yours truly, and smack them with the pig bladder. I can confirm that it is not a pleasant experience.

Chris was fascinated by them and managed to stay out of their way. In fact, he was able to  capture a particularly overzealous cabezudo attack on video.

Afterward, Chris said he felt like he had just filmed an act of brutality, since the kid seemed so helpless on the ground. However, this custom seems to be tolerated, if not enjoyed, by the locals.

It was truly a unique time to be in San Sebastián. And, I ended up learning a lot: Most importantly, if I see a pig’s bladder, especially in public, I should run.

I went to Spain in August 2012, visited BilbaoSan Sebastián, Figueres, and Girona for the first time, and returned to Barcelona


One response to “Festival week in San Sebastián, Spain

  1. Pingback: Pintxo hopping in San Sebastián | The Traveling Times·

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