Most of us – when asked to name a Spanish festival – could quite easily list the top favourites. Running of the Bulls makes our news channels most years because some unfortunate soul has been gored by a bull horn; La Tomatina evokes images of people packed in a narrow street covered in tomato juice; and BBK never fails to deliver an excellent line up of live rock and pop music.
It’s with some surprise, then, that the Haro wine fight appears not to have made much of an impression on the international tourism industry – yet.
This is shocking not only because it involves gallons of the world’s most delicious alcoholic beverage, but also because it takes place on a stunning hill in the La Rioja region of northern Spain during one of the hottest and longest days of the year! What more could you ask for?!
WHAT IS THE WINE FIGHT?
The Haro wine fight or, to use its Spanish name, la Batalla del Vino, is a huge celebration of our much-loved ‘vino tinto’, and it falls on June 29 each year – the day of the patron saint San Pedro.
Haro is based in the Rioja Alta, where about 40% of the region’s vineyards are located. Rumour has it that the wine fight evolved from a dispute in the thirteenth century between Haro and its neighbouring town Miranda De Ebro. Back in the day, the two towns would officially mark the property lines between them, but a few hundred years after this practice broke down, the residents began throwing wine at each other instead.
THE STREET PARTY
The festival begins with a massive street party in the picturesque town of Haro on the eve of June 29. Thousands (young and old; local and foreign) gather in the cobbled streets, mingling with strangers, weaving in and out of open-fronted wine bars, and sharing travel tales while sipping on €1 glasses of delicious local wine.
As the evening progresses, eventually, most of the crowds make it to the central Plaza de la Paz, where a DJ and live bands entertain the crowds until the early hours – or all night long if you can handle it!
THE WINE FIGHT
At 7 am the next morning, people dress all in white with red scarves and join a procession up into the Cliffs of Bilibio 5 km away, where a mass is celebrated at the Hermitage of San Felices de Bilibio.
Finally, all hell breaks loose, as people use buckets, jugs, bottles super soakers, hose pipes and water pumps to drench each other in over 50,000 litres of red wine. There’s nowhere to hide and, within seconds, the forest clearing is a sea of pink bodies. A steady stream of rosy liquid warns latecomers of the mayhem as they approach the hill’s summit, the crowds are entertained by pink bands, and pink hikers can be seen searching the rocky outcrop for the best vantage point.
There may be plenty of wine matting your hair to your face, and plenty more sloshing around your feet, but none of this matters for the simple fact that your cup is never empty. Doesn’t it sound like the best party ever?!
THE AFTER PARTY
The raucous behaviour continues back in Haro, with traditional dances, tapas eating, and of course, more wine consumption. There’s also a bull ring where fights take place – a little like Running of the Bulls, but with small heifers and a much lower risk of injury.
As you leave the battleground, it’s worth stopping in the car park at the base of the hill. Hundreds of locals gather for a post-wine fight feast of BBQ’d meats, and it’s a great opportunity to find out more about the region. You might also manage to blag yourself a lift back into town.
HOW DO I TAKE PART?
You can always arrange your own transport and accommodation, but where’s the fun in that? This festival is all about mixing with strangers and crossing the usual barriers of socially acceptable behaviour. You might as well start early by arranging to be part of a tour group, and this makes the logistics much easier as well.
Stoke Travel is an awesome tour company based in Barcelona that specialises in festivals in Western Europe. Typically, they organise transport from major cities nearby (for the wine fight, you can transfer via Barcelona or San Sebastian), and you’ll stay on a massive campsite.
CAMPING WITH STOKE TRAVEL
Your tent is erected before you arrive, complete with an inflatable mattress and sleeping bag. All you need to do is check in, dump your bags and join the party!
Stoke campsites have unlimited beer and sangria for just €10 a day, and entertainment is provided by a resident DJ. They also usually provide breakfast, as well as evening meals like BBQ beef burgers and palella.
If you’re worried about your valuables, they have padlocks for your tent, or you can leave smaller items with the staff. There’s also a charging dock, but with a large number of devices permanently attached and tangled to one another, it can be a slow and painful process. Free WiFi is hard to come by too, so you might as well embrace your freedom and focus on the fun.
At all Stoke Travel events, there are loads of staff members to answer your questions, guide you through the itinerary, introduce you to other travellers and keep the party pumping from dawn till dusk. There’s a great atmosphere and it’s a guaranteed way to enjoy the whole wine fight experience.
A FEW TIPS
🍷 Drink in moderation at the street party. You might be excited to be there, but you’ll kick yourself if you miss the main event because you’re still drunk or couldn’t get up in time.
🍷 If you’re camping, take a spare blanket or layers to wear in bed. The Spanish sun might turn your tent into a sauna during the day, but it gets insanely chilly at night.
🍷 Take ear plugs or listen to an app like White Noise on your phone to drown out the party while you take a siesta.
🍷 Use a dry bag at the wine fight, or at least a waterproof case for your camera or phone. Wine will fly at you from all directions and it’s impossible to avoid.
🍷 Get to know as many of your fellow Stokies as possible, but don’t forget to mingle with the locals too. It’s fun to practise Spanish, and you’ll get great insight into what it’s like to live in the region.
🍷 When the festival is over, consider staying at Stoke Kastle in Barcelona. This really rustic turreted hostel is based on the hillside overlooking the city. Not only is it a great way to meet more likeminded travellers, but they can arrange kayaking trips, cooking classes, free city walking tours, shuttles, boat parties and more!
🍷 Travel with friends or find people in advance through the Stoke Travel social media channels and you can share the cost of your airport transfers. If you split the cost between four of five of you, a breezy cab ride might work out cheaper than the bus or train, and it will certainly be less hassle.
WHAT IF I MISSED IT?
If you missed this year’s wine fight and can’t wait for the next one, fear not. There are plenty of really exciting festivals coming up over the next few months, and Stoke Travel have everything covered. Some of the highlights are listed below, but there are heaps more on the Stoke Travel website.
Race a bull through the streets of Pampaloma and party in the city bars at night.
Like the wine fight, but with tomatoes. Strictly no other projectiles permitted!
A huge German celebration of lederhosen and beer.
Live music, surfing, hammam and souk markets, with optional camels rides and quad biking along the Moroccan coast.
If you have a few days’ leave left before the year’s out and you need to let your hair down on a short European break, a Stoke Travel trip might just be the answer.
I was a guest of Stoke Travel. During my time in Spain, I camped out for the wine fight, spent two nights in the Stoke Kastle, joined a city walking tour of Barcelona and hopped on board a champagne boat party. The Stokie staff did not request that I write a favourable review, and all of the opinions and recommendations are my own. Whether you turn up alone or with a huge group of besties, and regardless of your age or nationality, there’s a strong community vibe and you’re guaranteed to enjoy yourself!