Not Hemingway's Spain: Valencia and Fallas in a nutshell

Not Hemingway's Spain: Valencia and Fallas in a nutshell

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Everything you need to get the most out of Valencia's famed Fallas festival: important dates and events, vocabulary of ubiquitous Fallas terminology, and a list of must-see-and-do activities.

"Yo que soy valenciano nativo pero criado fuera [...] y reenganchado en mi ciudad hace 27 años, siempre se la presento a los demás comparándola con Barcelona. Para mi Barcelona es como una Top-Model: espectacular, deslumbrante. Valencia sin embargo es como tu pareja: no llama tanto la atención pero está llena de belleza doméstica, de rincones entrañables, de sitios para sentirte a gusto." – Perroflauteando.

The countdown is on until the full force of Fallas hits Valencia from March 16 to 19. As of a couple of days ago, falleros all across town have started marking off their falla territory, lighting up the plaza or street corner where their falla will be on display. The churrerías street stands have been popping up here and there, ready to sell buñuelos (pumpkin-dough rings) to all the wandering visitors. In short, we are practically in la plantà, the night all fallas must be set up, and by March 19, it will all burn to the groud. Yes, it will be Fallas.
 Not Hemingway's Spain: Valencia and Fallas in a nutshellNot Hemingway's Spain: Valencia and Fallas in a nutshell
A churrería street stand / A falla more than five stories high from 2012
 
Hopefully many of you are packing your bags and drafting your itineraries for your visit to Valencia for the festivities. In that spirit, I offer you a recap of all my entries on Valencia and Fallas, to orient you a bit on what to do while you're here. First, Fallas...

-----------------FALLAS-----------------

Before I start on things to do while you're in Valencia, let me summarise my four entries on Fallas that were published on The Spain Scoop. You will find below a glossary of terms that will help you navigate each tradition of Fallas, and a schedule of important dates and events. (In the interim, I also discovered this wonderful webpage on the language and local vocab of Fallas.)


Fallas dictionary of terms:
 
Falla: The festival Fallas is named for the large paper-mâché art statues called a falla, a Valencian word whose latin roots link back to fire. These art displays originated as piles of old furniture that were set out on the streets and burned as part of spring cleaning. They have evolved a lot since those modest 19th-century roots.  
Ninot: This is the Valencian word for the small-sized paper-mâché puppets or figurines. A large falla might contain hundreds of ninots. They will all be burned on 19 March except for one ninot from the 1st-place falla, which is saved and placed in the Fallas museum.
Fallero/fallera (mayor, infantil): These are the people who make it all happen. You will see them in tents nearby the fallas during Fallas, celebrating with their families and neighbourhood friends, and parading through the streets in traditional attire on their way to the Virgin with their flower ofrenda (offering). There are two females, falleras, chosen each year to be the main representatives for each casal faller; a young one about eight years old is the fallera infantil, and another around 20 to 30 years old is the fallera mayor. There is also a fallera mayor chosen to represent the city (considered the Queen of Las Fallas), who supposedly has more power than the mayor during the festival – it is a huge honour to be chosen.
Casal faller: This the local neighbourhood committee of falleros who spend the entire year preparing their street's falla. There are hundreds of these casals, each with their own independent falla and neighborhood festivities. The amount of casals sits around 350 to 400 organisations (each with a falla!).
Mascletà: This is what I've taken to explaining as a "sound fireworks show", since it is more about the noise and rhythm it makes than lighting up the sky. (Indeed, they are usually done during the day.) The city will do an official mascletà once a day at 2.00pm during the festivities, but each casal faller will also have a neighbourhood one at least once during the week of Fallas. 
Petardo: This is the Spanish word for hand-fireworks, and you will be hearing a tonne of them throughout the week of Fallas. It is not uncommon to see groups of kids in plazas setting them off (although laws are now in place to stop and protect very young children from setting off fireworks in public). Masclets are the very, very loud ones, which resemble (in sound) a bomb going off and can set off car alarms and wake the whole neighbourhood.
Traca: This is the word for those strings of fireworks where you set off one and it triggers a series of small snapping fireworks. On la nit de la cremà, the burning of most fallas will be initiated by a traca string of fireworks. 
Castillo: Though it literally means "castle" in Spanish, this is also the word for a fireworks show in the sky. There is at least one official castillo each night during the final days of Fallas, normally around or just after midnight over the riverbed. Again, each casal will have its own castillo in the neighborhood, usually the last night.
 
Calendar of important events:

February 26th (last Sunday of Feb.)
La despertà ('The awakening' – a collective hand-fireworks event with all the city's falleros) at 7:30am on Calle de la Paz; plus La Cridà (which means 'the call' – the opening ceremonies with all the falleras mayores, followed by a fireworks show) at Torres de Serranos early evening. These two events formally open the Fallas season.

1 to 19 March:
A public mascletà is held each day at 2.00pm in the Plaza de Ayuntamiento.

15 March:
La plantà, when each neighborhood mounts its falla, officially inaugurating the public viewing and street festivities.

16 & 17 March: 
 La ofrenda, falleros from different neighborhoods, at different times and places throughout the afternoon, parade to the Plaza de la Virgen to place their "offering" to the Virgin Mary.

16, 17, 18 March:
 Castillos, a.k.a. fireworks shows, held around midnight. The show on the 18th is the big one, called La nit del foc, the night of fire.

19 March:
 La nit de la cremà, the night of the burning, when all the falleros across town burn their falla.
Not Hemingway's Spain: Valencia and Fallas in a nutshell
The burning of Na Jordana's falla in 2012
 

A list of casals that produce some of the must-see fallas:
  1. Nou-Campanar – Out of the way, north of the River Turia, but it usually has the biggest budget of all the fallas in the city.
  2. Sueca – In the Russafa neighborhood.
  3. Convento-Jerusalén – In the neighbourhood just to the west of the North Train Station.
  4. Ayuntamiento – At the Plaza del Ayuntamiento.
  5. Na Jordana – At the edges of El Carmen next to the River Turia park. 
  6. La Mercé – A few blocks away from Valencia's Mercat Central. 7) El Pilar – In the neighborhood to the northwest of the North Train Station, not far from the Mercat Central.

Must-see light displays*:
  1. Sueca
  2. Cuba Literato-Azorín
*These are all right next to each other in the Russafa neighborhood, which is why you should go there at night!
Not Hemingway's Spain: Valencia and Fallas in a nutshell
 
These are by no means exclusive. A couple of years ago, one of my favorite Fallas, the Falla Almirante Cadarso, wasn't among these listed above. So every year you have to be sure to see as many as you can, since you never know which falla will shine the brightest. (For a more narrative account of Fallas, check out entry one and entry two of my recollections of Fallas 2010.) I also suggest some "fallas fuel", typical local foods for you to eat while you're in town and wondering the streets. You might review my post on Valencian rice dishes, and the good and bad paellas, so that you can be a discerning paella gourmand. You'll also be catching the tail end of orange season, so eat as many as you can get, or enjoy agua de Valencia! (Orange juice mixed with Cava.) And though it is technically not in season, you can find some shops selling horchata, Valencia's most famous, local drink (a milk-like drink made from crushed Chufa beans that grow in the area).
Not Hemingway's Spain: Valencia and Fallas in a nutshell
 A parade of each casal's falleras and falleros

A typical Fallas day itinerary (15 – 18 March):

Early morning: Sleep in, if you can. On some days you might hear la despertà early in the morning, which is when the casals, in full prank mode, parade around their neighborhood at 8.00am or so playing music and throwing masclets, hand-fireworks which sound like massive bombs when they go off.
 
Around noon: Pick a central neighbourhood and go for a stroll to see their fallas in the daytime. (This might be a good time to see the out-of-the-way good fallas, like Campanar or Na Jordana.) You also might get a snack (buñuelos?) so that you can make it to a late lunch. 
 
 • 2.00pm: Be at the Plaza del Ayuntamiento to listen to the daily mascletà.
 
 • 2:15pm–4.00pm: Lunch.
 
 • 4.00pm–6.00pm: Take a siesta, because... why not? You'll want to be rested to stay out late at night when things really pick up

6.00pm–8.00pm (17 & 18 March): Check out the ofrenda processions in or on their way to the Plaza de la Virgen. Each attendee offers flowers to the Virgin in exchange for a blessing. The hundreds of flowers are then used to make up the 'dress' of the Virgin's wooden structure. Listen to the music the bands play, since it's a classic fallas soundtrack. 
Not Hemingway's Spain: Valencia and Fallas in a nutshell
 Building the Virgen's dress with flower ofrendàs at the Plaza de la Virgen

 • 9.00pm: Get a sandwich for dinner (a blanc i negre? It's a sandwich with local 'white and black' sausages), so that you can be back out on the streets to take in the fallas lit up at night.
 
10.00pm–12.00am (except La nit de la cremà): Head over to Russafa to see the most impressive light displays. 
 
12:00am–1.00am (depending on the night): Line up somewhere along the River Turia to watch the castillo fireworks show.
 
 • 1.00am onward: Continue strolling through the downtown streets. Things will be pretty active well until 4.00am.

For the night of 19 March, la nit de la cremà, review the fourth post at The Scoop or my earlier Fallas teaser post where I discuss the sequence for burning fallas across town. Pick one of your favorite fallas and go there in the evening (10.00pm–12:30am) to watch them burn. To get into the spirit of it all ahead of time, I recommend you listen to "Paquito el Xocolatero", a classic song played during Valencian festivities.
Not Hemingway's Spain: Valencia and Fallas in a Nutshell
Falleros and their friends and families will be practically living at the falla,
cooking meals together such as the Valencian staple, paella valenciana
 
 
----VALENCIA, WHAT TO DO AND WHERE TO DO IT----
Not Hemingway's Spain: Valencia and Fallas in a Nutshell
  The Valencia regional flag flowing from atop La Lonja

I encourage you to review my four-part series on Valencia, to look for non-Fallas things to do here while you visit:

1) & 2) In the first two entries I provide you a walking tour of the City Center and the usual (and a few less usual) sights to see there. (When you walk by the Mercat Central, look up and you'll see the Market's Parrot, subject of many fanciful local tales.) I wrap it up with a pass through Valencia's most famous neighborhood, El Carmen, and leave you "a la luna de Valencia" just outside one of Valencia's two city gates.
Not Hemingway's Spain: Valencia and Fallas in a Nutshell
A la luna de Valencia, outside the Torres de Quart gate
 

3) I suspect a lot of visitors to Valencia miss seeing its many hidden gems and off-the-beaten path beauty, because their guidebooks only "take a glance" at the city or focus on the usual suspects and leave out its many distinctive and colourful neighborhoods. So if you like to see something more local, you might review my entry on Valencia's neighbourhoods, port, and playas. To make your walk through El Carmen even more of a hunt, I recommend you read up on Valencia's vibrant street-art scene.
Not Hemingway's Spain: Valencia and Fallas in a Nutshell
While not in your tour guidebook, this picturesque fruit shop in the Benimaclet neighbourhood is famous enough to appear in an Almodóvar movie.

4) The jewel of Valencia is its Turia Riverbed Park and all the many (dare I say "iconic"?) spectacles. This feature of Valencia is by far and away my all-time favorites.
Not Hemingway's Spain: Valencia and Fallas in a Nutshell
The view into the Turia Riverbed Park from the Pont del Mar pedestrian bridge.

For some dining recommendations, you can read this guest post I wrote for The Spain Scoop on 5 great restaurants here. Valencia is also a nice place to fill your shopping bags and empty your wallets. So if you like to shop, review these past posts on good places to boutique shop or typical Valencian things to buy.
Hopefully you will be able to enjoy Valencia for its local foods and culture, but if you happen to be missing home, you can check out this two part entry on "hechar de menos" spots in the city for Anglo-expats: part 1 and part 2.
 
 
----DAY TRIPS AND FIESTAS AROUND VALENCIA----
 
If you come here in a car, then there are a lot of towns within a two-hour drive from Valencia that are worth a visit. While there are many, many more, I can specifically recommend the following day trips:
... and many others some of which I will be sure to write about soon, such as... Xátiva, Sagunt, Morella, Chulilla, Albarracín...
Not Hemingway's Spain: Valencia and Fallas in a Nutshell
Linares de Mora

So this page is my homage to the city, to its most famous festival, and to its regional splendor. My hope is that, with time, it will help convert its readers to my belief that this is an incredible place, well worth visiting for all tourists who come to Spain!
Not Hemingway's Spain: Valencia and Fallas in a Nutshell
The most obvious draw for Valencia regional tourism are its many beautiful beaches, but here below you'll also find that many of its towns are also worth a visit. 

 

 

Reprinted with permission of Not Hemingway's Spain.

Zach FrohlichOriginally from Austin, Texas, Zach Frohlich has been traveling between Spain and the U.S. for over a decade, and has been living in Valencia for the last few years. He is a historian by training and is married to a Spaniard. He shares cultural insights on Spain at Not Hemingway's Spain

 

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2 Comments To This Article

  • Moisés Domínguez posted:

    on 31st October 2013, 00:11:07 - Reply

    I don't beleive it: a quite exact explanation about what are fallas, one of the most unknwon and breathtaking festivals throughout the world. Only one precission: "Casal Fallero" is not "the local neighbourhood committee of falleros". These people are the "Comision Fallera". "Casal" is the establishment (normally, a ground floor), where the "falleros" develope all around the year the activity. Normally, the "Casal" is becoming property of the "Comision" (they are capable to buy a part of a building) or rented. This activity can be cultural o recreative and use to be opened some days a week (in many ocasions, at least 5 days). Fallas is not only to put a "falla" in the street. It's also a deeper association and an instrument of human relations. The amount of "comissions" grows slowly. Now there are 385. In 1980, for example, there were 307. I's very difficult that a "Comission" disappears, although the crisis. Incredible. Thanks of your very outstanding explanation.
  • Gin posted:

    on 13th March 2013, 18:48:59 - Reply

    Thanks for the great info, Zach. Being new expats from the USA you have given us a lot of valuable info. Keep writing! Buenas Fallas!