When most of us think of Spanish food, we think of paella, chorizo, and, of course, tapas. While these may be popular staples, there’s a whole lot more to taste. Spain is home to hundreds of local food festivals and tapas fairs that dish up everything from regional classics to the latest in cutting edge cuisine. This list covers five of the best and quirkiest food festivals in Spain, making our way from the North to the South of the country. Grab a fork and dig in.
The International Paella Competition, Basque Country
We couldn’t compile this list without a nod to perhaps the most famous Spanish dish of all; paella. With so many different types of paella available across the country, there’s a perfect paella for everyone. Now imagine enjoying world class paella whilst overlooking the Cantabrian sea, if that tickles your taste buds, then you might want to add the International Paella Competition in the small Basque town of Getxo to your bucket list.
Taking place on 25th July each year – the same day as the feast of Saint James in Santiago de Compostela – crowds of foodies gather under the Aixerrota (the basque word for windmill) to taste the myriad of paellas competing for the top spot. Diners not only get to sample some of the world’s best paella dishes, but they also get to soak in the picturesque landscape and the beauty of the bay of Getxo, a small town that is steeped in history.
If paella isn’t your cup of tea, you can find plenty of other food festivals in the Basque Country like the Honey Spring Fair (Feria de Primavera de la Miel) which takes place in May in the pretty little town of Antoñana. As well as local honey, you can pick up a wide array of local delicacies.
The competition usually takes place on 25th July (Santiago day). More information about exact dates and details of the event can be found on the Getxo tourist board website, available in English.
Getxo, Basque country
The Mushroom Festival, Villanueva del Fresno, Extremadura
If you are a fan of mushrooms, then be sure not to miss the mushroom festival (El Festival Transfronterizo del Gurumelo) in the town of Villanueva del Fresno in the Extremadura region. This popular food festival usually takes place in March, and is a celebration of all things mushroom, with one type of mushroom taking centre stage: Amanita ponderosa or Gurumelo. This mushroom is notoriously hard to find, so each year people flock from all across Spain and neighbouring Portugal to hunt for these much-sought-after mushrooms on guided tours. For those who aren’t so keen on foraging for this elusive funghi, the festival hosts a range of activities to make it a foodie’s paradise. Attendees can take culinary workshops, learn about local food and produce, and attend one of the many concerts held during the festivities.
While not as well-known as some of the bigger food festivals on this list, this one is a must for anyone who is an avid lover of mushrooms, especially rare ones. It’s also perfect for those who have yet to explore the Extremadura region, one of Spain’s best kept secrets. If Extremadura is too far west for you to travel, Catalonia hosts a mushroom festival, Sant Iscle de Vallalta, on the last Sunday of October. This festival is complete with a “mushroom-hunter” dinner, forest trips, contests, a chestnut festival, donkey rides, and of course, lots and lots of mushrooms.
The Mushroom Festival, Villanueva del Fresno, usually takes place in March. It’s best to check the Extremadura tourism board website in advance for more information on dates and activities.
Villanueva del Fresno, Extremadura
The Anchovy Tapa Trail, Costa Brava
If good food, beautiful coastline, and a whole lot of culture is your recipe for a great trip, then it’s time to visit L’Escala, Catalonia. A beautiful town on the Costa Brava, L’Escala boasts a gorgeous beach (the Gulf of Roses) against a mountainous backdrop and a rich history (the Archaeological Museum of Catalonia). Every October, the town transforms itself into the home of the popular Anchovy Festival (Festa de l’Anxova).
In the leadup to the Anchovy Festival, the town fills up with diners ready to enjoy the Anchovy Tapa Trail (Ruta de la Tapa de l'Anxova). This unique food festival pays homage to the humble anchovy with local bars serving up their best anchovy tapas dishes. Diners collect a stamp on their “passport” at each bar or restaurant they visit in the hopes of winning one of the many great prizes on offer. You can download a map in advance or pick one up upon arrival to plan out your route.
The Anchovy Tapa Trail usually takes place two weeks before the Anchovy Festival, in October. For exact dates, it’s best to check with the local tourist board website which is available in English.
L’Escala, Costa Brava
Torrevieja ‘Let’s Go For Tapas’ Trail, Costa Blanca
In April 2021, Torrevieja hosted the first tapas festival of the year in the Costa Brava region. The ‘Let’s go for tapas’ (Nos vamos de tapas) tapas trail, now in its sixth year, saw a whopping twenty three bars and restaurants get involved. This favourite amongst locals and expats alike dishes up four tapas and two drinks for just ten euros. There’s also the chance to enter the raffle and win one of many fantastic prizes, including smart phones, cases of wine, and tasting experience boxes.
The tapas trail takes place over two weekends, giving diners plenty of opportunities to try out the culinary offerings. In the sixth edition, organisers worked hard to tweak the format to minimise crowds and facilitate social distancing by distributing the tapas on tables and having diners post their own raffle tickets in the ballot box. Maps of the tapas trail (in both English and Spanish) are available to download before the start of the fair or can be picked up upon arrival.
It’s usually held over the first two weekends in April. It’s recommended to check local notice boards nearer the time for confirmation of the exact dates for the next edition or check local event sites.
Torrevieja, Costa Blanca
The Erotic Tapas Route, Fuengirola, Costa del Sol
Now we all know that Spain is the home of wacky festivals, whether it’s jumping over babies at the El Colacho festival in Murcia, or having giant tomato fights at Tomatina festival on the streets of Buñol, the Spanish love to have fun and never take themselves too seriously. It’s no surprise, then, that the last food festival on the list is the Erotic Tapas Route (Ruta de la Tapa Erótica) in the seaside town of Fuengirola. A popular expat and tourist destination, Fuengirola has now become the home of tapas with a cheeky twist.
2020 marked the 12th edition of this popular tapas route, with over 71 local restaurants signing up to prepare a sensual tapa dish to delight diners. Each tapa costs €2.50 with a small glass or wine or beer included, meaning you can fill up on a whole host of cheeky tapas without breaking the bank. Maps of the route are available to download, as are the tapas passports. You can get your passport stamped virtually at every place you stop off, and if you get ten virtual stamps, you will be entered into a raffle to win one of the many prizes on offer such as an Apple iPad or Samsung mobile phone. Both maps and passports are available in Spanish and English, and staff in the venues speak English, so no Spanish is necessary. It’s a great way to try out local food, meet other expats in the area, and have a giggle at the tongue-in-cheek Spanish sense of humour.
The erotic tapas route is usually held in November. Details of the exact dates can be found on the events page of the Fuengirola tourism website.
Fuengirola, Costa del Sol
When it comes to gastronomical experiences, Spain’s got it all. Whether it’s Michelin-Star cuisine in San Sebastian, a simple madrileño stew, or some fresh, fried fish from Andalucia that takes your fancy, it’s all at your fingertips. Spanish food festivals are the perfect way to get to know the diverse regions of Spain, the rich culture, and the incredible cuisine on offer. As they say is Spanish, ‘¡Que aproveche!’ (enjoy your meal).