Las Fallas de Valencia
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Las Fallas de Valencia - Spain 's hottest party

Let's set this place alight! Sounds a bit apocalyptic, and it is. The Spanish hold some pretty crazy parties but this tops the bill. Las Fallas (the fires) is an orgy of pyromania and feasting. A whole week of thunderous explosions, blinding fireworks, bull fighting and enough paella to sink the Armada. Traditionally a celebration in honour of St. Joseph, the patron saint of carpenters, the festival today signals the changing of the seasons - a riotous 'two-fingers' up at Winter, and a resounding 'whoopee' at the onset of Spring.

Your enduring memory of the revelry will surely be of the gigantic and often grotesque ninots(wooden and plaster statues) which are set alight in the city's streets and plazas. Vast sums of money are poured into these wonderful creations which usually poke fun at some contemporary politician or film star. And if you're around the Plaza Ayuntamiento at midday you'll have the questionable pleasure of judging the mascleta - or neighbourhood 'big bang' competition. Exactly as it sounds, the winning group is judged on their ability to create the noisiest explosion out of a cocktail of fireworks, rockets and bangers. More relaxing is the Ofrenda de Flores; a parade of flowers and regional dress.

Blessed with a tourism bypass, Valencia has retained its character and charm, despite being Spain 's third largest city. The first thing you'll notice on arrival(other than fire and brimstone) are the elaborate Baroque facades that adorn most of the older buildings - most spectacularly the Palacio del Marqués de Dos Aguas.

Whether you catch the festival or not, you'll have no problem getting lost in the towns oldest quarter - the mazelike Barrio del Carmen - that weaves around the Rio Turia. And if the mayhem gets too much, head straight for the tiny chapel of Nuestra Señora de los Desamparados. Here a statue of the virgin stands serene, despite being surrounded by thousands of.you guessed it.candles! Don't expect a quiet week by the pool with a good book - this is an authentic Spanish festival for the Spanish - and you are the privileged guest.


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