Hogueras De San Juan 2014: An amazing, but noisy weekend in Alicante
Alicante is a great destination for both a city break or longer, with a lot of museums, beaches, churches and is said to be home to Spain’s best nightlife. However, for one week every year in late June the city is taken over by the Hogueras De San Juan (Bonfires of Saint John) festival. In June this year, a group of friends and I decided we wanted a beachside city break somewhere in Europe. We plumped for Alicante and it just happened to take place during Hogueras – one of the biggest festivals in the Andalucian – and more specifically Alicante’s – calendar.
When it came to searching for accommodation, there are a lot of choices – hotels, hotels, pensions and self-catering apartments. I have become a recent convert of AirBnB, having used them in recent months in Venice Beach, California; and Paris. My friends and I were flying in late on a Friday night so didn’t want the hassle of setting an alarm clock for an early hotel breakfast, so decided to go self-catering. Airbnb gives you the chance to rent either rooms or an apartment/house direct from the owner. After much deliberating between staying by the beach or the city centre (which is very compact anyway), we opted for the latter. We chose a one bedroom loft apartment sleeping up to four a stone’s throw from the bullring, located just five minutes walk from the market and 10 from the beach. Before booking, we inquired if a midnight arrival time was too late and happily the owner was able to accommodate us. Before arrival, we were sent the owner’s personal guide to Alicante, with restaurant reviews, opening times of shops, museums, etc, which was very helpful and a nice personal touch. Just as the positive reviews had said, the apartment was modern, spacious, with lots of windows letting in plenty of fresh air, so we were really pleased. We had a balcony that managed to have the sun on it for most of the day so a perfect location for lazy brunches and views of Santa Barbara Castle – the ancient fort on top of the rocky hill overlooking Alicante.
Usually, the apartment would be quiet because it is in a residential area, however during the Fogueras festival the whole city of Alicante is taken over by the festivities. Huge bonfire structures featuring ‘Ninots’ are erected all over the streets, usually a critique of political, societal or cultural issues in Spain or Alicante. Referring to Spain’s current economic problems, I saw one Ninot depicting a 50 euro note with wings. Neighbourhood groups also raise money to create pop-up party venues including restaurants, bars and discos. Throughout the night, these venues will play blaring loud music – hence it may be difficult to sleep if you’re staying in central Alicante, so it’s probably best to forgo sleep and join the fun! Although many of these venues are only open to the neighbourhood residents who have funded it, some are open to the public so you can join in the fun. There are also a host of bars and clubs – many concentrated in the city’s El Barrio (old quarter), which are open to sunrise. Towards the end of the festival, bonfires are lit all over town, while fireworks are set off on a daily basis – both day and night, adding to the noise. It’s worth checking out the daytime firework display ‘mascletàs’, for which ear-plugs are thoroughly recommended! During the festival, there are also nightly parades. Chairs were placed all over town so you could sit and watch bands, dancers and children parade through the town in their traditional dress. The streets were heaving with people of all ages, drinking, dancing and generally enjoying themselves. The atmosphere was amazing.
My friends and I were only in Alicante for a whirlwind two days which went by very quickly. Most of our trip was spent enjoying the sights and sounds of the festival, with a little sightseeing and relaxing in between so I can’t offer much in reviews of the museums and other sights. The city beach Playa Postiguet is popular both day and night, with the Hogueras action moving to the sands in the evening with bonfires dotted around. During the day, we rented sunloungers and an umbrella and enjoyed sipping 5 euro giant glasses of fresh Sangria sold by the vendors while sunning ourselves. If you don’t mind travelling a bit further afield, the Playa San Juan beach is a short drive away and is considered one of the most beautiful beaches in the area.
When it came to eating, Alicante is a very affordable city. We had some breakfasts and lunches in our apartment, buying ingredients from a nearby supermarket. As in all Spain, wine and Cava in the supermarket is incredibly good value, with a 3 euro bottle of Cava tasting lovely – something I wouldn’t say for the UK equivalent of alcohol at such a price! On the Saturday night, we visited the incredibly popular El Ático Restaurante in the El Barrio. The rooftop restaurant has views of the neighbouring Cathedral and nearby Santa Barbara Castle and a lovely breeze on those balmy Alicante nights. People eat very late in Alicante – we arrived at El Atico without a reservation and after waiting around 20 minutes, got a table, but didn’t start eating until after midnight! Admittedly the service was a bit haphazard – although I suspect they were short-staffed on the night in question – but our food was delicious. In particular, my starter was absolutely gorgeous – baked camembert with flat crispbread and strawberry jam.
Overall, I can highly recommend Alicante. I would love to return during a non-festival weekend to experience the city in its normal guise, however we felt so lucky that we had (randomly) chosen to visit during the Hogueras. The atmosphere across town was exciting and electric, the city was basically one big party. While admittedly we didn’t get as much rest as we would have liked due to the noise, we thoroughly enjoyed the experience.
For Metro Girl’s blog post on Ibiza, read Back to the White Isle: Relaxing and partying in Ibiza
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