Running for your life in Pamplona

Las Fiestas de San Fermin is an annual event in honour of the town's co-patron San Fermin. It incorporates a range of events, from Basque wood-chopping and barrel-lifting to firework displays, fairgrounds and live music - and, of course, bull fights.

Running for your life in Pamplona

We have all the vital info you need on this incredible event. And here is a a slice of the action,  

 

Festival Essentials

When: Annually, every July, from the 6th to the 14th.
Where: Pamplona, Northern Spain.
Remember to bring: A red cape and nerves of steel.

Where’s the Party?

Las Fiestas de San Fermin take place in Pamplona, the capital of the northern Spanish province of Navarra.

Dates for the Diary

The opening ceremony is held at noon on July 6, and from then on it’s non-stop hell-raising until midnight on the July 14. The bull-run is at 8am every morning from the July 7 onwards but you might find that it’s impossible to get into the street on the busier days (ie the first three or the weekend) after 7:30am.

What’s it all about?

Las Fiestas de San Fermin is an annual event in honour of the town’s co-patron San Fermin. It incorporates a range of events, from Basque wood-chopping and barrel-lifting to firework displays, fairgrounds and live music – and, of course, bull fights. The bull run evolved into an event in its own right after a few daredevils decided to run alongside the bulls as they were herded through the streets to the bull-ring.

Be prepared

You’ll need to book at least six months in advance if you want to secure a hotel room. Hemingway’s room at Hotel La Perla has been booked for every night of the fiestas for the next 40 years by a Swiss publisher who, with laudable optimism, intends to celebrate his 100th birthday there.

If you intend to engross yourself fully in the fiesta and snatch some sleep in the open air, pack lightly but don’t forget to bring a good sleeping bag. There are two lock-ups in town where you can leave your gear.

Getting there

The nearest airport to Pamplona is 6km away at Noáin. There are daily flights between here and Barcelona or Madrid. International flights arrive in Bilbao (150km away) where you can catch a bus to Pamplona.

If you’re travelling from the United Kingdom, there are daily ferry connections from Portsmouth to Bilbao and Plymouth to Santander, but it’s a 24-hour voyage. There are only two buses a day from Santander to Pamplona, and it will take about 3 hours. Many travellers choose for convenience to travel with tour companies, which run fleets of coaches to the event. Most of these tour groups are based at outlying campsites and run regular shuttles into town.

Where to stay

It is best to be as close as possible to the fiesta, as buses to the outlying areas do not run throughout the night.

Be prepared to pay up to three times the Œpeace-time price for hotel rooms in town. Cheaper options in the old town include:

Hostal Otano
5 Calle San Nicolás
(Tel: +34 948 22 50 95; Fax: +34 948 21 20 12)

Pensión Casa Garcia
12 San Gregorio (Tel: +34 948 22 38 93).

You might be lucky enough to find a dorm bed at the last minute in one of several townhouses in Calle de la Estafeta but all the hotel rooms have usually been taken.

Hundreds of revellers sleep in Pamplona’s parks, on roundabouts or in the Plaza del Castillo.This beautiful old square with its flowerbeds and bandstand takes on the appearance of a battlefield almost as soon as the party has begun, despite the efforts of an entire army of street-sweepers.

Other expenses

Prices for drinking on the terraces are inflated during the fiesta and, as in all Spain, there is one price for drinking at tables and another for standing at the bar. Even so, US$30 would be sufficient for a day’s food and plenty of drink. You can get a good meal of bull stew or Navarra trout for about US$6 in a self-service restaurant and a litre of sangria for the wineskin will cost about US$3.

Once you’re there

If you choose to sleep rough be aware that in recent years there have been increasing reports of thieves slashing the bottoms of sleeping bags to get at money belts etc.

You can buy the bull-runners’ uniform (white jeans, shirts, red bandanas and sashes) all over the town. A wineskin is a useful accessory but don’t be surprised (or stingy) if people assume you won’t mind passing it around!

Runners should walk the course first, preferably with somebody who has run before, but there are always plenty of veterans who are willing to give advice. Wait until the crowds have thinned after the first few days.

Spectators should be prepared to entrench themselves at least an hour early for prime positions (try the high walls above Santo Domingo or right on the corner at Mercaderes).

Don’t wear thongs or sandals because the ground is always littered with broken glass and bear in mind that more people have died falling off the ramparts or lost the use of their legs at theMussel Bar fountain than have ever been badly hurt in the bull runs.

Take some time to witness the other events which make up the Fiesta San Fermines. You can pick up a programme for the week from the tourist information point in a double-decker bus, which is stationed outside the city hall for the duration of the fiesta.

If you want to witness the bull-fight you should buy tickets at least a day in advance. The corrida at the Plaza de Toros in Pamplona is rated much more for the riotous party than for an exhibition in the art of bullfighting. For an experience that you won¹t forget buy the cheaper tickets for the sol (sun) section. The local kids arrive in this section carrying buckets of sangria. They will throw more than they drink… along with eggs, oranges, tomatoes and bags of sugar, flour and cocoa powder.

The concurso de recortadores is, for many, a more attractive and more spectator-friendly way to see the animals in action. The cow is not harmed and the men, in line with the spirit of Los San Fermines, are protected only by the swiftness of their feet. Their aim is to slip a metal disk over the cow¹s horn as she charges them and the spectacle is more easily appreciated by somebody unacquainted with the complex rituals of the corrida.

Local attractions

An escape to the beach at San Sebastian is a good way to recuperate after the bull run, as is a drive up the beautiful Bidassoa Valley (where Hemingway fished for trout) to the village ofLesaca, or a picnic beside the river at the old Roman town of Puenta La Reina.

Similar events

Almost every town and village in Spain will have a fiesta, and many of them involve bulls and bull runs of some sort, such as running down a mountain and even jumping in a harbour. There are also similar festivals in the South of France, notably in Arles at Easter and Nîmes at Pentecost. The Spanish and French Tourist boards will have full details.

 

MORE INFORMATION

Books
The Sun Also Rises, by Ernest Hemingway

The Drifters, by James A Michener

Pamplona.net – The official guide to the Pamplona phenomenon

Encierro.com – Photos of the Bull Run

Spain Tourist Office – Up to date travel information for the entire country.

Pamplona.co.uk 
The Ultimate guide for those wanting to run with the bulls or find accommodation
at the San Fermin Fiesta in Pamplona.

The local tourist Office and Reservations Centre is located at C/ Hilarión, Eslava 1, Pamplona / Iruña, 31001, Navarra

Tel: + 34 948 20 65 40 (Tourism); + 34 948 20 65 41 (Reservations)
Fax: +34 948 20 70 34 (Tourism); 34 948 20 70 32 (Reservations).

 

By Mark Eveleigh

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