One of Spain's more unusual celebrations, the Wine and Water Festival held each August in the village of Requena is an electric mix of culture, music and, of course, wine
It is 2 am on a beautiful warm summer’s night in the depths of the Spanish countryside. I am soaking wet. In one hand, I am gripping a cup of warm wine (I use the term ‘cup’ very loosely – it is, in fact, a small bucket) and in the other I have my tambourine, shaking it with ferocity in a vain attempt to keep up with the noisy locals around me. There are hundreds, if not thousands of them – who'd have thought a tiny mountain village had so many occupants? This is most certainly one of the more surreal moments in my life.
The annual Wine and Water Festival, or Noche de Zurra, is held in a picturesque village called Requena in eastern Spain. No more than a dot on the map for the majority of each year, Requena comes alive at the end of every August, as the locals (and some random gatecrashers like me) take to the streets to thank the gods for the water needed for a successful wine harvest. And thank them they should, as Requena (and the province of Valencia) is well known for its high quality production of tasty wines.
Entering the romantic cobblestoned streets of Requena earlier in the evening, it is impossible to imagine the pandemonium that will hit the town after the stroke of midnight, when the celebrations really get underway. A few hours ago, I was standing in a relatively quiet area of town, on the road leading into the centre from the bull arena. In true Spanish fashion, no-one could tell me exactly when the parade would start, so it was a relief finally, at around 1am, to hear the distant sounds of drum beats.
As the beats inched closer, I was able to make out a procession of people, so high on merriment you could almost taste it. With every second they danced closer to me, a mass of limbs all excitedly moving to the beat of the music. The exuberance was infectious – by the time they reached me, I was itching to get into the middle of it, and that is exactly what I did.
The next four hours (although it seems like little more than 10 minutes!) are spent dancing to the brass bands that move with the parade through Requena’s narrow streets. There are about five of them, each with their own set of ‘groupies’ following their every note. Impromptu break dancing and some diverse dance moves surround me. This is the most fun I have had in as long as I can remember – and I haven’t even touched the free wine yet!
Around every couple of corners, a crowd veers off course and stops at the wine press set up on the roadside – this is where we hand over our ‘vessels’ and they are returned full of the wine harvest’s first pressings. Full vessel in hand, we get back to the task at hand – dancing the parade route.
Although it is an ungodly hour of the morning by this time, the locals are out in force. If they're not in the procession, they can be found on the safety of their narrow balconies throwing (or often hosing) water onto the eager crowd below. Shouts of ‘Agua! Agua!’ can be heard everywhere, as revellers stand below the houses that line the streets and literally beg to be treated to a thorough soaking!
This fiesta never gets tiresome: the scenery changes as you dance through the maze of streets that make up Requena; the faces change as you meet yet more locals dying to pour their wine down your throat. Yet the essence of the night remains the same – a small community coming together to give thanks, in the most authentically Spanish style.
I hope this gem of a fiesta is discovered by many more independent travellers, as it really is rich in Spanish culture and an almost ridiculous amount of fun!
The easiest, most hassle-free way to experience this fiesta is through a tour operator, normally as part of a La Tomatina package, as the celebrations take place the night before the annual La Tomatina in Bunol. My Wine and Water festival encounter was organised by First Festival Travel as part of their La Tomatina package, based in Valencia. I would highly recommend them – they provided transport to and from the festival, as well as experienced tour guides to show me where the good times were and a lot of advice on how to make the most of this unusual fiesta. If you prefer to travel independently, you can also get out to Requena using (infrequent) local transport links.
Sleeping during the fiesta is not an option. However, I would highly recommend the Valencia hotel we were based in, the NH Center Hotel. It was well located, the rooms were incredibly comfortable (great pillows) and the staff were very helpful.