Last week was the end of Logroño’s largest festival, San Mateo. These fiestas celebrate the culture of the region and the beginning of the wine harvest– otherwise known as the best time of the year to be in La Rioja. There are few things better than the colors of the grape vines as they change for fall paired with cheap and plentiful wine. For this reason, I’m going to miss my daily commute a little bit! I guess I will need to plan some weekend day trips. This season is such an important part of the Riojano culture.
Full of food stalls, parades, and concerts, San Mateo is a great time for everyone. Kids are out of school for the entire week, even though the festival occurs less than 2 weeks after their classes begin. Riojanos from surrounding pueblos and many Spaniards from other Northern regions make their way to Logroño to take part.
Some downsides for living here during San Mateo is that restaurants raise prices for the week and errands are put on hold. Also, living in the center of the city I heard about five brass-bands playing past my window each day. That’s not the best cure for a headache! Nevertheless, I had been looking forward to being here for San Mateo the entire summer and as a whole it didn’t disappoint. So what are the best parts?
1. El Chupinazo
This is the starting point of every festival in Spain. Remember the chupinazo at San Fermin? Everyone gathers around the city hall for a ceremony and rocket shoot-off that officially begin the party. Your attendance usually requires pre-gaming from the early hours of the morning. If you’re in Logroño, make sure you have your bota! This year, after the ceremony a DJ came out and the party began, complete with fireworks and confetti. It was awesome and exhausting all in one.
This traditional drink is saved for special occasions, such as San Mateo. You can find this drink in almost any chamizo location and many restaurants have it homemade. I was actually pretty successful in making a batch this year from recommendations a Spanish student gave me. Made with fruits, cinnamon, and blush wine, the result tastes like a cross between sangria and mulled wine. Yes, and yes. I will try to post about my “recipe” soon.
3. Casas Regionales
Kind of contradictory to celebrating La Rioja, this group of stalls features “tradtional” food and drink from the surrounding regions of Spain. This year there were options for Catalonia, Asturias, Cantabria, Andalucia, Valencia, Navarra, and Extremadura.
For example, the Valencia area (marked by the region’s flag) offered agua de Valencia which is a mix of orange juice, vodka, and a bit more. It’s probably not the most authentic, but for someone who hasn’t been to all the regions in Spain, I thought it was great to try a bit at each one. We had a blast attempting to pour cider like the people of Asturias! Hint: we’re not very good.
4. Feeling like a Logroñesa
It was nice to feel at home this year during San Mateo. Contrary to other festivals we’ve been to in Spain, like Haro and Pamplona, if we were exhausted we could just walk back to our apartment. Not only did I have a place to stay, but I feel like I could identify more with the people around me who were proud to host San Mateo year after year.
I knew what was going on each night and where to find it. I had heard tips for where to go and what’s worth seeing from several veterans. I loved seeing the ruta de pintxo streets full of people day after day, enjoying pintxos and drinks like I could all year. I wore my pañuelo proudly and felt happy to call Logroño my home.
5. Concurso de fuegos artificiales
Each night, people file out toward the river to view the fireworks show. They even continued when it was raining! Every show was spectacular and lengthy, which blew away my expectations for a small city like Logroño. This year the contestants were from China, Paris, Valencia, and Barcelona. There’s just something captivating about fireworks, right?
I don’t know if I’ll be around for San Mateo in 2015, but I’m planning to experience more fiestas across Spain this year. Besides various wine harvest festivals around La Rioja this fall, I know I’ll be at San Fermines!
Have you had an unforgettable experience at a festival in Spain?