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The European Balloon Festival in Igualada is the biggest gathering of hot air balloons in Spain (this year is the 22nd edition) and welcomes around 25,000 visitors over four days at the start of July. It's a meeting point, a competition and a festival in one, with more than 50 balloons taking to the air. Competitive flights take place early in the morning and at dusk, when conditions are ideal, and if you want a taste of the high life, balloon rides can be booked in advance.
But there's plenty to enjoy from ground level, whether it's the different skill challenges in the competition, live music, kids' activities and workshops, or the magical Night Glow event, in which balloons are fired up but don't take off, glowing like lanterns and accompanied by a fireworks display.
Barcelona is no stranger to welcoming international sporting contests to the city; among the numerous events it's hosted in recent times are the 1992 Summer Olympic Games and Paralympic Games, the 2010 European Athletics Championships, and the 2013 World Aquatics Championships. And this July, it will be the venue for another such fixture, as water polo stars arrive to compete in the European Championship.
Fittingly, the sport has a long history in Catalonia, and since the 1980s, local teams and players have triumphed at both European and global levels; one such player, Manel Estiarte, took part in six Olympic Games and is now recognised as the world's greatest water polo goal scorer.At this year's competition in Barcelona, 16 male and 12 female teams are taking part, including current champions Hungary (women) and Serbia (men), while the Spanish sides will doubtless be hoping for the advantages provided by a home crowd.
Those loud engines are getting ready to rev once more at the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya. Over three days in May, Barcelona hosts the fifth event, and the first in Europe, of this year's F1 Championship Season, the Spanish Grand Prix. This is undoubtedly one of the biggest dates on Barcelona's sporting calendar, and an amazing opportunity to see the celebrated drivers and teams taking part in one of the most thrilling sports in the world. This circuit is regularly used as a test venue meaning that many of those participating are very familiar with its straights and curves, and feel right at home on its 4.66km. Current World Champion Lewis Hamilton won on this course last year, only his second victory on the Barcelona circuit, and will be looking to join the likes of Alain Prost and Jackie Stewart with a third chequered flag.
For the fourth year running, the Circuit Barcelona Catalunya welcomes many top international rally drivers to the FIA World RX of Catalunya, which is also the inaugural event of the 2018 Rallycross World Championship. Among those taking part are such star names as Sébastien Loeb, Petter Solberg and Matthias Ekström as well as the current title-holder, Swedish driver Johan Kristoffersson – don't miss your chance to see them and numerous other experts behind the wheel compete in these spectacular compact vehicles that are fitted with 600-HP engines.
The FIA World RX of Catalunya is also part of the Horse Power Festival, which means that as well as being able to watch a series of exciting races, spectactors can make the most of a wide range of activities related to motor sports and cars for all ages during the whole weekend.
While some of us are quite content to enjoy traditional sports such as football, tennis and cycling, there's a growing number of aficionados for extreme sports, so-called for their high levels of risk whether that be from the sheer speed or height involved or due to the complexity of the equipment involved.
Unsurprisingly, Barcelona, a place known for its love of the cutting-edge and challenging, is the host of the International Action Sports and Urban Lifestyle Festival. It's two days full of stunned gasps, holding your breath, and relieved, thunderous applause. That's if you're in the audience, of course. For the experts whirling on their BMX bikes, twisting and turning on their skateboards and inline skates, and leaping on their scooters, it's a very different story. This outdoor festival has something for everybody, not only the competitions but also food trucks, a market, kids' events and more.
Created back in 1953 by the then Count Godó, Carlos Godó Valls, this tennis contest has become a popular event on the ATP World 500 (the third highest series of competitions for professional male players; other tournaments in this part of the World Tour include the Queen's Club Championships, the China Open and the Dubai Tennis Championships) and is as much a social event for fans of the sport as a key clay fixture. Taking place in the warmth of the Barcelona spring in one of Spain's leading clubs, the Reial Club de Tenis Barcelona 1899, which has 18 clay courts including a stadium one with capacity for almost 8,500 spectators, this is an excellent chance to discover another side to the city's sporty character.
This year’s event sees ATP Top Ten players such as Grigor Dimitrov, Dominic Thiem, David Goffin and local favourite Rafa Nadal take part.
For the second year, Barcelona hosts an event in the Extreme Sailing Series, a season of sailing events specially designed for the enjoyment of spectators. In 2018, the Extreme Sailing Series takes in eight countries on three continents, and the races attracts some of the best sailors in the world who compete in hydro-foiling GC32 catamarans along short, quick courses that last 10 to 15 minutes each.
Barcelona is its third stop this year and for four days, the city will be full of free activities all based around the world sailing and which are open to all. To watch the impressive spectacle of the participating catamarans, head to the free-to-enter Race Village located beside the Hotel W in Plaça Rosa del Vents, or from Sant Sebastià Beach. Or, if you prefer, opt for a VIP experience that lets you race on board one of the high-speed boats as a Guest Sailor; dry land VIP options are also available!
FC Barcelona gets a new season of football underway with its traditional friendly that is named after the club's founder. The Joan Gamper Trophy is played towards the middle of August, once players return from their summer break, and it provides fans a great opportunity to see some of Barça's new signings in action before the serious business of leagues and competitions begins. It's also a fantastic chance to visit the majestic Camp Nou stadium, Europe's largest and a must-see for any real soccer aficionado; indeed it's one of the most-visited places in Catalonia.
To contest the trophy (until 1996, it was actually a four-team competition with two semi-finals and a final played, but a rise in other pre-season events meant that it was scaled back), the club invites an international challenger.
Of all the memorable Catalan traditions, which include 'fire runs' and dancing 'giants', it's arguably the human towers that have the most impact on those watching them. To enjoy a true festival of these castells, head to Vilafranca de Penedès for its annual festa major at the end of August, which commemorates the town's patron Sant Fèlix.
This year, four of Catalonia's leading casteller groups take part, including the local Castellers de Vilafranca, the Colla Vella dels Xiquets and the Colla Joves Xiquets, both from the nearby town of Valls (another keen casteller place), and the Minyons of Terrassa. Each human tower is an exemplary example of team work, from the crowd forming the supporting pinya at the bottom via the columns formed as each level rises and culminating with the youngest members of the crew scampering right to the very top to crown the construction, which is officially completed once the smallest of all (l'enxaneta) raises his or her hand. Cue thunderous applause.
The profile of this three-pronged sporting event is definitely on the up; it's now part of both the Olympics and the Paralympics, and athletes such as the British Brownlee brothers have raised audience interest in the swimming, cycling and running challenge. It's also becoming popular among amateurs looking for a more varied exercise endeavour than that offered by just sticking to one sport. Unsurprisingly, then, the Barcelona Triathlon attracts thousands of competitors each year to its beachfront setting.
With three distances available, participants can choose between supersprint, sprint and Olympic and take part either as individuals, in pairs (where the two complete the course together) or as a relay team (with two or three members sharing the effort). As well as the sporting action, the day before the competition the Triexpo show is held, a place to find the latest in triathlon trends and accessories, making it ideal for stocking up on new kit and meeting some of the other people taking part.
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