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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.
Inaugurated years ago as the world's first film festival dedicated to the fantastic genre, today it's become the region's biggest celebration of the moving image. The picturesque seaside town of Sitges, 30 minutes down the coast from Barcelona, hosts hundreds of films from around the globe, including animation, rom-com and gangster as well as its core themes of gore, horror and fantasy.
This year's event, the 51st, celebrates the anniversaries of various iconic movies, including John Carpenter's Halloween (1978), which is also tied into a retrospective on slasher films, and 2001: A Space Odyssey and The Night of the Living Dead, both released in 1968. Organisers are also using the 200th anniversary of the publication of Frankenstein to explore the role of women in many of the movies based on the seminal novel.
Running in parallel to the screenings are exhibitions, master classes and Q&A sessions, special events focused on television series, the chance to see films using virtual reality technology, plus a crowded Zombie Walk through the streets of Sitges.
The latest edition of Rec.0 Experimental Stores takes place in the old industrial district of Rec in Igualada, just 40 minutes from Barcelona. This fashion festival, which transforms one-time textile factories into pop-up fashion stores, sees leading labels and designers hold special sales of stocks at seriously low prices.
Festival Rec.018 Experimental Stores combines major international brands with some of the best in Catalan fashion. Over 80 labels take part including: Levi's, Adidas, Mango, Sita Murt, Pepe Jeans, Kickers, Lacoste, Ikks, Nice Things, Camper and Castañer, as well as Catalan designers and labels, like Miriam Ponsa, Josep Abril, Txell Miras, Who, Susi Sweet Dress, Carlota Oms and Dorotea. Children's clothing labels also participate, such as Tiny Cottons, yporqué, Bean's Barcelona, Boboli, Piu et Nau and many more. Rec.0 isn't just about fashion, though. At Rec Street Food, visitors can visit around 40 food trucks and pop-up bars, and there's also the chance to enjoy a range of concerts, recitals, dance, video screenings, performed on the festival's three stages.
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.
Jazz music, but also exhibitions, movies, family sessions, dance, competition and gastronomic routes. The Terrassa Jazz Festival has become a must for jazz lovers, and is now in its 37th edition. There will be almost thirty performances at different venues, including European jazz, the US scene and local talent. Performers include names like Nnenna Freelon, Terence Blanchard & The E-Collective and Uri Caine Ensemble.
Already declared the best theme park in Spain by TripAdvisor users, PortAventura World has now taken visitor experiences to a whole new level with the 2017 opening of Europe's first Ferrari Land. This adrenaline-filled place with thrills for all ages covers 60,000m2 and has numerous attractions, such as the Vertical Accelerator that offers a lifelike Formula 1 experience as you accelerate in your F1-style cars from 0 to 180km/h in just five seconds and climb to a height of 112m along a 1km-track!
What's more, this year sees the inauguration of a new kids's area in Ferrari Land with five attractions aimed at different age groups: Junior Red Force is a mini roller-coaster that gives children the chance to experience the speed of the vertical accelerator, while Kids' Tower is a ricochet and freefall tower of nine metres, Flying Race and pilot your own plane, Champions Race lets all the family feel like the drivers of a mythical Ferrari 250 Testa Rossa or get in the gondolas and get ready to spin with Crazy Pistons.
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.
Now in its 12th edition, this summer festival celebrates the exceptional partnership of jazz and wine. Taking place in the Catalan town of Vilafranca del Penedès, a short train ride from Barcelona, a variety of venues host tastings and concerts featuring some of the biggest names in jazz in the world. Musicians like Chick Corea, Maceo Parker and Chano Dominguez, among a long list of other stars, have elevated Vijazz to the list of Europe's best jazz festivals.
When it comes to the wine and cava, this is your chance to try some of the best reds, whites, rosés and cavas from the celebrated region of Penedès; around 40 different wine-makers take part, alongside local restaurants offering specially created tapas and numerous producers of Catalan gourmet specialities including ham, cheese and smoked fish. It's also a great opportunity to explore the town in between chilling out to the music and sampling the delicious food and drink.
In the Catalan towns of Bagà and Sant Julià de Cerdanyola, situated in the Natural Park of Cadí-Moixeró, December 24 doesn't mean the arrival of Father Christmas. Instead, to mark the longest night of the year, the two municipalities come together to celebrate the ancient festival of Fia-Faia. Declared by UNESCO as Intangible Cultural Heritage in 2015, this pre-Christian tradition starts with the lighting of a bonfire up in the mountains in a spot that's visible from below. Torches made from a plant thought to have cleansing properties are lit from the bonfire and carried down to the two towns, creating a beautiful river of flame. Later in the evening, all the torches are left to burn in the centre of each town, and a poetic line is recited: 'Fia-faia, que nostro Senyor ha nascut a la paia' – 'Fia-faia, our Lord has been born on straw'.
Experience one of Catalonia's longest-running cultural traditions, an annual event that in 2008 UNESCO declared to be part of its list of Intangible Cultural Heritage: the Patum of the north Catalan town of Berga. The festivities, which date back to medieval times, take place during the week of Corpus Christi and originated as part of the Catholic Church's efforts to educate congregations about the holy scriptures; in the face of general illiteracy, theatrical representations of the fight between good and evil were employed, and over time, these became more elaborate and the focus of the celebrations.
A patum is defined as a figure that represents a fantastical creature and appears in processions and traditional festivities, although it's also the sound ('pa-tum') made by the drums that play a key role in the numerous parades involved. Today's Patum is an amazing sight, with celebrations featuring fireworks, live music, acrobatics, characters including eagles, dwarves and giants, angels and demons, and locals dressed in period costume.
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