Haro-ing Experiences

[Okay, punny titles aside, Kitty and I had great experiences in Haro, Spain – so here goes!]

June 26th (Tuesday)

Packing our things, Kitty and I prepared to leave the wonderful San Sebastián apartment that we had been staying in.  The woman who had been our host for the week was so very sweet, and we had thoroughly enjoyed what short conversations we had with her.  Through Google translate, which Kitty had introduced to her, she espoused her regret of not knowing much English and being unable to chat more with us.  With what broken Spanish I had picked up, I expressed the same for not knowing more of the local language!  She wished us luck on our journey, and then we were back on the road.

Haro is a small town to the southwest of San Sebastián, only about an hour and a half away, and that’s where we were headed.  To our knowledge, there were no hostels or Airbnbs to avail of, so we had prepped to camp at the local camping grounds.  We had also loaded up on cheap red wine — like, seriously cheap: eight litre boxes, less than a euro each!  Why?

For the annual Haro wine battle, of course!

Poster showing information about the where and when buses were available, as well as the clothing to wear
Poster with information about the annual battle

The town is situated in the La Rioja region, an area extremely well known for its wines and vineyards, and there are about 17 wineries in the town alone, with many more just beyond.  The last week in June is their summer holiday, and every year the town is flooded with tourists and locals alike for one massive party, as the week is filled with various festivities and celebrations.  This is all concluded at the end of the week with a pilgrimage to the San Felices mountain to pray for luck and to douse each other in wine!  But we’re getting slightly ahead of ourselves here …

Photo of a grape monument in Haro, Spain
Monument dedicated to the grapes so vital to the region.

We arrived at the campgrounds shortly after noon, got settled, and pitched our tent for the first time in our travels.  Once we were set up, there were a few things we needed from the supermarket and although it was on the other side of town, we thought a half hour walk wouldn’t be too bad and would give us a chance to familiarise ourselves with it.  We had barely gotten started when we realised it was roasting, and we were walking during the hottest part of the day.  Too late to turn around in the 36°C heat, we pressed on and made it, sweaty and dehydrated, to the supermarket.

Photo of the camp site, showing the small tent that has been set up
The tent all set up! It would be our refuge for the next few days.

Thankfully the campground had a pool, so we went for a swim after our return to cool off.  As we got started on dinner, we got to chatting with our neighbours at the next site over, who were a retired couple from the UK.  They had been travelling in Spain for the previous couple weeks and were on their way home in the next few days, so we broke out the cards and wine and enjoyed the rest of the evening in good company.

June 28th (Thursday)

Wednesday was uneventful — neither Kitty or I were in much of a mood to do anything, so we opted to switch between sitting in the camp reading and taking advantage of the campground pool.  This morning however, we had a wine tour scheduled at the Muga Bodega!  We went through the winery and learned so much about the region in general as well as the specific practices of Muga.  Because it has a long-lasting family legacy, there are certain peculiarities that the winery adheres to in regards to how the grapes are collected, fermented, and turned into wine.  Not only are the grapes collected by hand, but the barrels used to store the resulting wine are all hand-crafted onsite at the winery in their own cooperage.

Using oak specifically from France (sometimes from Fontainebleau!), they burn the inside of the barrels to certain amounts based on the style of wine that will be stored in it.  They also use oak for the fermentation vats, adhering to a tradition that most other wineries have abandoned in favour of stainless steel.  As the oak needs replaced over time, this tradition is significantly more costly, but the owners — members of the original Muga family — insist that the cost is worth the added nuances in the flavour of the resulting wines.  After touring the facilities, we were shown to the tasting room where we sampled the Muga white wine as well as their reserve red.  We even got to keep the glass!

Photo of a Lego figurine amongst bottles of the varying wines from the winery
Carlton was excited to try the wines

After trying another couple wines at the bar as we chatted with another couple on the tour, we headed up the road for another free tasting (courtesy of the campground we were staying at) at the Gómez Cruzado winery.  No tour this time, but with the information from the last winery so fresh in our minds, Kitty and I felt like we could appreciate the nuances of the wine nonetheless.

We popped back to the campsite for a snooze, and then headed into town for lunch.  Our intention was to find a bar or somewhere to camp out until the festivities kicked off, but our full bellies and the hot sun soon became too much.  We decided instead to return to our tent for another siesta after taking a short walk around the town centre.

Mural depicting the wine battle, with people in white throwing wine at each other
A recent mural celebrating the annual wine battle – a taste of what was to come!

By the time we returned a couple hours later, the festivities were in full swing — the town centre had a stage set up with a live band, and the streets were filling with people.  Some like Kitty and myself had opted for regular clothing, whilst others were already in the battle garb of white with a small red scarf.  From what we understood, the plan for most was to spend the night partying in town, then go directly to the battle on the mountain without sleep (and sometimes still drunk)!

Photo of a street in Haro filled with people dressed in white with red scarves, revelling the night before
Some of the crowd, already prepped for the mountain ascent the next morning!

Exploring the bars around the town, Kitty and I partook of the drink and some food, and were soon taken under the wing of a friendly group of locals.  A few of them spoke English, and we were shown around and taken to where the lively spots were.  Lots of singing, dancing, and fun, as the little town was filled with revellers and buzzing with energy!  It was about 2:30 in the morning when Kitty and I returned to our camp, deciding that some sleep was probably a good idea.

June 29th (Friday)

The big day!  After a few precious hours of sleep, we got dressed and ready — a couple white shirts that we were willing to sacrifice, me in my swimsuit and Kitty with a pair of white leggings — and made our way to the bus with our ammunition, the wine that we purchased ahead of time.  We got to the foot of the mountain about 8:00, and the further up we went the crazier things got!  From water guns filled with wine, to containers or wineskins, right through to literal buckets of wine being used to douse people.  Apparently the idea is to go to the very top and pay homage to the patron saint of the region, San Felices, and then “bless” your neighbours by soaking them to the bone!

I don’t have many photos of the madness, as I was understandably concerned for the health and safety of my phone, but Kitty took her GoPro up with us — you can see the footage over on this post, or directly on her YouTube channel (partying starts at 9:39, or you can skip to the day of the battle at 11:21).

Photo of the central street of Haro, filled with people. A mix of observers and locals soaked in wine.
The locals parade through the central square after descending from the mountain

Once we ran out of ammunition (we went through all eight of our boxes of wine within a couple hours), we headed back to camp to shower and get cleaned up.  Ravenously hungry by this point, we made our way into the centre of town to grab a burger.  Food rarely tastes as good as when you are physically tired and your stomach is rumbling!  It was good timing, as we sat down with our meal just as the celebratory parade began through the central plaza.  Things quieted down after this, as many made their way back home or simply went to get cleaned up.  Kitty and I slept and relaxed most of the afternoon back at our tent, but we could hear the partying start back up in the evening and continue once more through most of the night.

As the song goes: La gente esta muy loca (“the people are crazy”)! [nsfw language]

That’s where I’ll leave off for now — as always, if you want to keep up with more of our travel updates, hit that subscribe button in the sidebar, or follow me on Twitter!  See you next time!

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