It wouldn’t be the Matarranya without a fiesta, and every month has its own ancient rhythm. While each celebrates something entirely unique, all involve the entire community, young and old, thronging the town, from river to ramparts, joining together in processions, arcane traditions, singing, dancing, eating, drinking and, of course, a sprinkling of misrule.
The year starts off with the Three Kings on 6th, who come to all the medieval village squares to give Christmas presents to the children. Then, on the 17th, it’s the most ancient fiesta of Sant Antonio, patron saint of animals which kicks off with a vast bonfire, hot drinks, traditional cakes and a smattering of diableras (devil figures). Everyone parties until breakfast, cooked on the embers of last night’s fire until daylight brings a parade to mass in traditional dress, before animals are blessed by the priest.
Santa Agueda, patron saint of women, makes her appearance with the almond blossom that transforms the countryside. Local women in traditional dress, with exquisite embroidered shawls, step out in procession to attend a special mass. Bread is blessed and shared before the women eat together. In some towns, they even take over the running of the council for the day.
Easter is marked by huge celebrations in the region, including candlelit processions to trumpets and primal drumbeats. On Palm Sunday, the Cretas Wine Fair & Medieval Market showcases crafts and the best wineries of the Matarranya and neighbouring regions, Terra Alta and Bajo de Aragon. For a few euros, visitors can taste their way through the viti cultural landscape.
Calaceite Olive Oil feria (14-15 April, 2018) gives visitors the opportunity to taste and compare the region’s many Denominación de Origen oils, made primarily from the local richly peppery empeltre, and smoother, fruity arbequina varieties. Rafales’ Museum of Olive Oil houses a perfectly preserved 18th century press and machinery used through the ages to the present day.
Saturday 13th – Organic extra virgin olive oil tasting
Saturday 20th – The world night in defense of Starlight
The first Saturday in May, the pilgrimage to Saint Peter Martyr of Verona from Fuentespalda brings townspeople together to bless the land. Gathering for a mass in the hermitage, the crowd is served cakes and sweet wine, before the blessing. Bursting with poppies and wild flowers, the surrounding landscape acts as backdrop to a communal feast with music and games.
Saturday 11th – Moon workshop
Saturday 25th – Stargazing session
Midsummer gets the Valderrobres treatment with the Fiesta of San Juan. Bonfires said to drive away evil spirits welcome all to feast on the traditional Coca de St Joan cake. Those wishing to prosper in the year ahead traditionally eat local snails, while anyone desiring to preserve both youth and beauty bathe their faces in the river before midnight.
July is holiday month and even fiestas take a break to allow everyone to cool off with wild swimming in crystal clear waters, ranging from the warm and shallow to the chilly and invigorating depths. Inextricably woven into rural summer life, along the course of every river there are beautiful natural pools, small waterfalls and rugged banks yielding beautiful spots to picnic.
Summer fiestas throughout August are too numerous to mention, but rare is the village that doesn’t mark the coming together of friends and family as well as the endless sun-soaked days of the height of summer. Exhibitions, parades, feasts, traditional music and dancing draw villagers of every age together, to welcome one and all to the fiesta.
Harvest is a festival all over the world, and here we gather blackberries, figs, quinces and acres of almonds. Regional cash cow, almonds, are often still picked by generations of the same family onto nets spread under the trees. The quality almonds from our region are ground to make utterly delicious ‘turrón’ (Spanish marzipan), used in local desserts or fried then salted for delicious snacks at home and in the local bars.
With the autumn rains comes a foraging madness, taking everybody outdoors to pick and cook some of the world’s finest wild mushrooms, born from the unique geography of the Matarranya. Many hotels and restaurants offer tasting menus and cookery workshops, while the Wild Mushroom Fair of Beceite (last weekend of the month) unites all-comers in their love of ’setas’. It’s also the time of the first olive harvest – the source of our liquid gold.
Local artisans and their timeless traditional crafts, painstakingly handmade, are celebrated at Ráfales Fair of Natural Resources & the Environment, along with a photographic exhibition featuring the local wildlife and, of course, a feast of traditional food and drink. On quieter days, the breathtaking colours of the beech trees studding spectacular walks through the nearby Els Ports Nature Reserve, beckon.
With the end of the year comes the main olive harvest – the Matarranya’s most important empeltre crop makes fine denomination of origin Aceite de Oliva del Bajo Aragón. Christmas brings magical illuminations to the medieval villages of Valderrobres and Cretas while Santa and his elves parade into the main squares on 24th, showering children with sweets from the back of a tractor.