Summer, as always, has been dragging its feet, but it's finally here! Solstice. It's one of those words that evoke mysticism, rituals ... and fun! During this phenomenon — no less cultural than astronomical — the Mare Nostrum fills with recreational opportunities close to the coast. It is the shortest night of the year ... not a moment to lose!
It's a long tradition: the representation of the different social categories in medieval Ciutadella, the second largest city in Menorca and western lighthouse of an island waiting to be discovered. The Caixer Senyor represents the nobility, the Caixer Capellà represents the clergy, the Caixers Pagesos play the role of peasants and Caixers Menestrals serve as craftsmen. They say the tradition started no less than in the fourteenth century, and the same costumes appear year after year in the old town and beach of Ciutadella. The highlight, of course, is the night of 23 June, but the festival actually lasts almost a week. Are you going to miss out?
But the real Kodak moment (careful with the kids!) is the Caragol des Born. Horses circle around the Plaça des Born stomping out the beat of orchestral music. The night of June 23 gives way to the Caragol de Santa Clara. These same riders on horseback parade through the streets of Ciutadella and enter people's homes. Let the craziness begin. Groups of people try to lift the horses (riders included) as if they were motorcycles doing wheelies. The next day the Jocs des Pla take center stage! They're a kind of Olympic Games with medieval flavor. Visitors are well-advised to plan ahead. Each Joc des Pla has its assigned venue, and it's usually packed one hour before the event begins. And don't pretend to be a hero! As everyone here will remind you, at the slightest hint of disrespect, the protagonists here are the horses and the riders. It would be a shame for such a traditional rite to not have its own magic potion. Why not indulge in Xoriguer gin (a local product...you'll want to grab a couple of these stylish bottles as souvenirs) with iced lemon.
The island's Moorish heritage is also seen in horse trotting racing, featuring a chariot pulled by a single old horse. They are part of the weekend entertainment at Ciutadella and Mahón racecourses. If you show up in the Menorcan sandals (abarcas) and on the way home buy a "bamba" ensaimada (the local variety) you'll fit right in!
It's not just parties
Our warriors can rest up at urbanite hotel Tres Sants, a fairytale castle where where each room is unique, is recommended. A more rural option is the small Sant Ignasi hotel, a late eighteenth century Balearic manor house which boasts more oaks outside that rooms inside. These are perfect locations from which to visit Macarella and Macarelleta. Coming to Menorca and not spending a day in its coves can be grounds for deportation to the Iberian Peninsula. Finding the first one is complicated due to the difficult access and limited space. But once you've found your spot, strolling or even swimming to Macarelleta is one of those pleasures that have made this island its mythical dimension. And the color of its water will be forever ingrained in your mind. To regain our strength, here are several dining tips. Carquinyols are small and very sweet, crunchy biscuits. Formatjades are meat and ricotta dumplings. And figat jam is so thick you can cut it with a knife — best accompanied with Mahón cheese. For seafood and fish of all kinds, the charming Plaza de la Libertad market is the place to go. It is best to visit with time to talk to the fishmongers who will share exquisite recipes. Nearby, the Smoix restaurant serves Mediterranean cuisine as seen through the eyes of chef Miquel Sánchez. Its "Pinchos made in Spain" events should be regarded as tourism events of planetary interest. For no particular reason, let me just point out that black sausage here is called cuixot and is flavored with aniseed. Try it. The restaurant is located right between the St. Nicholas castle (ideal for escaping the Sant Joan bustle) and an ideal vantage point for witnessing the rissaga, a meteotsunami which makes the sea oscillate until it spills over, causing the level to rise very quickly. The show put on by Mother Nature is sometimes dangerous, but always rare.
Barcelona does not celebrate the feast of Sant Joan. It celebrates the feasts of Sant Joan. Here each neighborhood has its own festival, known as revetlles, and their own bonfires lit by the Canigou flame. The soundtrack is courtesy of the firecrackers, kings of the night, especially in La Barceloneta. Great atmosphere! But let's get back to the beginning of the night of witches, also nicknamed the "night of fire" — the flame from the Canigou mountain. The coven began over 50 years ago and involves lighting a flame in the Pyrenean mountain of Canigou and carrying it all the way down to the bonfires that will burn on June 23 after being welcomed at the Plaça del Ajuntament. Legend has it that any fire burning this night should come from these illustrious origins. There are not many other traditions, other than the attractive tradition of dancing and chatting the night away. If you can resist the attraction, you deserve a place in the Guinness Book of Records.
Party till you drop
There are many street parties spotting every beach, but the largest concentration of concerts, DJs and fun occurs in La Barceloneta (if you're not too keen on crowds, better stay home...). From early in the evening, people start gathering on the beach with picnic baskets and a glass of cava or beer in hand, depending on the budget. And since La Barceloneta is the place to be in Sant Joan, the neighboring Arts Hotel is by far the best accommodation choice. It offers a real hat trick — mountain, sea and city views! And we'll all be happier than ever to see the sun rise again. What to eat? Don't ask Trip Advisor. Go to the La Gavina pastry shop and ask for their Sant Joan Coca. They offer several varieties — with cream, pine nuts, candied fruit, candied spaghetti squash — but always fresh and seasonal, as its name suggests. And to find your way around, there's nothing better than the Sant Joan App updated yearly by the municipality of Barcelona. It's free and super practical to figure out where you are, where you need to go and what you simply can't miss. For example, don't overlook the second floor of the Maremagnum shopping center. It features trendy yet affordable restaurant options. By the way, June 24th here simply doesn't exist. It's a holiday in Barcelona and the city sleeps .
In Valencia, San Juan is a night to be with friends, sitting around the fire to predict the future and forget the past. Just like an American summer camp — but without the marshmallows. The list of most desirable beaches are headed by Las Arenas, la Patacona and la Malvarrosa. Public transport is reinforced all afternoon. The closer it gets to midnight, the harder it is to find spot for your towel...think Benidorm in August. You've got to be as close as possible to saltwater if you plan to jump over the bonfire 9 times and then jump backwards over 7 waves, as tradition demands. The ritual here begins the night before. Take note: light a white candle, put an ivy branch and a white paper with a wish under your pillow, and try not to fall asleep until the candle burns out. You'll have plenty of time to reflect on what you've asked for. The next day, you'll burn the paper at the beach and bury the ivy and leftover wax under the sand. With such activity and exertion, it's best to have eaten well at Gastro Tasca L'Entrepa, for example. Because it's always worth spending a while at El Cabanyal. If you are more into dancing that jumping over bonfires, here are two radically different proposals. Xufa Rock is an alternative musical festival at the Patacona d'Alboraia beach. And Las Ánimas del Puerto is one of those summer terraces competing to rank at the top of the place to be list. It's located in the mythical Docks building in the revamped Marina Real Juan Carlos I. Dance the night away — different styles available — enjoying panoramic views of the sunrise over Valencia.
Coast of sun and fire
Any guide of Málaga will tell you to jump the Malagueta bonfire, where there is a great atmosphere, or at La Misericordia, a great concert hangout. But a local will tell you, if pressed, that it's best to pick a spot at Los Baños del Carmen. The old rundown resort still has that intimate, almost vintage vibe that blends so well with San Juan. If you get there late and there's no room, head to the Pablo Ruiz Picasso boardwalk towards the east. There's no lack of atmosphere at Pedregalejo. Its cool terraces are the perfect choice if you're averse to sandy feet. Once there, head to Fossil for stone-grilled meats, Miguelito el Cariñoso or El Caleño for lovely skewers and top things off with some mojitos at La Tortuga. The Costa del Sol also has its share of ritual, mind you. Jot down a wish and burn it together with old belongings to keep the fire going ... the resulting barbecue smell is quite distinctive. And you've got yourself the perfect moraga! The juas (rag dolls, recently banned on the beach) are burned at exactly midnight, just before the three wishes you're supposed to make. And then take first swim of the season! By tradition, bathing before San Juan is a big no-no ... And it's a bit of a drive, but it's worth witnessing Estepona's burning of the whiskers on the shortest night is an option. Such an original name just has to be worth it.
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