• Noni


Imagine walking through the streets of an ancient European city where a gothic gargoyle peers down on you from one corner, and an enormous art deco market hall fills the other. Imagine tropical palms swaying in the breeze, the scent of jasmine washing over you as you pass under the jasmine trees lining the streets, and graphic art murals blushing along random walls and buildings.

Imagine orange orchards drooping under the weight of their bright fruit in the middle of a quaint square, and a 15th century silk market warehouse sitting peacefully beside a couple of archetypal castle turrets.

Sounds like a beautiful symphony of colour and smells and sounds, right? And it is.

But now, imagine that every street is popping or banging or crackling with explosives. All day. All night. Imagine buying a bocadillo or a cone of hot churros from one of the (millions) of pop-up vans and sitting on the cathedral steps while the nearby five year-olds excitedly open their pale wooden box with the red rope handles to carefully select a firework from the pile.

They’ll light them one after another on the road, or beside the cafe where mum and dad are enjoying their vino. The under-fives have special, smaller crackers that look like candies. No lighting required, they’ll just throw a fistfull to the ground and watch them spark lightning. At 2pm the ‘official’ fireworks will kick off in the main square in front of town hall. Great rockets of thunder that shake the ground, trailing plumes of red and yellow smoke and confetti. The ‘unofficial’ ones can be just as loud, though. Ricocheting around the streets when you least expect it and filling the air with the smell of smoke and fire.

You’ll also smell a hundred pans of paella, because the locals come from far and wide with their bags of rice and veggies and seafood to cook up a feast on the streets. Literally on the street. The road, to be exact. There’s no better place to build a fire under your paella pan, apparently, than curb-side on the tarmac.

But wait, there’s more.

Imagine turning almost every corner to stumble upon the most spectacular sculptures of papier-mache you’ve ever seen in your life.

Some are over 30m high. They loom as high as the buildings around them. They are a cluster of characters that make your heart sing. Make you feel like a kid again as you stand in awe of the stories they tell through their colours, their shapes, their beauty.

And then, imagine one night where ALL these magnificent and monumental works of art GET SET ON FIRE. That’s right. ON FIRE.

With crowds of hundreds of people cheering and celebrating and making music, an explosion marks the end of the sculptures’ lives.

They go up in a blaze of glory. They burn under the night sky until all that is left is a smouldering mound of ash and the occasional severed head in a nearby alley.

Welcome to Las Fallas, Valencia.