When planning a Spanish vacation, most people immediately think of the popular cities, like Barcelona and Madrid, but there are many more weird and wonderful destinations in this fascinating country, offering far out experiences like Vikings and witches.
Catoira is one such destination. Located in Galicia up in the north of Spain, Catoira is around 23 miles away from Santiago de Compostela. The city is situated right at the opening of the Ulla River where it joins the Arousa Estuary. The town is well known for the iconic ruin of the “Torres del Oeste” (Towers of the West) which looms over the water, keeping guard of the town.
Building back in the ninth century, the towers were part of a defensive system against the Saracen pirates and Norman armies, as well as some pretty bloodthirsty Vikings. This is where the story begins and what makes the small town so fascinating.
Dubbed a “Festival of Interest,” in August every year since 1960, the town holds a festival where the Vikings attack the town all over again. Many people from all over Europe participate, and the whole thing starts when a bunch of fearsome and terrifying Vikings, dressed to suit and yielding plastic swords, sail up to the shores of the town.
Once on the shore the fun really begins, and while it seems there is a lot of blood flying, rumor has it that the red substance is actually a delicious red wine. This is not all, as the town then provides enjoyable folk music entertainment together with traditional dancing and visitors can browse a medieval market, held in the towers. As can be seen from the video below, everyone has a whole lot of fun:
Having met the Vikings, the next in a line of weird and wonderful destinations, perfect for a different Spanish vacation, is a little more eerie, as it involves witches.
Not too far away is a small town in the Basque country, called Zugarramurdi. Situated in the region of Navarra, the town has an interesting past. Zugarramurdi is said to have been a place of witchcraft and other pagan rituals, and that past is still being kept alive today. Close to the Baztan Valley and the border between Spain and France, prior to the 18th century, caves situated next to the village were reportedly used for pagan festivities. In fact, according to the locals the caves were carved out by the Olabidea stream which they say originates in hell.
There are no cave paintings and none of the normal structures, like stalactites or stalagmites, in the caves, but people entering do experience a very eerie and intense atmosphere.
No one knows for sure if the legends are true, but in the past, witch hunters from the Spanish Inquisition were said to have visited the area. Apparently they found around 7,000 likely suspects and put quite a few of them to death for crimes such as shape-shifting, Satan worship and casting spells.
It was decided to keep this legend alive by holding a raucous feast in the caves every year on the summer solstice. Dubbed “El Día de la Bruja” (The Day of the Witch), the festival includes the roasting of several lambs on spits and many fires are lit around the caves.
Fortunately no one is burnt at the stake these days and everyone has a great time, donning great vintage costumes and playing medieval games.
That night, the main event is held in the caves with a ceremony depicting the town’s horrifying past. The caves are also used on a regular basis for live music concerts, due to their great acoustics.
It is interesting to note that Zugarramurdi was the site used for the 2013 comedy horror film, “Witching and Bitching,” which was originally dubbed “Las Brujas de Zugarramurdi” (The Witches of Zugarramurdi).
In the town itself, there is a fascinating Witches Museum to visit with many interesting relics from the small town’s checkered and rather eerie past and the surrounding area offers beautiful scenery, perfect for a Spanish vacation.
The video below, while narrated in the Spanish language, does give an excellent view on the town and its scenic surroundings. Zugarramurdi is, indeed, one of the weird and wonderful destinations that can make a Spanish vacation an exciting adventure, with witches or Vikings in attendance.
By Anne Sewell