The night of June 23 marks the summer solstice, the shortest night of the year, which is also Saint John’s Eve. Although the official public holiday falls on the 24th, Saint John's Day (el Día de Sant Joan), the real celebrations take place on Saint John's Eve, what Catalans call 'la revetlla' – the evening before an important festival, where the concept of 'evening' is stretched until the early hours of the following morning. The origins of the celebration are unclear, and apart from the name, it has few religious elements. The basic ingredients are firecrackers, bonfires, music, dancing, 'coca de Sant Joan' – a sweet pastry covered in candied fruits and pine nuts (among other variations) – and plenty of cava.
The Ajuntament de Barcelona website helpfully lists all the firework shops that open in the weeks leading up to the festival, as well as the official bonfires and street parties that are organised all over the city. It’s a night when families, friends and whole neighbourhoods meet up and stay out late, and the best place to be is somewhere outside, whether on a roof terrace, by the beach, in a square or up in the hills.
Now we've covered the basics, it's time to sketch a plan for some midsummer madness. Start the night with a glass of cava and an aperitif: you'll need plenty of energy if you're going to survive until morning. You'll also need strong nerves: unsupervised kids with bags of noisy firecrackers are part and parcel of the tradition.
Other than heading down to the city's beaches with your own personal provisions to enjoy music and bonfires (and brave the crowds), one of the best ways to experience the festival is to join one of the street parties around town – there are over 50 in total. Some offer tickets that include a sit-down supper, drinks, coca and concerts, while others simply provide tables and chairs so that revellers can bring their own party out onto the street.
The common denominator in all the different ways of celebrating Sant Joan is the inclusive nature of the festivities: it's a festival for everyone to enjoy in the open air, on one of the first nights of summer.
Last year Neil Young joined forces with Promise of the Real, a band featuring Willie Nelson's son Lukas, in order to release his 36th studio album, 'The Monsanto Years' (2015), which sends an open criticism to the business of transgenic agriculture and agribusiness. Young presents the songs from this algum in a concert along with Promise of the Real at Poble Espanyol, but the tour set list also includes tunes such as 'Old Man', 'Out on the Weekend', 'Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere', 'After the Gold Rush' and 'Harvest Moon', as well as a Buffalo Springfield cover or two.
One official Sant Joan tradition, which has been around since 1955 and has grown in popularity in recent years, is the Canigó Flame. On June 22 a huge beacon is lit on the summit of the dramatically situation mountain of Canigó, one of the most easterly Pyrenean peaks, full of significance for Catalan speakers. Torches kindled in the fire are carried down in relay to light bonfires in towns and cities all over Catalonia, symbolising the vitality of Catalan culture. Read more for the route the flame carriers will follow and what other treats are in store.
In addition to the party in Plaça de Sant Jaume, the Raval also gets its party on in full force the night of the Sant Joan celebrations. The Canigó Flame will light the bonfire set up in Plaça Folch i Torres, where there will also be 'havaneras' (traditional Cuban songs sung when Catalans who went to make their fortune in Cuba returned) and the accompanying drink, 'rom cremat' (literally, 'burnt rum', which is made of rum, coffee, sugar, lemon and spices, especially cinnamon) (7pm), a casual dinner in the street (9pm), and a party with a mobile disco featuring DJ Medi and DJ Joan Anit, starting at 10pm.
In the Eixample their putting on close to a dozen parties in the barrio's streets and squares. One to look out for is in C/Viladomat (between Floridablanca and Tamarit) and starts at 9pm with the lighting of the bonfire with the Canigó Flame, a casual dinner in the street, rumba music and dancing and a mobile disco. Non-stop party, people!
They're doing it up right in the neighbourhood of Sants-Montjuïc as well. You've got a load of parties to choose from, like the bonfire in Poble Espanyol; the fiesta in the Casinet d'Hostafrancs starting at 8pm with a bonfire, 'Diablos', a neighbourhood dinner, and dancing with the Aquarium orchestra; or check out the celebration awaiting you in Plaça del Sortidor, from 7pm to 3am.
If you're in Sarrià-Sant Gervasi, the Canigó Flame will be carried from Plaça de Artós at 9pm and head up C/Gran de Sarrià to Reina Elisenda and arrive around 9.30pm at La Llosa in Via Augusta (between C/Graus and C/Dolors Monserdà), where there will be a receiving ceremony and the lighting of the bonfire to mark the start of the celebrations in the uptown district.
Of course Gràcia's getting into the party spirit, seeing as it's the host of one of Barcelona's biggest summer festivals itself (the annual Festa Major de Gràcia, held every mid-August). There you'll find a dozen parties filling up the streets on the night of June 23, in the main streets and squares, such as C/Llibertat, C/Verdi, C/Fraternitat, Plaça del Sol and Plaça de la Virreina.
The Canigó Flame also makes its way up to Horta-Guinardó, although in many of the area's streets, the celebration starts at midday with music and vermouth. At night you'll find festival central in Plaça Eivissa with a pub crawl, in the Rieres d'Horta park and in C/Lisboa, among other party sites.
Sant Joan in Nou Barris gets a feminine touch. In the Prosperitat area's civic centre and in Plaça Ángel Pestaña they're celebrating the festival of La Joana. At midnight, DJs Paquita Palau and Ti-Tània will get you moving with rock, swing, boogaloo, rumba, ska and salsa music. If you don't have a good time, it's because you don't want to!
In Sant Andreu the party gets underway early in Plaça del Congrés. At 5pm there will be a talk on festival safety, so you can have a risk-free night. At 6pm there's a story session, and at 8pm a parade with drums and torches. An hour later, the 'correfoc' (fire run) leaves from C/Manigua, headed for Plaça del Congrés, where they'll light a bonfire and there will be fireworks. If you're hungry, dig in to the botifarra sausages on offer at pleasant prices. And enjoy live music from Afrochiguawa.
The producer called Canada is back with a new (the fourth) edition of the Nueva Época party for the shortest night of the year and the big Sant Joan fiesta. The main hall at the Teatre Principal will be full of live music and DJ sessions to keep you dancing until the rooster crows. Hidrogenesse were at the turntables for the first edition of Nueva Época, and now the duo are back as headliners. Clubz is a Mexican duo who will bring their collection of fresh electro-pop to the party. DJ sessions are headed up by club favourite Javiera Mena, Bonnie & Clyde, and Plateselector. Read more for details on all the acts.
Discos Paradiso is putting on a Sant Joan Eve party at the Sant Adrià beach, and it's free! Ari Up kicks things off with his disco tracks, followed by Antònia Folguera aka Bzzzbip, who will make the sun go down with her deep electronica. Compass Crew carries on getting you dance; Klasse Recording, Mr. Ho Music Page and Omega 3 are always a winning hand; and Abu Sou and DJ Bruce Lee, heads of the label, will take you up and up and up to heights you never thought possible.
The Neighbourhood Association of Travessia de Sant Antoni are putting on a soirée in Plaça d'Anna Frank. The menu is for the people and by the people. Everyone is bringing their own dinner from home, and for dessert there will be cava, sparklers and traditional 'coca' pastry for €2, plus good prices at the bar later. Starting at 11pm, you can get into the groove of the holiday with music and dancing. In charge of getting everyone up and moving are DJs from the Ping Pong Sessions (who've played at Razzmatazz, Raval fiestas and at Eldorao) with their bag of hits until three in the morning.
How about a good, inexpensive dinner with a great ambience and rumba music for dessert from Larumbé (11pm)? Your Sant Joan party can start here at Casa Orlandai, in C/ de Jaume Piquet, 23. You'll get salad, a delicious dish of 'fideuá' noodles, dessert, water and wine for €12. And the traditional Sant Joan bonfire is included.
The Sant Joan festivities would be nothing without good music, traditional 'coca' pastry and fireworks. Add to these three basic ingredients lots of fun, bonfires, sand from the beach, the sound of the waves and drinks from one of the Barcelona coastline's top clubs to make a good thing even better. Following last year's success, the Sant Joan Santa Farra part is back at the beach in Badalona. At the Donzella Beach Club, just minutes from the centre of Barcelona (which you can get to from Barcelona easily by metro), you'll enjoy a night of surprises.
Singer, actor, poet, show woman, queen of Poble-sec and activist in her beloved native Venezuela, Cecília Bellorín has been around the world with her 'cuatro' (a Venezuelan guitar), a shaker and a songbook of Broadway, jazz and soul standards. For this Sant Joan night of music, she gets a hand from pianist and composer Ismael Dueñas, leading Los Monolitos, as they perform jazz standards, 1970s soul gems, and their own material. It'll be a magical Sant Joan Eve party to remember.
In addition to the gorgeousness we've grown accustomed to from Bubó, this year for Sant Joan they've got a new treat inspired by one of their best-loved desserts, the Namelaka (which means 'creamy' in Japanese). The Namelaka coca is filled with will vanilla tonka bean ganache, guanaja chocolate 'namelaka', and hazelnut crunch. The top is covered in blueberries, chocolate and ganache. A seriously sweet coca indeed!
This year baker Xavi Barriga has come up with a new coca with cream, pineapple and pine nuts on a brioche base. Cue the drooling. If you're more into the traditional cocas, you'll also find the candied fruit variety, cream coca, chocolate and orange, one with mixed nuts, and others with a more flaky crust, like the classic one made with pork scratchings, another with cream, and the very traditional one with pine nuts. If you've got food allergies or intolerances, you're in luck because Turris can also prepare made-to-order cocas that are free of eggs, lactose and nuts.
In this Sant Martí bakery you won't find a bad coca among the lot. They've got the classic fruit type (decorated with candied fruit from Calatayud and pine nuts from Montseny), one made with pork scratchings, the lush cream coca, and one made with red berries, which you'll want to gobble up every day of the year.
In all the Santagloria shops you can get classic and scrumptious cocas, including the crispy pork scratchings cocas, ones with brioche and cream, brioche with candied fruit, and flaky crust with cream. If you'd like to try something a bit different, they've also got one made with brioche and chocolate cream.