You are on a beach enjoying a beer and a picnic in the evening. Suddenly a single loud boom sets off a deluge of colours, sounds and movement across the pitch black sky. Vibrant reds, blues and greens streak across the darkness shattering and falling above you. Then another sparkles and crackles like a glittering waterfall, dissolving into the air all too soon. No, you haven’t been smoking anything. You’re at the Blanes International Fireworks Competition.
One of the largest fireworks competition in Europe takes place in a pretty unassuming city along the Costa Brava in Blanes. This annual competition is spread over 5 days towards the end of July when each evening a different group showcases their best fireworks displays. This year it takes place 22 – 26 July.
The population of Blanes is just under 40,000. This easily more than doubles each night of the competition and on some nights reaches a staggering 200,000 visitors. Each display starts at 10.30pm and takes place around Sa Palomera, or “that rock off the beach”. Personally, I prefer the more elegantly named “Gateway to the Costa Brava” as Sa Palomera sits between the Costa Brava and the Maresme Coast.
The Blanes local council organises the competition and each show must last between 20 minutes and 24 minutes. If any show is just a minute under 20 minutes, the council can apply a penalty by discounting how much money they will receive for the display.
The display must be both aerial and aquatic in order to show off the natural seaside setting of Sa Palomera.
It must be a continuous show with one firework following the next. The show I saw certainly did that and at times we became bombarded and overwhelmed by the number of fireworks going off at the same time!
Who decides the winner?
Each group participating receives a cash prize. However, the winner receives an extra monetary prize and is automatically allowed to participate in next year’s competition, as well as other cultural events that year.
The displays are judged by both a technical and a popular jury. The technical jury looks at, you guessed it, the technical side. This includes the variety of fireworks used, quality of launches and if it matches the competition specifications.
The popular jury comprises of up to 40 residents of Blanes, who look at the colours, originality, water fireworks and overall prettiness of the display.
If there is a tie, then the opinion of the technical jury is the deciding factor.
1) Get there early.
If you’re going to watch on the beach grab a spot early. About an hour before is usually good enough, but any later and you run the risk of having to squeeze through the crowds to end up jammed together like sardines on the footpath. A good idea is to take a picnic to have on the beach whilst you wait for the show to start.
2) Where’s best to view the display?
I watched it on Sabanell beach (Platja de Sabanell). But you can also view it from further up from the hill of Sant Joan, or you can even go on a boat and see it from the sea.
3) Avoid the rush home.
When the show finishes, don’t move a muscle. Wait until most people have left as you don’t want to be stuck in the crush of crowds trying to find their way home. But a word of warning, if you are staying outside of Blanes getting transport back late at night can be difficult. It is best to go by car or stay the night in Blanes.
How to get there
If you’re coming from Barcelona by car it takes about an hour. From Girona about 45 minutes.
By public transport you can take the train on line R1 from Barcelona which goes direct to Blanes. The train station is outside of the city centre but there is a bus which takes you from right outside of the train station to the centre.
By bus, Sagales bus company runs a service from Barcelona to Blanes taking an hour and a half.
The only trouble with public transport is getting back to Barcelona. I’d recommend spending the night in Blanes, but accommodation gets booked up quickly so best to plan in advance.
If you have a chance to visit Blanes during the competition, do not think twice. I honestly do not think I will see a better fireworks display, unless of course I go to Blanes again next year!