angle-left Ode to the spirit of Marijaia

We say hello to Marijaia at the party she throws at the Teatro Arriaga square, and we bid her farewell nine days later, burning our most iconic character in the Ría, across the Town Hall.

Bilbao’s biggest party kicks off with the txupinazo (firecrackers). The pregonero (the herald who delivers the opening speech), the txupinera (the person who launches the firecrackers announcing the beginning of the festivities) and the city councillors officially inaugurate the celebrations. And, of course, Marijaia is there too. A large crowd waits at the square, ready for their nine-day party.

Bilbao’s Aste Nagusia is an open-minded festival, inviting everyone to join the party. Intolerance is out of the question. The krewes, local people and out-of-towners participate in the huge street party. The programme of activities includes canoe rides, bokata contests, road runs and the super fun singing contest Bilbo Kantari. The only requirement to take part in these activities is leaving shyness at home.

Aste Nagusia also stages concerts, most of them for free. The main stages are in Abandoibarra (Guggenheim Museum esplanade), the Casco Viejo, Europa Park, Kafe Antzokia and, of course, the txosnas. In addition, there are interesting shows on at the Arriaga and the Campos Elíseos Theatres, and the Euskalduna Concert Hall.

If you are a circus-goer, the Etxebarria Park hosts circus acts and fair attractions. Besides, the park is the site where the spectacular fireworks are set off every night, adding noise, light and colour to the party. The firework show can be watched from the Arriaga Theatre square, Paseo de Uribitarte or Kobetamendi.

The krewe of freedom

Since it was established in 1978, Pinpilinpauxa has advocated sexual freedom. Their parties and shows symbolically stage their philosophy.
Every year, about thirty krewes paint Aste Nagusia in bright, joyful colours. Each krewe has a distinct image, programme and txosna. One of the new additions for 2018 is that all Bilboko Konpartsak will have to learn sing language to convey their messages.

Pinpilinpauxa’s logo is a smoking  yellow butterfly. In fact, pinpilinpauxa is the Basque word for ‘butterfly’. Champagne has been another symbol of the krewe, which has been in the party spirit since the first Aste Nagusia, held in 1978.

On your walk by the txosnas, you will easily identify Pinpilinpauxa. The atmosphere is amazing: music and fun, drag queens, celebrities like the Txirenitas or the Fellinis… Spoiler alert: you will end up covered in glitter!

How To Get There

Even when Aste Nagusia celebrations take place everywhere in town, the Casco Viejo and the Ensanche are the most popular areas. During the nine days of Aste Nagusia, Bilbao is more crowded than ever, so the best thing you can do is park your car to get around on foot or by underground, tram or bus. Night transport is available during the whole week.

Gastronomy

Where to eat

Bilbao is a heaven for foodies. It has taverns, traditional restaurants and bars piled high with top-ranked pintxos. There are also upscale dining restaurants whose menus are based on contemporary Basque cuisine. And finally, you can book a table at a Michelin-star restaurant for a meal to remember.

However, the best way to enjoy the party is eating what they prepare at the street markets and cookouts. The Arrain Fish Festival organised by Bilboko Konpartsak has a tempting menu including baby squid, cod, marmitako (tuna fish stew), grilled tuna… Gora Marijaia!

Accommodation

Where to sleep

In Bilbao you will find all types of accommodation, from cheap to pricey. There are luxury hotels, budget hostels and everything in between. Mind you, the city draws many people in Aste Nagusia, so it is advisable to book a room in advance.