In fact, it wasn’t the endless bits of tomato that find their way into your hair, your ears, your toenails and every other nook and cranny of your clothing and body, but rather the smell that was hardest to get rid of.

For days after La Tomatina, held in the industrial town of Buñol on the outskirts of Valencia, I would catch a whiff of the sour musky smell of tomato on my hair, or emanating from my backpack, or – worst of all – from my juice-soaked shoes which I refused to throw out (despite the pleas from my travel companion, TNT photographer Brendon).

Let it be a lesson to anyone who is heading to Buñol for this festival that spawned from a food fight between rival gangs in the 1940s: bring old clothes and shoes to throw out afterwards, and pack plenty of industrial strength soap to scrub yourself down.

It’s little wonder you end up so filthy and caked in fruit.

Picture this: almost 40,000 revellers packed into narrow cobblestone streets, 140 tonnes of tomatoes, and an hour of all-out tomato-chucking warfare.

Forget dodging rampaging bulls, necking endless steins of beer or chasing a cheese down a hill – Tomatina has to take the cake as one of the most fun festivals in the world.

The day starts with the crowd making its way down to the main square past dozens of stalls selling cheap goggles and giant cups of sangria.

The press of the crowd is full-on around the main square, but townsfolk keep everyone cool by tossing buckets of water from the terraces above.

Traditionally the food fight starts when someone climbs the greased pole in the main square and grabs the ham on top. But this year it proves too slippery, and soon the starting cannon fires despite the ham being untouched.

A stream of tomato-laden trucks inch their way down the main street, dumping a load of ripe fruit every 10 or 20 metres. Within seconds the air is full of flying tomatoes and a continuous roar goes up from the crowd.

At first I just take in the spectacle of it all. But a second later a large red ripe tomato smashes into my face, giving me a fat lip. “Right, that’s it,” I think. “You bastards are in for it”.

I start pelting fruit left, right and centre. I fire some off randomly, other times I pick a victim and unleash four or five missiles at them, or aim for the helpers who are tossing tomatoes from the tray of the lorries.

Soon I am drenched from head to toe in tomato juice; it seeps into and stings my eyes and soaks my shoes.

As more trucks pass, the street disappears under a thick tomato soup that is knee-deep by the end.

I grab handfuls of pulp and rub it into the head of the bloke next to me, then I feel the girl behind me shoving a handful down the back of my shorts. I see girls getting their tops ripped off and people diving into the sea of mush like it’s a swimming pool.

The fight goes on and on.

Tomorrow I’ll wake up with really sore shoulder muscles from an hour of continuous throwing, but right now I don’t feel a thing.

Finally, the second cannon fires, marking the end of the fight.

Locals emerge from their stained houses to hose the revellers down or pour buckets of fresh water over us. Almost immediately, the cleaning crews move in.

And overhead, the burning Spanish sun comes out, turning me into a red-encrusted creature with tomato purée dreadlocks and a giant grin on my face.

» Trevor Paddenburg and Brendon Bishop travelled to La Tomatina with Topdeck (0845 257 5210; Trips to La Tomatina start from £99

The Rules

■ The cannon marks the start of tomato-throwing time. When it sounds again it’s time to stop pelting people around you (although this is not strictly enforced).

■ Squash the tomatoes in your hand before throwing them at anyone. If you come across a green tomato, don’t throw it (again, not strictly enforced, especially if you want revenge on someone who has just scored 
a direct hit on you).

■ Don’t rip anyone’s clothing (er, this one is definitely not enforced).

■ Tomatoes are the only missiles that can be thrown (except for the water bottles, shirts and flip-flops that also fill the air).

■ Don’t bring any glass. You can buy beers and sangria in plastic cups on the walk down.

Kit List


Everyone wears ’em but they’re useless because they fog up and are easily dislodged by high-speed tomatoes. A tight fitting dive mask works better.


Blokes, don’t even bother. It’s hot as hell in the packed streets and your shirt will get ripped off in no time in the frenzy. Girls who fancy maintaining their modesty should aim to wear a singlet – or three.


Flip-flops will last about 30 seconds and barefoot is not a good idea. Buy a cheap pair of pumps and throw them out afterwards (tomato juice stinks when it dries).


Make sure they’re tight
– any hint of a plumber’s bum will entice people to shove handfuls of fruit down the back of your shorts.


Again, two or three isn’t a bad idea. For many festival goers, La Tomatina is just as much about ripping tops off as it is about throwing tomatoes.


A definite no-no, unless your camera is seriously waterproof.

The Spanish sure love to party

The Spanish love to party, and La Tomatina is just one of many fiestas on the calendar.

Sevilla Tapas Fair

The only place you’ll be throwing food at this February festival in Seville is down your throat – and I’m talking copious quantities of the country’s favourite food, in the city that is the tapas capital of Spain.

Las Fallas

Tomatina might be Spain’s messiest festival but this celebration in Valencia in March is definitely the noisiest. A pyromaniac’s dream, it features a series of throbbing street parties, monster fireworks displays and bonfires every night. On the last night, papier mâché effigies are torched.

Jerez flamenco festival

This flamenco festival in the town of Jerez is a two-week party over February and March that is sure to inflame your passions, with top notch dancers, singers and musicians.

Batalla del vino

Another chance to get your clothes stained, this time by wine.

A tradition dating back to the historic feuds between the wine town of Haro and its Riojan neighbours, the aim of this June festival is to splash as much wine as you can over everyone else, using cups, buckets, water pistols or cannons.