El Rocio: Spain’s biggest secret
The tiny village of El Rocío in the southwestern province of Huelva, with its wide, sandy streets lined with impressive houses complete with broad verandas and wooden rails for tying up horses, appears to be something from the Wild West. But El Rocío is no ghost town – each year, one million people fill the town for one of Spain’s biggest – and least known – festivals.
One part religious, three parts celebration
La Romería del Rocío takes place fifty days after Easter Sunday – typically late May or early June. It is a religious pilgrimage that goes back to the 15th century when – according to legend – a hunter discovered a statue of the Virgin Mary in a tree trunk near El Rocío. The wooden figure of the virgin is kept in the village’s enormous church, and is the object that draws the pilgrims each year.
The pilgrimage started out mildly enough, but over the centuries has grown exponentially – and has taken on a much less parochial vibe. The pilgrims, known as Rocieros, arrive with horses and wagons. The women wear bright flamenco-style dresses, while the men sport short riding jackets and wide-brimmed boleros. As more and more pilgrims arrive, the air fills with flamenco music and the smell of fresh food cooking on open fires. As night falls, the pilgrims settle into camps, with bonfires blazing until the sun rises again. Visitors can wander from camp to camp, taking in the festive vibes and the traditional music and dancing.
The climax of the whole festival comes in the morning, when the actual statue of the virgin is brought from the church and paraded throughout the town, as the crowds shout out ‘Viva la Reina de la Marisima’ (‘Long live the queen of the marshland’). It may sound more like a huge party than a religious event, but the pilgrims are genuinely and passionately devoted. Tears flow, women faint, and pilgrims frantically struggle to touch the statue of the virgin with the clothing of ill relatives, believing this will bring them cure.
Making the pilgrimage, or just stopping in
If your group wishes to complete the pilgrimage of El Rocío, there are various routes setting out from Almonte (in Huelva), Seville, and Cadiz, amongst other locations. Depending on your group’s needs, we can choose the most ideal route and distance.
On the other hand, if your group just wants to observe the pilgrimage event as part of its Andalusian tour, there are plenty of attractions closely surrounding El Rocío. Most notably, the village lies on the edge of the Doñana National Park, which is famously rich in wildlife. Visitors can see herds of deer and flocks of storks and flamingos while strolling across the marshes of the Guadalquivir delta.
Whatever you wish to organize for your group, it’s important to start making arrangements well in advance – with one million people coming from all over Spain and beyond accommodations do fill up! Get in touch with us to start planning today.