The Basque Carnival, an ideal moment to discover the Traditions

Carnivals in Basque Country

Carnival in the Basque Country is the ideal time for those who want to discover a still well-preserved carnival tradition and learn more about local Basque culture.

Personally, this is one of my favorite Basque holiday periods, especially for the carnivals of Navarre.

I’m not going to detail all the carnivals, there are too many. However, I will tell you about the ones I was able to cover and that I liked the most and you will find a list of those that might be interesting later on.

To give you an idea, you can consult the 2022 program. You can find the details here

The Basque carnival usually takes place around Mardi Gras, so in February or March depending on the year. You will find in this article the provisional dates of the Basque carnivals 2023.

Article updated on 20.08.2022

Here is the list of festivals that you will find below:

  • The Joaldunak Carnival in Ituren and Zubieta – Navarre (about 70kms and 1 hour, with or without freeway from Bayonne).
  • Santibate and Libertimendua – Lower Navarre (about 60kms and 1 hour).
  • Bear Day in Saint Jean de Luz – Labourd (about 22kms and 25 mns).
  • The Carnival of Bayonne – Labourd.
  • The Carnival of Goizueta – Navarra (about 80kms and 1h10, with or without highway).
  • The Carnival of Estella – Navarre (about 175kms and 1h45, with or without toll).
  • The Carnival of Vera de Bidasoa – Navarra (about 50kms and 40mns, with or without highway).
  • The Carnival of Lantz – Navarra (about 90kms and 1h10, with or without highway).
  • The Carnival of Lesaka – Navarra (about 55kms and 45mns, with or without freeway).
  • The Carnival of Tolosa – Guipuscoa (about 80kms and 55mns, with or without freeway).
  • The Carnival of Alsasua – Navarra (about 120kms and 1h20).
  • The Carnival of Unanua – Navarra (about 58kms and 50mns).
  • The Carnival and Caldereros of Pamplona – Navarre (about 110kms and 1h30, with or without freeway).
  • The Carnival of Tudela – Navarra (about 230kms and 2h20, with or without highway).
  • The Carnival of Aoiz – Navarra (about 128kms and 1h45, with or without highway).

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The Joaldunak Carnival in Ituren and Zubieta.

This carnival being one of the first and taking place at the end of January, you will find it in this article.

Some of the most important figures in Basque culture can be found here.

Basque Country Joalduns and bear
Joaldun and Hartza (bear)

Santibate and Libertimendua.

Originally, the carnival of Garazi / Saint Jean Pied de Port was celebrated in two stages: Santibate, the festival of the zirtzils, symbol of Winter, then Libertimendua, the festival of the ruffles (Bolantes) which announces Spring.

Zirtzils, masked and unrecognizable, roam the streets of the city dancing, and singing the old improvisation songs (bertsus) of Santibate and begging for sausages.

The participants leave Peña Urkulu at 7 pm. At midnight, the participants return to the peña for a meal of blood sausage.

We find the characters of the Fête Dieu (Besta Berri), the Bolantes and the characters of the masquerade.

Meeting point fixed at the Franciscans’ house for the departure of the Cavalcade at 9:30 am.

Performance of Libertimendua in Basque on the market square at 11am, followed by a meal with prior reservation at 1pm.

Places: Various places and not always the same ones each year. Saint Jean Pied de Port, Irissarry, Mendionde, Macaye, Louhossoa, Saint Palais, Bidarray, Saint Etienne de Baïgorry, Hasparren, Oztibarre.

Dates: I advise you to contact directly the town hall of the town if you are interested in to know if and when Santibate and Libertimendua are celebrated.

Type: carnival, dance and traditional singing.

For your accommodation, you can book the independent apartment for 5 persons in my house, by contacting me via the contact form or by phone at 00336 26 03 43 11.

Bear Day Saint Jean de Luz.

The awakening of the bear, Hartzaren Eguna, normally evokes the spring awakening. In Saint Jean de Luz, it evokes rather the arrival of the numerous festivities of February, the month of the carnivals.

It is notably the occasion to discover the dance of the Hiruburus, characters with three heads representing the past, the present and the future.

The carnival takes place the following Saturday.

Location: Saint Jean de Luz, province of Labourd.

Date: February 4, 2023 to be confirmed – first or second Saturday of February, rather in the morning (10:30 am) to see the Hiruburus dancing at the market and in the streets.

Type: carnival, traditional dances, open air.

For this festival, you can book my vacation rental.

See also my travel guide to Saint Jean de Luz here

The carnival of Bayonne.

Bayonne carnival has been celebrated since 1480, despite the prohibition of the church at the time, which considered it a pagan rite.

After disappearing for a long time like many traditional festivals in the French Basque Country, it has been celebrated again for about 40 years.

It traditionally starts on the Thursday before the beginning of the February school vacations.

The most interesting day is obviously Saturday, the day of San Panzar.

The traditional dance groups start to perform at the carreau des halles at 11am.

San Panzar, accompanied by the bear and the wild men, arrives at 3 pm for the cavalcade (parade).

At 4:30 p.m., when the cavalcade returns, his trial occurs.

At 5 p.m., the sentence is carried out: burning of the pyre and dance of the bear and the wild men.

At 6 p.m. there is a big closing show, with all the groups.

From 19h, it is the cavalcade of peñas.

Great novelty of 2022: the Winter Festival, which honored the Basque and Gascony cultures as well as the carnival rituals.

Many events took place: conferences, shows, songs, etc.

The Travel blogger vlogger Stephanie Langlet with Basque characters
Joaldunak in the Carnival of Bayonne

Location: Bayonne, province of Labourd.

Date: February 18, 2023 – to be confirmed.

Type : labourdin carnival, open air.

For the carnival of Bayonne, you can stay in my vacation rental for 5 people.

Consult my itinerary of visit in the Old Bayonne here

Carnival of Goizueta.

The peculiarity of the carnival of Goizueta is the zahagi-dantza dance, performed by the coalman.

It is done on Carnival Tuesday (Mardi Gras).

Place: Goizueta, province of Navarre.

Date: February 19 to 21, 2023 – to be confirmed.

Type: carnival of Navarre.

You can stay at the welcoming Hostal Ezkurra, 9kms away.

Click here to see the availability for your dates

Carnival of Estella.

Location: Estella, Navarra.

Date: February 11, 2023 (rural carnival) – to be confirmed.

Type: Navarrese carnival.

For your accommodation, I recommend the beautiful Apartamento Belmecher, a 130m² duplex apartment in the center of Estella.

Check prices and availability here

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Carnival of Vera de Bidasoa.

My favorite Basque carnival for the self-mockery of its participants and the good atmosphere!

It is a variant of Inudeak eta Artzaiak or Nannies and Shepherds of San Sebastian, in which the roles are reversed: the boys are the nannies, the girls the shepherds.

The evening before, the Caldereros are celebrated like in San Sebastian.

The carnival takes place on Thursday, children’s day, and then from Saturday to Monday.

Sunday is the most interesting day, with the parade of nannies and shepherds.

You will see many traditional Basque dances.

Place: Bera, also called Vera de Bidasoa or Vera. Province of Navarra.

Date: the Sunday before Mardi Gras. February 19, 2023 – to be confirmed.

Type: Navarrese carnival.

For your lodging, I advise you to stay in the beautiful coastal city of San Sebastian, very close. Click on the links below to see the availability.

Carnival of Lantz.

The carnival of Lantz is one of the most famous in Navarre.

Yet it takes place in a tiny village in the middle of nowhere.

What a joy!!!

The central character is the bandit Miel Otxin, representing the evil spirits.

He is captured and executed on Tuesday.

Other characters:

  • Ziripot: dressed in sacks filled with straw, this obese character roams the streets while the Zaldikos demolish him on the ground.
  • Zaldiko (male foal in Basque language): cheerful and jumping, dressed in their best finery (a horse at the belt) demolish Ziripot on the ground.
  • Ferralariak: they are the blacksmiths, who put the horseshoes to Zaldiko.
  • Txatxo: they represent the population of Lantz, are dressed in old rags, carry straw brooms and have their faces covered.

Place: Lantz, Province of Navarre.

Date: 18 and 19 February 2023 – to be confirmed.

Type: Navarrese carnival.

If any of the Lantz locations have availability, don’t hesitate!

The Originals Hotel Rural Iribarnia is a beautiful farmhouse of the XVII century very nicely renovated.

Click here to check availability and prices

Casa Rural Txolinenea is more suitable for families and small groups with its 3 bedrooms, 3 bathrooms, exterior and barbecue.

Click here to check availability and prices

Carnival of Lesaka.

The celebrations of Lesaka are concentrated on the Sunday of Carnival.

When the sun rises, the streets of the village are filled with zaku zaharrak (literally old sacks), thirty characters dressed with canvas bags filled with dry grass, two between the legs and one on the trunk. Their faces are covered with a handkerchief, a straw hat and a pizontzia (“chamber pot” in Basque). These characters parade in single file following the music of the village band accompanied by the “Mairus” (women with large hats and covered with abundant multicolored bands) and the “Goitarrak” (farmers from the mountains).

Place: Lesaka, Province of Navarra.

Date: Sunday before Mardi Gras. February 19, 2023.

Type: Navarrese carnival.

For your accommodation, I recommend the apartment Gure Idorpea, a nice apartment for 4 people, in the village.

Check prices and availability here

Carnival of Tolosa.

The most famous and popular carnival in the Basque Country is celebrated in Tolosa, in Guipuscoa, during 6 days.

The festival officially begins with the “Ostegun Gizena” (Thursday of Carnival).

At noon, the speech is read and the kick-off is launched.

The next day’s program (“Ostiral Mehea” or Carnival Friday) offers us the “Festival del Viernes Flaco” (Carnival Friday Festival) at the Leidor Theater, which consists of a very original show organized by the villagers, protagonists of the event.

On Saturday (“Zaldunita bezpera”) the ‘Tamborradas’ (adults and children) take place, drum parades in the streets of Tolosa.

On Sunday, the streets of the city fill with pajamas and slippers as participants leave their homes with a sloppy look, just out of bed.

On that day and also on the following Monday (“Astelenita”) and Tuesday (“Asteartita”), floats and groups parade, with surprising costumes, music and dances.

The party concludes on Tuesday at midnight with the burial of the sardine.

Place: Tolosa, Province of Guipuscoa.

Date: February 16 to 21, 2023.

Type: carnival of Guipuscoa.

For your accommodation, I recommend the Hotel Bide Bide Tolosa, ideally located on the central square of Tolosa!

Check availability here

For the best pintxos, the Basque tapas voted best culinary experience in the world by Lonely Planet, head to the bar reputed to be the best pintxos bar in the city, Orbela Taberna, Errementari Kalea. When a friend Tolosarrak took us there, we were surprised by the incredible quality and the very low prices.

Tolosa is also the ideal place to try the chuleta, the prime rib. The city is known for producing the best in the Basque Country and even holds a txuleta festival at the end of the year.

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Carnival of Alsasua.

In my opinion, the most terrifying carnival in Navarre.

If you live in Alsasua or know the carnival, I’m ready to try the experience with you!

The Momotxorros dance (see video below) takes place on Carnival Tuesday (Mardi Gras).

Place: the village of Alsasua, province of Navarre.

Date: February 21, 2023.

Type: carnival of Navarre.

For your accommodation, I recommend the quiet Hotel Rural Latxanea, in a comfortable Basque house.

Check availability here

Carnival ofUnanua.

The interest of this carnival, which has been held since the Middle Ages, is the very old bronze masks worn by the mozos.

We do not know their origin and they are preciously preserved at the town hall.

Location: Unanua, province of Navarra.

Date: Mardi Gras. February 21, 2023.

Type: Navarrese carnival.

You can stay in Alsasua, 12kms away. See my suggestion of accommodation just above.

Vérifiez les disponibilités ici

Carnival and Caldereros of Pamplona.

The party begins with the caldereros, the Saturday before Shrove Tuesday and Carnival.

Place: Pamplona (Iruña), province of Navarre.

Date: February 18 to 21, 2023.

Type: Navarrese carnival.

For your accommodation, don’t miss the beautiful and central Gran Hotel La Perla, one of Pamplona’s 5 star hotels, which has hosted many celebrities such as Ernest Hemingway or the Aga Khan.

Vérifiez les disponibilités ici

If you are traveling with a family or small group (max. 5), the Apartamento Singular Deluxe, located 350 meters from the old town, is a pleasant alternative.

Check availability here

Carnival of Tudela.

The carnival of Tudela is very marked by the song and dance.

The central characters are called Zipoteros.

Location: Tudela, south of the province of Navarre.

Date: February 20 and 21, 2023.

Type: carnival of Navarre.

Friday of Carnival: dia del Zipotero. Parade of Zipoteros at 20:30.

Take advantage of your stay in Tudela to discover the beautiful Bardenas desert, where many films have been shot.

For your accommodation, I recommend the Atico el Muro, a beautiful apartment of 72m² in the center, with a terrace and a magnificent view.

Check availability here

Carnival of Aoiz.

On the Saturday night before Mardi Gras, all the carnival characters come out of Calle Maldita, which is open only for the carnival period.

Place: Aoiz, province of Navarra.

Date: Saturday night before carnival and Tuesday of carnival. February 18, 2023.

Type: Navarrese carnival.

For your accommodation, I recommend the Hostal Beti-jai. The food is also good.

Check availability here

The Travel blogger vlogger Stephanie Langlet with Basque characters

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Conclusion: The Basque Carnival.

Carnival in the Basque Country is certainly one of the most fascinating traditions. Each village has its own characters, either from Basque mythology or newly created to restore the local identity.

Have you ever participated in a carnival in the Basque Country? What is your favorite carnival, whether it is in the Basque Country or elsewhere? Tell us all about it in comments!

For the other interesting traditional feasts of February, it is here

To return to the home page of the calendar of Basque festivals, click here

Share this article with your family or friends who are planning their next trip to the South of France.

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This article contains compensated links. As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases. Consult the disclaimer on the site for more information.

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The Basque Carnival, an ideal moment to discover the Traditions

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