An event similar to the Running of the Bulls in the Portuguese islands of the Azores (photo by Daniel Wütschert via Wikimedia Commons)
While Pamplona, Spain may host the most famous bull run in the world, it is not the only place where you can catch an event like this. Numerous other cities and towns in Spain, Portugal, France, and even some remote Atlantic islands hold variations of Pamplona’s famous Running of the Bulls throughout the year. While these other events are all smaller and less well known than the one in Pamplona, they’re also much less touristy as a result.
In the nearby Catalan-speaking regions of Spain, including Catalonia, Tierras del Ebro, and Valencia, a “Bous al Carrer” (or “Bulls in the Street” when translated from the local Catalan language) event takes place in conjunction with some village festivals throughout the year. These events are so local that you’ll have a hard time even finding information about them in English, so suffice it to say that if you manage to make it to one then you’re going to get a very authentic experience.
In the town of Denia in the nearby province of Alicante there is a similar event as part of the annual Festa Major called Bous a la Mar, or “Bulls in the Sea.” During this spectacle, bulls run through the town and towards the beach alongside enthused human runners who try to bait the bulls into jumping into the ocean (don’t worry – there are special boats to pluck the bulls from the water). While this bull event is still dangerous for participants, it can be far more entertaining for spectators because some runners have to dive into the ocean in order to avoid the bulls’ charges. However, unlike Pamplona, the bulls in the Catalan festivals are not killed as part of the event.
Closer to Madrid are several other bull runs that resemble Pamplona’s but on a smaller scale. The towns of San Sebastian de los Reyes, Chinchon, Collado Villalba, and Torrejon de Ardoz all stage bull runs at various points during the year. The great thing about these towns’ bull run events is that they’re so close to the Spanish capital that you can easily check them out in a day or half-day without the logistics of relocating to another city during your visit.
But bull runs are not just limited to Spain or even to the Iberian Peninsula. Southern France shares a lot of traditions, history, and even some cultural and linguistic identity with parts of northern Spain. So it should be no surprise that this very Spanish of traditions is also practiced in some towns in the Occitan region of southwestern France as well. In Sommières and Calvisson, for example, bulls are released into the streets during festivals and locals attempt to gain dominance over the bulls and direct them into a bullpen, sometimes while on horseback.
Horses also play a key role in traditional Portuguese bullfights. (For a refresher on how Spanish and Portuguese bullfights evolved differently, check out this previous article on entitled Bullfighting: Traditions, Ethics, and Surprises.) In the remote Portuguese islands of the Azores in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean, the traditional summer horseback bullfights are preceded by a unique bull-running tradition in which a single bull attached to a long rope is released into the town square or on a beach and fearless locals will try to get as close to the bull as they can. Later the nightly bullfight takes place, but interestingly the bull is never killed in these bullfights in the Azores.
These more out-of-the-way bull running events don’t get the attention – and certainly not the international live television coverage – of the runs at San Fermines in Pamplona, but they can be just as exciting, fun, and thrilling. Plus most of them have the added benefit of being overwhelmingly local and non-touristy, so those who enjoy immersing themselves in authentic cultural experiences will no doubt be right at home.