A new record set at the world’s largest snail-eating festival

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You can smell it long before you see it. Smoke billows from the barbecues at L’Aplec del Caragol, Catalonia’s biggest gastronomic festival and a major annual event for the residents of Lleida, a city 130km west of Barcelona. As you approach, music from 119 penyas, or party tents, fills the air. Each tent, equipped with a bar, wood-fired barbecue, and dinner tables, hosts groups of friends and family, known as colles, who feast on snails and dance until dawn.

No wonder the event draws over 200,000 visitors and 15,000 participants each spring (24-26 May 2024; 23-25 May 2025). People are eager to sample the region’s specialty and experience the world’s largest snail-eating festival. “The best part is to eat, drink, and dance,” says Antonieta Solé, a local who met her husband at Aplec 34 years ago.

All penyas follow a shared schedule, with lunch at 14:30 and dinner at 22:00. Some larger penyas hire professional chefs, while others delegate cooking tasks among members, explains Arantxa Contreras Blazquez, head of penya Lavativa for 14 years. While food is central, the reunion with friends is the highlight. “Half of the people here I only see once a year for Aplec,” she says.

The festival’s makeshift streets are bustling with joy as Lleidatans cook and drink beer around large paellas filled with snails in the warm May weather. As you navigate the park Camps Elisis, you’ll encounter a man in an inflatable snail costume, an aioli-making contest, and a children’s snail race. The race, while anticlimactic due to the snails’ sluggish pace, underscores the local sentiment that snails are better on a plate than as entertainment.

“The snail is a hallmark of Lleida, a dish meant to be shared with friends and family. We’ve cooked and eaten snails all our lives,” says Angels Ons Solé, a stylish woman in her 70s who often prepares a caracolada—a snail barbecue—for family gatherings. Aplec could be described as a massive caracolada on steroids.

Entrance to the festival is free, and visitors without a crew can enjoy traditional snail dishes in the large restaurant. Options include a la gormanda, snails cooked in a spicy paprika and herb sauce, and a la llauna, where snails are cooked on a square paella over an open fire. Snail enthusiast Rosa Maria Gutierrez Naharro, who came from a nearby town to celebrate her birthday, says, “We’ve tried the snails a la gormanda and the snails with ribs, which were my favorite.”

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