Top 10 Festivals
The Europeans tend to 'do' festivals much better than we do in Britain – they usually have the weather on their side for a start!
This is especially so in Spain, where seemingly every town and village, no matter how small, has an annual festival or fair. In fact, if you find yourself in the right place at the right time, these smaller events are arguably more enjoyable because you can often join in the festivities yourself. Here are our Top 10 Festivals.
Semana Santa and the Feria de Abril, spain
It's only right that fiestas as big as these should head our Top 10 Festivals. Semana Santa (Holy Week) comes first, the main event of which are the processions through the city
of brotherhoods of the church, penitents and ornately decorated floats which depict the Virgen or Christ. The Feria de Abril, held a fortnight later, is wonderfully flamboyant. Every night for a week, flamenco dancers perform in the hundreds of tents and pavilions erected in the Los Remedios district, and locals wear traditional costume.
Il Palio, Siena, italy
Siena's spectacular, twice-yearly bare-back horse races, held in July and again in August, date from at least the 13th century. Although the main race itself is over in a matter of minutes, the related events last several days, starting with the draw to select the horses and jockeys, followed by several trial races. On the day of the main race, the horses are taken to church to be blessed and are then led to the Campo, Siena's main plaza
, in a procession led by drummers and pages dressed in medieval costume creating a frenzied atmosphere as the horses race.
Le Grand Pardon, Perros-Guirec, france
Brittany is a deeply traditional region with a strong Celtic culture. An important feature of the region's religious calendar is the pardon, which is celebrated at numerous churches and cathedrals throughout Brittany when people have a chance to ask for forgiveness, and usually involves a procession of villagers in the traditional costume carrying banners of the local saint. Time your walk along Brittany's Granite Coast
right and you could encounter one of Perros-Guirec's pardons – Le Grand Pardon is usually held on 15 August.
Corpus Christi, Hallstatt, austria
As if its status as a UNESCO World Heritage Site were not enough to get it on the map, the idyllic village of Hallstatt in Austria's lake district (featured on our Lakes & Mountains walk
) boasts one of Austria's most colourful Corpus Christi celebrations. After processions through the streets, the participants sail across Hallstättersee in a flotilla of tiny boats.
Arts Festival, Spoleto, Italy
Spoleto, an atmospheric Umbrian hill town featured on our Olive Groves, Vineyards & Abbeys walk
, is the setting for one of Italy's leading international arts festivals. Between late June and early July each year the town is taken over by all types of performers, and a wide range of plays, operas, films, concerts and dance events are held at numerous venues around the town. This is, of course, a very busy time, but the crowds and countless street performers make for a special atmosphere.
Fiesta de San Antonio, Trevélez, Spain
Many Spanish fiestas, particularly those of villages in Andalucia, celebrate the Christians' success in gradually driving the Moors from Spain. Trevélez in the Alpujarras
is one such village, and holds its fiesta on San Antonio's Day, 13 June. As is the case with all fiestas of this type, the celebrations usually begin with a procession of villagers dressed as Moors and Christians, followed by a battle re-enactment, which naturally ends with the Moors either dying or being converted to Christianity.
la braderie, lille, france
The first weekend of September sees hundreds of stall holders descend on Lille
for a 48-hour market that lasts until midnight on Sunday. The event originated in the Middle Ages, when domestic staff were allowed to sell unwanted goods belonging to their employers for one day each year between sunrise and sunset. It has grown greatly since then, but the libertarian values of the original event still survive, with anyone allowed to sell just about anything. It is traditional to sustain yourself with moules frites
during the day, and the smell of frying potatoes fills the air.
Cantada de Havaneres, Calella de Palafrugell, spain
The traditional accompaniment to this Top 10 festival on the Catalan Coast
is not chips but a cup of cremat
– hot coffee flambéed with rum. Held in early July, it is devoted to traditional sailors' songs. The rhythmic, melancholic songs were picked up from the Caribbean by sailors in the 19th century, and some recitals are held on the beach.
Sagra del Pesce, Camogli, italy
Held on the second Sunday in May, this is another festival linked to the sea and is dedicated to San Fortunato, the patron saint of fishermen, in the hope that the fishermen of the Ligurian Coast
will continue to draw big catches over the coming year. The festivities begin with fireworks and bonfires on the Saturday night, then on the Sunday freshly caught fish are fried in a huge frying pan measuring some 5 metres in diameter and handed out free of charge as a demonstration of the abundant resources of the sea.
La Fête de la Fraise, Beaulieu-sur-Dordogne, France
Travel to the Dordogne Valley
for a walking holiday and time your arrival in the historic town of Beaulieu for the second Sunday in May, and you can join in the colourful strawberry market. The market is complemented by music, fairground rides, an art exhibition and boat trips on the Dordogne. The grand finale is the arrival of an enormous strawberry tart (made from around 700kg of the fruit) which is cut up and handed out to the crowd.
If our Top 10 Festivals has inspired you, please contact
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