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.
  • 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.

    Related holiday: A Trail of Three Cities rail journey >
  • 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.

    Related holiday: Hill-Top Towns of Tuscany walking holiday >
  • 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.

    Related holiday: Lakes & Mountains walking holiday >
  • 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.

    Related holiday: Lille city add-on >
  • 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.

    Related holiday: Along the Catalan Coast walking holiday >
  • 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.

    Related holiday: Along the Ligurian Coast walking holiday >
  • 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.

    Related holiday: Villages of the Dordogne walking holiday >

More top tens...

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