5 European Festivals You Don't Want to Miss
By Franki Black
Europeans are well accustomed to a festival. Since the beginning of time they have honoured everything from legends to seasons to wine to gods with a show of dedicated celebration. If you’re planning to escape South Africa’s pending chilly season for a sunny traverse in Europe, plan for it to coincide with one of these spectacular celebrations. The best way to experience a destination and its festivities alike is to go on foot. On Foot Holidays – a specialist in self-guided walking holidays in Europe – offers multiday walks through all of the destinations listed below. Time your walking holiday wisely and join a religious precession in Greece or feast like a medieval king in Montblanc.
Greek Orthodox Easter - April
If you're lucky enough to be in Greece during the Greek Orthodox Easter weekend, you'll have the chance to witness the rich pageantry and deep religious devotion expressed by the Greeks. The week leading up to Easter is known as Holy Week and entails fasting, church services and fascinating local traditions. Good Friday is a day of mourning with subdued processions leading through the streets and people dressed in black. The 40-day fast ends at midnight on Saturday in great celebration that culminates on Sunday with family and friends gathering for food, wine, music, and dancing and the roasting of lamb. You’ll more than likely be invited to join in for a drink and mezze - the more the merrier!
100 Miles of Istria - Croatia, April
Hailed as the biggest trail event in Croatia, 100 Miles of Istria sees 1000 supreme runners cover some of the region’s most spectacular scenery. There’s a 42km, 69km, 108km and 171km course to choose from and each route crosses mountains, valleys and rivers with beautiful views of the Adriatic Sea. There are also castles and plenty of beautiful medieval villages along the way.
Medieval Week of Saint George – Montblanc, Spain, April to May
Celebrated in honour of Saint George who allegedly fought a dragon in front of Montblanc, the Medieval Week of Saint George gives you the chance to live out your fantasies of being on the set of Game of Thrones. During the festival Montblanc’s medieval streets and squares are festooned with the colours of four noble houses. Towers and walls are embellished with flags and around every corner are images of dragons and fire, medieval markets, performances of Saint George’s legend, medieval suppers, scenes of medieval life and enactments of Catalan courts.
Fiesta of San Juan - Mallorca, Spain, June
This ancient festival is a celebration of the summer solstice and of John the Baptist. Huge bonfires are lit throughout Mallorca in an attempt to drive out the old, bad spirits of winter. Known as Night of Fire, this festival is a spectacle of fireworks, live performances inspired by the elements and crowds of revelers. Many of the beaches across the island become focal points with music, BBQs and candle offerings to the sea.
Ravello Festival – Amalfi Coast, Italy, July to August
Imagine listening to a dramatic classical recital on Italy’s Amalfi Coast with the sea as your backdrop. The famed Ravello Festival affords you this very experience stretched out over two months. The festivities include performances by large orchestras, chamber groups and jazz musicians, art shows, dance, photographic exhibitions, discussion groups and a chance to meet featured artists, many of whom are world-renowned. American writer Gore Vidal’s words capture the essence of the festival, “Often, when the orchestra plays Wagner, the full moon rises above the mountains in the east, their profile recalling a dragon’s head reclining gently on the beach, while the birds of Ravello, who after all these years are particularly musical birds, trill their counterpoint from high up in the dark pine trees.”