Enjoying the Best of Europe’s Feast Days and Fiestas

Each European country has its own unique cultural heritage, and nowhere is this more apparent than in each country’s feast days, fiestas, and festivals. To really get a feel for the local culture – and soak up the sights while you’re there – you can time your holidays to coincide with one of these marvels.

Semana Santa and Feria
If you have not yet experienced the heady joys of Semana Santa or Holy Week in Spain, then you have a real treat ahead.

All Spanish cities celebrate this traditional Catholic event with parades and pageantry, but none does it better than Seville, where medieval church confraternities take their plaster saints from inside the churches and parade them through the city’s winding streets for hours in a show of penitence and emotion.

It’s a strangely affecting experience, but if you prefer fiestas of the more secular variety, then Seville’s Feria de Abril, or April Fair, sees the streets filled with stalls of delicious foods; the local tipple Jerez flows freely, and the sevillanos take part in flamenco dancing.

The Budapest Spring Music Festival
This prestigious cultural festival takes place in the appropriately harmonious surroundings of this elegant capital city, and public buildings are commandeered for the length of it. With folk dancing, opera, church concerts, ballet, theatre, and all manner of exhibitions, this festival is a real must for culture vultures.

Scandi-style Celebrations in Norway, Sweden, and Denmark
Did you know that 17th May is Norway’s Constitution Day? On this day every year, Norwegians celebrate independence from Denmark with colourful children’s parades. In Oslo, the Royal Family comes out to wave at the cheering populace, everyone eats ice-cream, and the atmosphere is generally joyous.

In June, Swedes and Danes celebrate the shortest night of the year with singalongs, bonfires on the water, and picnics in the open air, while young women wear crowns of flowers.

When Irish eyes are smiling
If you have the stomach for it, Dublin’s St Patrick’s Day parades and four-day parties are the best in the world. If you prefer something a little more literary, then Bloomsday on 16th June pays homage to Ireland’s arguably greatest writer, James Joyce, where the people relive the events of his novel Ulysses (set on 16 June 1904).

Ireland also celebrates in cultural style with the annual Dublin Dance Festival and Drogheda Arts Festival, both in the Spring or early summer, when temperatures improve.

Beach holiday on the Gargano peninsula in Italy

Are you looking for somewhere a little different for your next holiday? Gargano, long favoured by Italian holidaymakers, is a secret waiting to be discovered by UK visitors.

Sun, sea, and beaches of golden sand: an irresistible holiday destination
The Gargano peninsula is the mountainous spur above the heel on the boot of Italy; its unspoilt coastline, soft sandy beaches and rugged cliffs make it an excellent destination for those escaping our often unsettled summer to relax in the sun.

Gargano’s Mediterranean climate starts to warm up in April, with temperatures getting to around 20C (68F), but the sea will still be cool. Through July and August, daytime temperatures reach 30C (86F), occasionally a little higher, although the heat is tempered by sea breezes. Naturally, these months are when the beaches are at their busiest.

September and October are a good time to visit: many visitors have gone home, the sea still retains its warmth and daytime temperatures are in the twenties.

Unhurried towns and rustic villages
From Rodi Garganico, with its whitewashed buildings, blue and green shutters and colourful harbourside, you can take a boat trip to the nearby Tremeti Islands.

Further along the coast at Vico del Gargano, houses and apartments have been incorporated into the ancient, fortified towers and walls of the old town. It feels like nothing ever changes here: working mules are tethered by the roadside and racks of tomatoes and herbs dry in the sun and scent the air.

Vieste boasts several beaches of soft sand and is the liveliest of Gargano’s resorts, hosting a bustling market every Monday. Savour the local culinary style of Cucina Povera, making lavish use of delicious seafood and local vegetables. At Pizzomunno, the charming town with its many hotels and restaurants commands views over a massive pinnacle of rock that juts out into the sea at the end of the beach.

Things to do
Just inland from the coast lies the Gargano National Park, the Foresta Umbra, with oak, beech and scented pine trees, ideal for picnics and hiking along the shady trails. Visitors also flock to Monte Sant’Angelo and the ancient sanctuary of San Michele, where the Archangel Michael is said to have appeared in the year 495.

Getting there
With Ryanair offering direct flights to both Pescara and Bari, travelling to Gargano has never been easier.

To get the most out of your holiday here, a rental car is often a good option. If you do this, we recommend you also consider Car Hire Excess Waiver insurance from CHEW Insurance, and you can save 10% with code EHIC10.

Salzburg in the Spring: Music, Culture and Hiking

Salzburg is a beautiful 900-year-old city in Austria, surrounded by lakes, mountains and forests. Filled with charming old buildings and squares, the birthplace of Mozart has strong associations with classical music and is also famous for being one of the locations of ‘The Sound of Music’.

Whether your taste leans towards classical music or Rodgers and Hammerstein, Salzburg has plenty to offer. The temperature between May and September is around 20C (68F), which is warmer than many people expect.

Music
Every spring and summer, Salzburg is filled with open-air music. Look out for small private concerts held in the grounds of the Schloss Mirabell (also known as the Mirabell Palace).

This spring, the Whitsun Festival (13-16 May) features a particularly romantic programme including ‘Romeo and Juliet’ from the Stuttgart Ballet and a performance of ‘West Side Story’. Later, in June, the European Stone Festival will showcase the work of the finest masons and carvers in Europe.

Places to visit
There are plenty of interesting places to visit, such as Salzburg Cathedral, Mozart’s birthplace, and Salzburg Museum. A good way to get a feel for the city is to join a Salzburg Historical Walking Tour, which takes about two hours.

You can explore the Old Town, famous for its Baroque architecture and listen to the Glockenspiel on Residenz Square, whose 35 bells are played daily at 11 am and 6 pm. Eat a MozartKugel, a delicious chocolate ball filled with nougat, pistachio and marzipan, created in 1890 to honour Salzburg’s most famous son.

The Festung Hohensalzburg is a well-preserved 900-year-old fortress that looms over the city and is, perhaps, Salzburg’s most iconic building. You can reach it by a fifteen-minute climb from the city centre or by taking the nippy glass Festungsbahn funicular (a cable-operated railway).

You can easily spend a day there, strolling around the ramparts and admiring the far-reaching views of Salzburg’s spires, distant mountains and the Salzach River. Your ticket will also gain you access to the Marionette Museum, and the Fortress Museum, which displays some rather grisly weaponry and torture devices from the long history of the fortress.

Hiking
Salzburg is one of the most popular tourist destinations in Europe and can feel busy in the summer months, although not unpleasantly so. Luckily, Salzburg is a hiker’s paradise, so head up into the surrounding hills if you feel like escaping the city.

The best views are generally held to be from the hills of Mönchsberg and Festungsberg. Kapuzinerberg offers a circular trail starting at the famous Capuchin monastery, while Gaisburg and Untersberg are a bus journey away and are more strenuous hikes.

It is ridiculously easy to fall in love with Salzburg; come and see for yourself!