Europe 44 – The best of the rest

The best of the rest (4)

Canelli under Attack

Where? Canelli, Italy

When? June

How long? 2 days

The Siege of Canelli, in the northwestern Italian region of Piemonte, took place in 1613, and is still remembered every third weekend of June with a reconstruction of how the townspeople heroically held out against the troops of the Duke of Mantua. The entire town – and most of its people – is decked out in the manner of the times, troops repel the attacks of the “invaders”, monks perform torchlight processions, and bars and restaurants stay open continuously and serve “period” food and drink – culminating in the Victory Lunch, served on the Sunday, when the Mantuan forces have been sent packing and everyone can relax. Which they do with a vengeance. Music, juggling, drumming, and street performances all go on till late, finishing up with a firework display.

Cartier International Polo

Where? Windsor, England

When? July

How long? 1 day

The sponsor’s the main giveaway, isn’t it? Polo may not be the “Sport of Kings”, but you have to have money to play it, and thus it has its own international circuit – known well to the glitterati who follow the sport but a mystery to the rest of us – of which the Cartier International day is a special highlight. It’s one match between the England polo team and an international side, and it takes place at the end of July at the impeccably appointed Guards Club in Windsor Great Park, just west of London. Naturally, the Queen is the guest of honour, and although there are many who take the result – and the game – seriously, the real point is to be seen at this prestigious society event. The grassy car parks host outdoor feasts around mahogany picnic tables, with silver cutlery and top-notch champagne drained from fancy glasses, while lesser mortals (yes guys, you are admitted) make do with plastic cups and wander around eyeing up the nobs. Grandstand tickets cost £20-40 and are available from the ticket office. Don’t forget to wear your Class War T-shirt.

Cologne Carnival

Where? Cologne, Germany

When? February or March

How long? 5 days

Don’t be taken in by the stereotype – Germany can party with the best of them, and Cologne Carnival, starting on the Thursday before Mardi Gras, is one of Europe’s wildest. The first night, Weiberfasnacht, or Women’s Carnival, sets the tone, as drunken dames rush around the city’s streets grabbing anything in trousers for a hefty snog. Street parties and the kind of binge drinking that made a legend out of Oktoberfest fill the city’s Altstadt, or Old Town, with the bars and beerhalls packed all weekend. Rosenmontag, on the Monday, features a gigantic costumed parade, five miles long, that has been altered little from its origins half a millennium ago, and still features jesters, plenty of impromptu and organized street-dancing, floats and carnival bands. Truly one of the best carnival experiences to be had in Europe – and about as abandoned as the streets of Cologne ever get.

Combat des Reines

Where? Martigny, Switzerland

When? October

How long? I day

A peculiarly Swiss sport, cow-fighting is said to have originated when the villages of the Valais region used to get together to see whose cow was the most suited to lead the herd up to summer pasture. Nowadays, it’s a far more serious business, with farmers breeding animals specifically to fight for the cash – and kudos – that taking the prestigious Queen of the Herd title entails. It’s an enjoyably civilized event: no one gets hurt, least of all the cows, and spectating is accompanied by a good (and rather un-Swiss-like) amount of roaring and drinking. The Combat des Reines (®www.reines.ch), held in Martigny’s large ancient Roman amphitheatre, is the FA Cup Final of the season, the culmination of hundreds of cow fights that have been going on all summer to find the best cow of all, and as such it unleashes fierce passions (not to mention a lot of betting).

Cooper’s Hill Cheese-Rolling

Where? Cooper’s Hill, England

When? May

How long? 1 day  

An organized bout of chasing cheese down a hill in Gloucestershire has become one of Britain’s best-known festivals – a totem, somehow, of a country of eccentric and long-established events. Held on the Bank Holiday Monday at the end of May, Cooper’s Hill Cheese-Rolling (® www.cheese-rolling.co.uk) is certainly in the best spirit of British amateurism: anyone can enter, and all they have to do is fling themselves down the hill after a wheel of cheese – the first one to reach it wins. Needless to say, it attracts all manner of drink-fuelled daredevils. It kicks off at noon, and there are several races, including a women-only event, before it all ends at 1 pm and everyone goes off to get even more drunk, often nursing the odd bruise or two.

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