Europe 45 – The best of the rest

The best of the rest (5)

Copenhagen Jazz Festival

Where? Copenhagen, Denmark

When? July

How long? 10 days

The Danes aren’t exactly known for their jazz, but the Copenhagen Jazz Festivalwww.jazzfestival.dk), beginning early morning and ending late at night, is one of Europe’s best such events, a chilled-out festival featuring over six hundred concerts held beside Copenhagen’s rivers and canals and in its concert halls, piazzas, parks, bars, cafes and clubs. It’s a great time to visit the city; many of the concerts are free, and the headline gigs are reasonably priced by Danish standards. Street parades are held in the early afternoons and the beat goes on throughout the night. Scandinavian artists are a particular forte of the festival, but there are big international names, too, offering everything from New Orleans jazz to swing, fusion and new experimental stuff. Copenhagen’s best Known jazz club The Jazzhouse, and the old Circus building or the Tivoli Gardens, host the big names.

Corsa dei Ceri

Where? Gubbio, Italy

When? May          

How long? 1 day

The Corsa dei Ceri (®www.festadeiceri.it), or Race of the Candles, is one of Italy’s more bizarre spectacles, in which three teams in bright costumes race around Gubbio’s medieval lanes and squares, each of them shouldering a five-metre-high, four-hundred-kilo wooden candle. It’s held in honour of St Ubaldo, patron saint of masons, and is a typical fusion of the pagan and Catholic. Having been roused at dawn by drummers, the three teams, each consisting of about twenty men dressed in colourful silk shirts, assemble at Piazza Grande where the candles – huge wooden constructions, octagonal in shape, fixed to a hand-barrow, and up to seven metres in height – are doused in water for good luck and then briefly raced around the square. A parade follows – with that most important of Italian traditions, a couple of hours’ break for lunch – and then, at 6pm, the teams hoist their candles. The candles are blessed, and with a roar from the crowds the race begins. There are a couple more high-speed circuits of Gubbio’s piazzas, then a stop for the teams to draw breath before they leg it uphill to the finishing line at the basilica of St Ubaldo. Interestingly, as overtaking is forbidden, the winning team is decided by the spectators on the greatest style shown during the race – a truly Italian Way to win. Afterwards, the candles are left at the basilica, and everyone heads back to town, to hit the bars and relive the day over a drink or two.

Cowes Week

Where? Cowes, England

When? August

How long? 8 days

Around eight thousand competitors and one thousand boats descend on Cowes on the Isle of Wight for this eight-day event, the biggest sailing regatta in the world (®www.skandiacowesweek.co.uk). Whether you’re a yachtie or not, it’s a good time to be in this provincial little port, with lots of live music, outdoor parties – and lots and lots of drinking.

Dead Rat’s Ball

Where? Ostend, Belgium

When? March        

How long? 3 days

The annual Dead Rat’s Ball (®www.ratmort.be) was conceived earlier this century by the artist James Ensor after a visit to a Paris cabaret bar, and is a very popular event with the locals, forming as it does part of the town’s carnival celebrations. In true Belgian style, this, of course, includes lots of drinking, starting with a pub- crawl on the first Friday in March and the burning of the Tjannie Carbon. There’s also a clog-throwing event in the main square on the Saturday afternoon, and a carnival parade on the Sunday. The ball itself is a predictably decadent affair: a costumed event held in the casino on the seafront that attracts a varied crowd, among them a large contingent of seriously dolled-up transvestites. Starting at 9pm, it builds slowly throughout the night; there are usually five bands, and you’d do well to arrive late and leave late, as the partying only really gets going in the small hours, by which time there’s around five thousand people in attendance, and some truly dramatic attire, the best of which are awarded prizes, and have to been seen to be believed. It’s about as close as the north coast of Belgium gets to the spirit of Rio.

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