Europe 48 – The best of the rest

The best of the rest (8)

Feria de Abril – best of the rest

 Festa del Redentore

Where? Venice, Italy

When? July

How long? 2 days

Venice’s Festa del Redentore – the Festival of the Redeemer – is a high point of the city’s summer, both for tourists and locals, and a superb maritime event. Originally conceived to give thanks for Venice’s recovery from a devastating sixteenth-century plague, which killed more than a third of the city’s inhabitants, it takes place very year on the third weekend of July. On Saturday, St Mark’s basin fills with as many as two thousand boats – festooned with flowers, lanterns and balloons, their occupants eating and drinking as they eagerly await the now traditional spectacular evening fireworks. At around 11.30pm, the display begins and the lagoon becomes one of the most atmospheric stages in the world, fireworks illuminating the silhouetted spires, domes and bell towers of the city. Afterwards, the feasting on the boats continues, although the youth of Venice have started a new tradition, retreating to the Lido to party on the beach until dawn. On Sunday, a pontoon of decorated gondolas and other boats is strung across the Giudecca canal to allow the faithful to walk to the Church of the Redentore. Mass is held in the presence of the Patriarch of Venice, a reminder that the festa has a solemn side.

Festa do Sao Antonio

Where? Portugal

When? June 12

How long? I day

Lisbon’s favourite saint, Sao Antonio (St Anthony), was born in the city’s Alfama district, and his feast day traditionally kicks off a bout of saint-inspired partying that continues throughout June, in celebration not just of St Anthony but of John (Joao) and Peter (Pedro), whose feast days take place later in the month (though St John is celebrated more up in Porto; see p.27). During this time, streets are decorated with coloured lanterns, and there’s plenty of music, dancing and street parties – all over the city but particularly in Alfama – and a big evening parade, down the Avenida da Liberdade, after which everyone gets their rocks off into the small hours. There’s a romantic element too: Antonio is the patron saint of matchmakers and this is traditionally the time for unattached folk to find a mate.

Fiesta de San Isidro

Where? Madrid, Spain

When? May

How long? 10 days

Madrilenos need little excuse to stay up all night and enjoy themselves, so it has to be something pretty special for them to go even more wild than usual. But the feast day of the city’s patron saint more than fits the bill. Each neighbourhood stages its own celebration, and there are jazz concerts, flamenco and other events taking place in every available open space. The partying goes on for around ten days either side of May 15 – a date that also traditionally marks the start of the bullfighting season in Spain, with the country’s best fighters performing at the city’s huge and prestigious Plaza de Ventas.

Festival du Vent

Where? Calvi, France

When? October

How long? 3 days

Fancy a ride in a home-made balloon with a French dude who’s clearly on something stronger than onion soup? Or getting the adrenaline pumping with high-speed kite- driven skate-boarding, or chilling out in the world’s first wind-powered Jacuzzi? Well, this may be the festival for you. Adhering to the mantra of “the universal language of the wind opens your mind”, some forty thousand visitors of all ages descend on the beautiful, ancient seaside town of Calvi to participate in the Festival du Vent, or Festival of the Wind (i@www.lefestivalduvent.com), which conveniently coincides with the arrival of the dry Mistral wind that sweeps down from northwest Europe to cross Corsica and the central Mediterranean. Over the course of the long weekend there are dozens of diverse events, from wind-related water and aerial activities to high-brow political and cultural debates (all, of course, in French) taking place each day from 10am until dawn the following morning. Should you tire of the impassioned debates on climate change, human rights or globalization, walk along the beach and view the installations laid out on the sand or attend creative workshops or concerts held both outside and in around town. Alternatively, just wander through the old town to be entertained by mime and circus artists, watch agitprop or more esoteric forms of street theatre.

Children are estimated to represent almost a quarter of the festival participants, the primary attraction being the Fete en I’Air, where dozens of fun and educational workshops are offered on art, music and eco-technology, with at least a vague wind-related theme blowing through all the activities.

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