Europe 50 – The best of the rest

The best of the rest (10)

Gotland Medieval Week

Where? Gotland, Sweden

When? August

How long? 1 week

Commemorating a mid-fourteenth century battle with the Danish when the Gotland capital of Visby was an important Hanseatic port, and which saw the town valiantly, but comprehensively, defeated, this is a week of music and dance, medieval markets – and, not surprisingly, a jousting tournament. And it all culminates with a great medieval banquet, complete with jugglers and fire-eaters, on the main square on the closing Sunday. It’s all terrifically bogus, but the atmosphere is great, as everyone gets into their roles, and the ancient town of Visby makes a great backdrop.

Independence Day

Where? Reykjavik, Iceland

When? June 17

How long? 1 day

Most holidays in Iceland are taken as good excuses to party, and this one – nominally to celebrate the shaking off of seven hundred years’ of Danish rule in 1944 – is no exception. Parades of children in colourful clothing fill the streets through the morning, at which there’s much patriotic waving of the red, white and blue Icelandic flag. As always, outdoor hot pools become the social focus afterwards, with an evening of hard drinking to follow. Then it’s time to experience the Nordic spirit in full swing, as bands play through the night, and the action at Reykjavik’s legendary bars and clubs spills out into the streets, where plenty of locals are bent on drinking themselves into a coma, aided by copious quantities of the national fire water, brennevin.

Inter-Celtic Festival

Where? Lorient, France

When? August

How long? 10 days

One of the largest Celtic gatherings in the world, the Inter- Celtic Festivalwww.festival-interceltique.com) draws crowds of around 350,000 to this small Breton town from the first Friday to the second Sunday of every August. Set up as part of the resurgence of interest in the Celtic roots of the region, it has been going strong since 1971, and features around 4500 musicians, singers, dancers, artists and film-makers from Celtic communities around the world. Prominent professors give lectures about Celtic culture, and more formal courses of study are available, but above all, this is a music festival, with loads

of organized gigs taking place at venues dotted around town, and any number of impromptu jam sessions in Lorient’s streets and bars – bringing your own instrument along and joining in is positively encouraged. One to avoid if you hate the sound of bagpipes.

Kulmbach Bierfest

Where? Kulmbach, Germany

When? July

How long? 9 days

Tucked away in a quiet corner of Bavaria, on the edge of the Thuringian forest, the town of Kulmbach is traditionally known for its beer – indeed, in medieval times every inhabitant had the right to brew his own here – and it remains a major brewing centre, with an astonishing variety of ales. Most of these are on offer at the town’s beer festival (®www.bierfest.de), where you can sample the local brews to your heart’s content and to an oompah band soundtrack. Two to look out for are Schwarzbier, a fine, full-bodied dark beer, and the head-spinning Kulminator 28, one of the strongest beers in the world.

La Tamhorrada

Where? Suss Sebastian, Spain

When? January 20

How long? 1 day

Without doubt, La Tamborrada, or Drum Festival, is one of the noisiest events you will ever come across. Field in honour of San Sebastian, the town’s eponymous patron saint, several thousand specially suited and booted drummers – done up like toy Napoleonic soldiers – march around town for 24 hours with the sole objective of making as much of a racket as possible. The action kicks off at the Plaza de la Constitution at around midnight as rival armies of drum and barrel bashers make their way through the streets of the old town to be joined by noisy, drunken locals as they pass from bar to bar. There’s a massive children’s drumming session in the afternoon, and the darlings make the most of their annual chance to make some serious noise and not get shouted at. One for the Duracell bunny.

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