Europe 53 – The best of the rest

The best of the rest (13)

Palio of Asti

Where? Asti, Italy

When? September

How long? 1 day

Less well known than the Siena palio, Asti’s bareback horse race (®www.palio.asti.it) dates back to the thirteenth century but was only revived in 1967, since when it has been held annually on the third Sunday in September. It’s very similar to the Siena event in lots of ways: the 21 entries represent the different neighbourhoods of the city; it’s held on the city’s main square – in this case the triangular Piazza Alfieri; and there’s a big, drawn-out build-up, during which the rival teams attempt to undermine their adversaries in every possible way. The day starts with a procession, which is a big deal in itself with thousands in costume, including the sbandieratorl, or flag-wavers, who are competing for their own palio, or banner. After the parade, the race itself is run, the prize a velvet cloth decorated by a local painter, the booby prize a humiliating pauper’s meal of anchovy and lettuce. A great time to be in Asti, and a less crowded ~ and cheaper – alternative to Siena.

Pink Pop Festival

Where? Landgraaf, The Netherlands

When? May          

How long? 3 days

One of Europe’s biggies as far as rock festivals go, Pinkpop (www.pinkpop.nl), as it’s known, has been going since 1970 and always attracts the biggest names. Held over the last weekend in May, it draws around sixty thousand to its site in Landgraaf, just outside Heerlen down in the southern Dutch province of Limburg. But make sure you book early – it’s usually sold out well in advance.

Polo World Cup on Snow/ White Turf, Switzerland

Where? St Moritz, Switzerland

When? January-February

How long? 7 days

The last weekend of January, and three successive Sundays in February, are red-circled dates in every international jet-setter’s diary, home as they are to two events that pull in aristocratic punters from all over Europe to sip champagne in tents and meet and greet their brethren. Now in its seventeenth year, the annual Polo World Cup on Snow (www. polostmoritz.com) is the major cheese among polo tournaments. This four-day tournament takes place on the frozen lake of St Moritz, with the world’s top four teams battling it out for the coveted championship title and the Cartier trophy, not to mention the accompanying prestige. It’s organized by the renowned St Moritz Polo Club, whose team last year took on rivals from Buenos Aires, Veytay and Dallas. It’s giddy stuff: competition is ferocious, and the players hurl themselves and their steeds into some spectacular duels. Between games, everyone hits the trough, with suitably elegant eating opportunities in specially erected tents.

The first three Sundays of February see the staging of the unique century-old event of White Turf (®www. whiteturf.ch), in which thoroughbred horses compete on a frozen lake in a series of equestrian events: straight racing, “chariot” races, and “skijoring”, in which the “rider” is pulled along on skis. It’s a glamorous location, and a glamorous event.

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