ARE you the kind of person left cold by the prospect of a couple of days wandering around art galleries and museums? How about travelling by train to one of Europe’s countless quirky festivals instead? They’re brash, they’re bizarre, and sometimes they’re even downright dangerous. Best of all, you can even get involved yourself! We’ve picked 10 of the best to whet your appetite. All can be reached by train. Check out www.raileurope.co.uk for their best deals (all prices quoted are return tickets from London and are subject to availability).
1. One giant leap over mankind!
Bound over babies in Burgos El Colacho (Baby Jumping) Festival, near Burgos, Spain. Every June.
THE annual El Colacho festival in the Spanish village of Castrillo de Murcia is enough to send the switchboard at Social Services into overdrive. Once a year the townsmen dress up in their finery and form an orderly queue to leap over a mattress topped with babies born in the past twelve months. The whole process is said to rid the kids of original sin, cleanse them of evil spirits and guard them against illness – which is all well and good providing they can avoid taking the full force of a size 10 boot. El Colacho takes place during the Catholic feast of Corpus Christi in June.
Castrillo de Murcia is around 25 miles west of Burgos. You can take a high speed train from Paris to Irun and transfer to a local service from there. London to Irun return from £152.
2. Hammer time in Porto
Sao Joao festival, Porto. Every June.
THE saying in Portugal goes that “Porto works while Lisbon plays”, but once a year in June this beautiful city on the banks of the River Douro throws one of Europe’s most thrilling street parties. As well as the fireworks and impromptu barbecues selling freshly caught sardines, the festival also sees thousands of people arm themselves with huge, multi-coloured plastic hammers – used to deploy swift, soft blows to the heads of fellow revelers. Nobody seems to know why.
Porto is easily reached by taking an overnight sleeper train from Madrid. Return tickets to Madrid start at just £202. Find out more about the Sao Joao festival at http://www.portoturismo.pt/saojoao/index.php?L=en.
3. Unleash your inner matador running with the bulls in Pamplona
San Fermin fiesta, Spain. Every July.
IF you’re an adrenalin junkie looking for your next fix, why not head to Pamplona’s controversial encierra this summer? July sees the streets of this picturesque town in northern Spain transformed into a whirlwind of colour as eight raging bulls are released onto the streets along with thousands of amateur matadors for the annual running of the bulls. It’s certainly not for the faint hearted – 14 people have died over the event’s 144-year history. Luckily you can take it all in from behind some specially erected barriers if you’re a little on the shy side.
Pamplona is around 50 miles south of Irun in northern Spain. It’s easily reached by taking a high speed TGV service to Irun, then changing for a local service. Return tickets from London from £152. Find out more at the Sam Fermin fiesta website: http://www.sanfermin.com/.
4. Paint the town red and get your five-a-day at this Spanish fiesta
La Tomatina Festival, Valencia. Every August .
POSSIBLY the messiest way to get your five-a-day, this raucous Spanish fiesta has been growing in size ever since the 1950s. Every last Wednesday in August, the town of Buñol is painted red with a giant tomato fight that sees thousands of revellers use truckloads of the overripe fruit as missiles. Don’t forget to pack a pair of goggles and a complete change of clothes.
Buñol is around 25 miles west of Valencia. The journey takes around 40 minutes by train. Return tickets to Valencia from £253. Find out more at La Tomatina Festival’s website: http://www.latomatina.org/.
5. What’s good for the goose?
Probably not a trip to Lekeitio Day of the Goose Festival, Lekeitio, Spain
EVERY September. UP until a few years ago the Day of the Goose festival certainly wasn’t top of the RSPCA’s Spanish itinerary. Every year at the climax of the San Antolin festival in the Basque town of Lekeitio, a greased goose is suspended on a rope by its neck above the harbour, and a succession of townsfolk attempt to give the hapless bird a tug in order to decapitate it. The tradition dates back over 300 years, but thankfully in these more enlightened times a specially-made plastic goose is used for the festival.
Lekeitio is around 40 miles along the coast from San Sebastian. The easiest way to get there is by taking a high speed train to Irun, then heading to San Sebastian. Prices from £136 return. From there you can take a ‘Baztanesa’ bus to nearby Elizondo.
6. Fishy business in Flanders – sample a cocktail with a difference
Krakelingen Festival, Geraardsbergen, Belgium. Every February .
BELGIUM’S well known as the home of moules et frites, but every February the inhabitants of one tiny Flemish town spend the day sampling a seafood concoction with a difference. As thousands of loaves of bread are thrown into the assembled crowd, holy men queue up for the dubious pleasure of drinking tiny live fish from a 16th century silver goblet. The festival is a mix of pagan and Christian traditions, and the fishy cocktail is said to reinvigorate the body ready for spring.
Geraardsbergen is around 25 miles west of Brussels. You’ll need to change trains at Denderleeuw or Aalst. Return tickets from London from £80.
7. Get some vitamin C in style at Italy’s festival of zest
Battle of the Oranges, Ivrea, near Turin, Italy. Every February.
IF you’re the kind of person who spends most of February suffering with a cold, Ivrea is by far the best place to dose up on Vitamin C. The festival’s origin dates back to a medieval uprising that culminated in a miller’s daughter severing the head of a feudal lord, but essentially this is all about throwing oranges, with townsfolk and tourists divided into nine teams for an almighty food fight. Don’t fancy getting pelted? No problem – just wear a red hat and you’ll be spared.
Ivrea is around 30 miles north of Turin, which is easily reached by rail on an Artesia Day service. Return tickets from London from £126. Visit the Ivrea Carnival’s website: http://www.storicocarnevaleivrea.it/English/?page_id=109
8. Masked mayhem in the floating city
Il Carnevale, Venice. Every February.
FOR one weekend in February the floating city is transported back to its 18th century heyday as thousands of partygoers don ornate masks and period dress to celebrate Il Carnevale. The tradition is a nod to times when the staunchly libertarian Venetians donned disguises to make jibes at the powerful, gamble in secret, and generally get up to no good. The tradition was banned first by Napeoleon, then by Mussolini, before being resurrected in the 1980s. These days it attracts some 30,000 visitors.
Return tickets to Venice from £135. Find out more about the Carnival at: http://www.carnivalofvenice.com/.
9. Burn your feet in the Basque Country
The Arizkun Carnivals, Arizkun, Spain. Every February.
NO chance of getting cold feet in Arizkun. Every February sees thousands of people queuing up in the streets in a bid to jump over some 20 bonfires, a tradition dating back to pagan times. It’s said to ward off evil spirits and encourage fertility, but these days it’s more of an excuse for the local lads to exercise a bit of bravado and have an almighty street party. Look out for the Ioaldunaks – men dressed in costumes that make them look something like a cross between a yeti and the Honey Monster.
Arizkun is around 30 miles south of Irun. The easiest way to head there is by taking the train to Pamplona followed by a bus to Elizondo. Return tickets to Pamplona start at £152.
10. Bizarre goings on in Binche
Carnaval de Binche, Binche, Belgium. Every February.
BELGIUM’S Carnaval de Binche dates back to the 14th century, and has even been listed by UNESCO because of its cultural significance and longevity. The best day to visit is Shrove Tuesday, when hundreds of the townsfolk traipse through the town dressed as Gilles – odd clown-like characters wearing wax, moustached masks, hunched backs and frilly sleeves. The Gilles also carry baskets of oranges ready to hurl into the waiting crowds. Don’t whinge if you get hit – it’s actually considered a great honour to be singled out for the citrus treatment.
Binche is around an hour’s journey by train from Brussels. Return tickets to any Belgian station start at £80 return. Find out more at the Carnaval de Binche website: http://www.carnavaldebinche.be/.
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