Colorful Celebrations, Traditional Tributes Dot the Continent

Reed Travel Features

NEW YORK -- Camel wrestling?

Sure, there is Austria's world-famous Salzburg Festival and Switzerland's Montreux Jazz Festival, but Europe is full of lesser-known tributes to local traditions -- from camel wrestling in Turkey and sheep sheering in Greece to wild horses in France and a mock medieval wedding in Germany.

Here's a look a some of the colorful, not-so-internationally-known celebrations that agents and intrepid clients might want to note:

* Austria. Graz is transformed into a child's fantasyland from May 13 to 19 when storytellers from around the world present their favorite tales.

* Belgium. On Sept. 14 the Great Pumpkin just might make an appearance at the annual Pumpkin Festival in Tourinnes, Saint Lambert, Belgium.

Highlights of the day are folkloric presentations, regional food specialties and, of course, pumpkin contests for the biggest and best decorated of the bunch.

* Bulgaria. The Festival of Roses, in the Valley of Roses from June 5 to 9, has become so publicized in recent years that it no longer attracts only those who venture off the beaten path.

The festival takes place along the 75 miles that comprise the Balkan Range and consists of rose-picking rituals, folkloric performances and a Rose Parade.

There's also the international music festival in Varna on the Black Sea, with classical music performances, jazz and folkloric events from June 14 through Aug. 7.

* Cyprus. At all seaside towns and resorts, Kataklysmos (flood festival) takes place form June 13 to 16. The festival recalls Noah's Ark and the Greek myth of Deuklaion with folk dancing, swimming competitions and boat races.

The most popular activity during Kataklysmos is for people to throw water at one another, symbolizing the purification of body and soul.

* Denmark. Viking festivals are Denmark's specialty: The Viking Play of Lindholm Hoje in North Jutland runs from June 19 to 29 and features the portrayal of Viking life near the country's largest Viking burial ground.

At Frederikssund in North Sealand, the 46th annual Viking Festival is put on by 200 want-to-be Vikings, who share their traditional post-show banquet with visitors.

* Finland. A unique combination of organ recitals and opera arias will be performed during Organ Night and Aria from June 5 to Aug. 28 in Espoo.

* France. This country's biggest and most colorful holiday, Bastille Day (July 14), is celebrated in especially high style at the medieval citadel of Carcassone.

A nighttime fireworks spectacular called The Setting on Fire of the Old City does just that, conjuring up visions of boiling oil, flaming arrows and besieging Crusaders; it illuminates the city's 50 towers, and there is really dancing in the streets.

Bastille Day is the centerpiece of Carcassone's Festival de la Cite, a two-week event of ballet, music and theater.

One of France's liveliest celebrations is Festival Interceltique in L'Orient, Brittany. At this annual salute to Celtic culture, held during the first two weeks of August, participants from all over Europe gather at L'Orient's fishing port for theater and dance performances, sea chanteys told by professional storytellers, food and drink.

* Germany. Bad Durkheim Wine and Sausage Market, Germany's biggest wine festival, takes place from Sept. 12 to 16.

Sausages sold from old-fashioned wheelbarrows and amusement park rides make this an ideal festival for families. Another family-oriented event is the open air performances of the Pied Piper folktale on Sundays from May 18 to Sept. 14 in the quaint town of Hamelin.

* Greece. At the May 2 Feast of St. George, Byzantine traditions are commemorated on the island of Lemnos at the village of Kaliopi with horse processions. At Arahova (near Delphi) there is is a three-day St. George feast as well as at Assi Gonia near Hania on Crete, followed by a sheep-shearing competition.

In the north, a traditional fire-walking ritual dating to pagan times is known as Anastenaria. From May 21 to 23, barefoot villagers of Aghia Eleni near Aghia Serries, and at Langada near Thessaloniki, clasp icons of Saint Constantine and Saint Helen and dance on live charcoal embers without sustaining even a slight sign of burns.

* Holland. This year marks the 50th anniversary of Amsterdam's Holland Festival, which showcases music, dance and theater from June 1 to 30.

This summer's highlight will be a performance of Mendelssohn's "Midsummer Night's Dream" accompanied by actors who will recite the Shakespearean text.

* Hungary. A spectacular baroque ball and mock wedding are staged for tourists at the Gyor Summer Festival in Gyor from June 20 to July 20. The event includes puppetry, an international handicrafts fair and folkloric performances.

* Ireland. Travelers won't go hungry at the Limerick Food Festival, which celebrates the best food and most talented chefs of the region.

The weeklong event held from Aug. 18 to 24 includes cooking competitions and theme nights.

* Italy. Those lucky enough to visit Acireale, Sicily, during Carnival, which takes place in February or March each year, are in for a treat.

The festivities feature uniquely decorated, colorful floats that depict everything from well-known children's characters to satirical depictions of local politicians.

Townsfolk throng the streets in costumes that range from traditional garb to Batman as they douse passersby with confetti and shaving cream.

Most children are armed with brightly colored plastic hammers with which they tap strangers and each other on the heads.

* Luxembourg. Visitors can help crown the Wine Queen at the Wine and Grape Festival in Grevenmacher, from Sept. 12 to 14. Fireworks, concerts and a folkloric procession, plus plenty of wine tasting, are planned.

* Malta. June is fiesta Season. Every town and village parish church in the Maltese Islands has a patron saint, and this is the month he or she is honored with church services, band marches and fireworks. A religious procession carries an homage to the saint through village streets, church bells ring and bands march and play.

* Monaco. As part of its 700th anniversary festivities, Monaco will hold a marine exhibition from Sept. 14 to 21, with tall ships and vintage hydroplanes at the port of Monaco.

* Norway. Grandmothers from around the world are honored at The Grandmother Festival, June 27 to 29, in Bodo, just above the Arctic Circle.

Grandmothers and their families participate in soccer competitions, parachuting, boat trips, art exhibitions and hiking tours. The festival has quite an international following and has been attended in the past by the U.S. ambassador to Norway and Norway's prime minister.

* Portugal. Some of Europe's most inspiring religious festivals take place here: Celebrations in honor of St. John from June 19 to 24 transport the tranquil town of Angra do Heroismo, A UNESCO World Heritage site in the Azores, with bullfights, folkloric exhibitions and handicraft shows.

Medieval jousts and cavalcades take place in the streets of Ribeira Grande on the Island of Sao Miguel during the Feast of St. Peter on June 29. The Feast of Our Lady of Agonia takes place on the third Sunday in August in the 15th century town of Viana do Castelo, Costa Verde, with fireworks, marching bands and colorful processions.

* Slovenia. For those who happen to be in Llubljana on July 4, Luciano Pavoratti will perform at a charity concert as part of European Cultural Month.

* Spain. The Feria de Abril, April 15 to 20, combines all of the ingredients for which Andalusia is famous: flamenco dancing, food and bulls.

The annual festival kicks off with a parade of men and women in traditional costumes on horseback.

Flamenco dancing demonstrations are also prevalent during the festivities, along with plenty of food stalls selling tapas -- traditional finger food -- and wine.

For those who like bullfights, the fiesta also offers the real thing, complete with pageantry at the city's Maestranza bullring.

* Sweden. Music on Lake Siljan from June 29 to July 7 offers more than 100 jazz and classical concerts in churches, parks and huts. Visby in Gotland becomes a medieval fortress once again during Medieval Week, from Aug. 3 to 10.

The serving of medieval meals and the locking of a maiden in the 14th century Virgin Tower are highlights.

* Turkey. The Folklore & Music Festival in Bursa from July 7 to 12 is one of Turkey's best annual folk-dancing events.

Turkey-bound travelers in search of animal athletics should go to the annual camel wrestling festival in Selcuk, near Ephesus, in mid-January.

* Wales. What better place to hold a Festival of Literature than the largest second-hand book center in the world, Hay-on-Wye.

The 10th annual Hay Festival of Literature takes place May 23 through June 1 and will feature world-renown guests, including Maya Angelou, Ralph Fiennes, Shimon Peres, Jackie Collins, David Putnam, Desmond Tutu and Van Morrison.

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