Going to a festival in another country can be a special experience, affording you the opportunity to learn about a place or country’s traditions and history while getting up close and personal with locals and making lasting memories. After a satisfying walking or cycling trip, we can’t think of a better way to celebrate. With so many of our trips departing daily, and more and more being extended to year-round trips, it’s never been easier to tailor your trip to suit your unique interests.
While there are hundreds, here are five of our favourite quirky festivals in Europe that you should consider coinciding with your next walking or cycling holiday. If we’ve missed your favourite, be sure to tell us in the comments!
La Tomatina Festival
Held in the tiny village of Buñol in Valencia, Spain on the last Wednesday in August, La Tomatina is the world’s biggest food fight. Every year, thousands of people descend on the village to throw overripe tomatoes at friends and strangers alike and watch the town slowly turn a red.
If you’re one of the lucky 20,000 people who manages to secure tickets, combine it with our Food Lovers’ Spanish Camino so you can gain a proper appreciation of Spain’s local produce.
Water Jousting Festival
Possibly one of the strangest sports from around the world, water jousting has a strong tradition in the Languedoc region of France. It involves two elaborate rowing boats, each with a platform at the rear, which six jousters dressed all in white position themselves on. As the boats charge each other, jousters take it in turns trying to dislodge their counterpart from the oncoming boat. The winning crew is the one that knocks the most number of jousters into the canal.
It is very much a part of everyday life in the village of Sète in particular, whose port was inaugurated in 1666 with a water jousting tournament. All summer long, the town stages water jousting tournaments on its canals, which onlookers can watch from grandstands or from waterside restaurants.
Things heat up for the Festival de Saint Louis, which is usually held from mid-late August and sees the whole town come alive with street parades, concerts, pop-up bars, fireworks and the Water Jousting World Championships.
Cycle from Toulouse to Sète on our new Canal du Midi Cycle, which departs daily from 31st March to 4th November.
St Patrick’s Day
There’s nothing quite like celebrating the patron saint of Ireland’s Day in Ireland. Celebrated on 17th March every year, traditionally St Patrick’s Day marks the arrival of Christianity into Ireland but, over time, it has evolved into a celebration of Irish culture. Every year, Dublin hosts a St Patrick’s Day Festival that sees the whole town plus more than 100,000 visitors don green and hit the streets and pubs of Dublin to participate in the biggest party in the country.
Enjoy the festivities before setting off for a walk on the Wicklow Way, which starts in Dublin. Many of our tours in Ireland operate year round, making it easy to tie a walking or cycling holiday in with everyone’s favourite Irish festival.
Taming the Beast
No doubt you’ve heard of San Fermin Festival or the ‘Running of the Bulls’ in Pamplona, but you’ve probably never heard of this unusual celebration that takes place the Saturday before Ash Wednesday in Torla, Spain. To mark the first day of Lent, the locals of this tiny village in the Spanish Pyrenees put on a special Carnival show that you need to see to believe.
Two young men are chosen to play a hunter or ‘Fork’ and a wild beast. The Fork chases the beast through the town as it terrorises the spectators who have gathered in the street to watch the spectacle over tapas and wine. After he is caught, the Fork walks the beast from door to door, where he is rewarded with wine and local delicacies. Finally, the beast is brought to the town square, where he is put on trial and blamed for everything that has gone wrong in the village for the past year. The villagers have the opportunity to spare him, but this rarely happens, so the beast is put to ‘death’ until the following year.
Alternatively, start or finish your walking holiday in Pamplona in time for San Fermin Festival by joining a Camino walk in the Pyrenees.
Kettlewell Scarecrow Festival
Possibly one of the weirdest festivals in Europe, the Kettlewell Scarecrow Festival is a nine-day celebration every August that sees locals fill every nook and cranny of Kettlewell in the Yorkshire Dales with scarecrows. There are scarecrows resembling celebrities, athletes and topical characters, and of course your traditional scarecrows. All profits go towards the village’s primary school, hall, church and other community projects.