This ancient Hindu ritual to mark the beginning of spring – otherwise known as the Festival of Colours due to the bright powders participants throw at each other – is essentially a two-day celebration of the triumph of good over evil. The proceedings begin with the lighting of Holika bonfires, symbolising how the God Vishnu helped burn the devil Holika, according to Hindu scriptures. The next day, Rangwali Holi is when people delight in covering their neighbours in water and a rainbow of gulal, or paint powder (apparently Lord Krishna, a reincarnation of Lord Vishnu, liked to prank village girls in this manner). While Holi is observed throughout the world, the best places to see the festival are India and Nepal, especially Delhi, Varanasi, Vrindavan and Jaipur. One note: women should avoid walking about alone during Holi as some men take it as an opportunity to get a little too close for comfort!
The world’s largest tourism trade fair could be just the ticket if some inspiration is needed for your next cultured travelling experience! ITB Berlin is billed as a trip around the globe in just a few hours, and an opportunity to explore destinations in over 180 countries. With more than 10,000 exhibitors it might be a bit of a nightmare to navigate, but thankfully it’s made easier by being divided into regions and thematic sections, including responsible tourism, business travel, cultural tourism, adventure travel, medical tourism, travel technology, LGBT travel and etravel. A map of the exhibition layout is available online, so you can plan what to see before arriving. This mammoth, annual event has surprises around every corner – expect everything from flamenco dancing to henna hand-painting, massages to cooking demonstrations, EDM to folk dancing. For travel professionals there are also press conferences, talks, product presentations and networking events.
This noisy, exuberant celebration, which involves masses of fireworks and the burning of giant puppets, attracts hundreds of thousands of visitors from Spain and around the world to Valencia. Held in honour of St. Joseph’s Day on 19th March, Las Fallas is believed to have originated in a pagan celebration of the spring equinox, and is recorded as first being held from the late 15th century. Each neighbourhood in Valencia funds the construction of its own ‘falla’ – the wood and papier-mâché sculptures at the heart of the fiesta – which can reach up to 15 metres high and usually poke fun at local and international politicians and celebrities, so expect a multitude of Donald Trumps this year! The fallas are placed at key points around the city so visitors can wander about and check them out, before they are burned in a ceremonial explosion accompanied by a giant midnight firework display on the final day.
Held to commemorate Ireland’s patron saint and the arrival of Christianity, St. Patrick’s Day has been an official Christian feast day since the early 17th century. Legend has it that the association with shamrocks and the “wearing of the green” stems back to Saint Patrick’s use of the three-leaved plant to explain the Holy Trinity to the pagan Irish. Celebrated in more countries than any other national festival, today St. Patrick’s Day is a tribute to the far-reaching influence of the Emerald Isle’s expatriate population. However, there’s nothing like experiencing 17th March in Ireland itself, where the public holiday is the climax of a long party. The official festival, established by the Irish government 23 years ago, includes four days of street parades, concerts, céilithe (traditional music sessions), theatre performances and fireworks. Whilst the best place to participate in the revelry is Dublin, cities, towns and villages throughout Ireland hold their own parades and festivals.
Now in its 19th year, the Mother City’s annual award-winning celebration of jazz will once again take over the Cape Town International Convention Centre for two full days, featuring every type of live performer, from legends to festival newcomers, musical storytellers and up-tempo high-energy acts for younger attendees. More than forty local and international artists will perform on five stages, including celebrated English jazzy singer-songstress Corinne Bailey Rae (pictured), and Brazilian musician, singer/songwriter and actor Seu Jorge, whose Portuguese covers of David Bowie’s songs got global recognition in the movie The Life Aquatic with Steve Zisou. Local fusion sensation Mi Casa are also in the line-up for the 2018 festival, along with veteran Cape Town performer Alistair Izobell. Sekunjalo Edujazz Band will also be on stage to deliver their impressive interpretation of evergreen standards and local classics. Helmed by new director Kelly Bell, the ensemble’s varied playlist includes many memorable highlights.
Essentially the precursor to bungee jumping, this ancient ritual sees brave men and boys of the Sa tribe (near Tansip, on Pentecost Island, in a remote part of the South Pacific) hurtle towards the ground head first from wooden towers of 20-30 metres high, at speeds of more than 40mph, with nothing but tree vines tied around their ankles and no safety equipment. Tribal members on terra firma sing and dance to help the divers be brave. The vines act as bungee cords and each diver is invited to build their own platform and select their own vine so no one else can be blamed for a fatal accident. If the vine is too short the jumper will crash back into the tower. If it’s too long, he will almost certainly break bones or possibly even perish. Watch National Geographic’s video about Vanuatu’s famous land divers.
Get the hatbox down from the top of the wardrobe and dry clean your best designer togs – the world’s richest horse race is upon us again. Held in one of the world’s most talked-about cities and attracting the cream of Dubai society as well as a fair few international glitterati, the Gulf’s leading equestrian event is as much about being seen as it is a tribute to the beauty of Arabian horses. The culmination of Dubai’s World Cup carnival, the main event at Meydan Racecourse, will see USD 30million of prizes presented to the winners of the day’s nine races, which include eight thoroughbred contests and one for purebred Arabians. The after-race concert typically draws some of the biggest names in pop – the past few years have seen SIA, Janet Jackson, Kylie and Jennifer Lopez take to the stage – and the day concludes with a spectacular fireworks extravaganza.
One of the most important events in the international ballet calendar, lovers of the dance genre from all over the world are drawn annually to St. Petersburg by a series of pristine shows, master classes and the much-coveted Dance Open Awards. Festival shows are performed in the historic Alexandrinsky Theatre, considered the birthplace of the Russian ballet more than 250 years ago, whilst the awards celebrate the greatest personal achievements of ballet soloists, including their technique and artistry, regardless of styles, genres and performance trends. For the XVII season of the festival, ballet companies from Monte Carlo, Amsterdam and Maribor, as well as independent dancers from all over the world, will come together to perform in Russia’s second-largest city, and the program includes premieres, choreographic experiments and unusual scenographic solutions. The closing night gala on 17th April, comprising various styles including classical and modern, promises to be a supremely memorable night for ballet aficionados.
The world’s biggest festival in the snow takes place over a fun-packed week in the Tyrolean resort of Mayrhofen in Austria, towards the end of the traditional annual ski season. Frequently referred to as the Glastonbury of mountain gatherings, days are spent skiing, boarding, enjoying music in mountain-top locales, feasting on vast spreads and relaxing in luxury hotel saunas and over 100 spas and pools. Nights deliver a completely different experience, with cutting-edge performances happening in a host of unique alpine venues, from pools and sky-high igloos to enchanted forest clearings and mountain stage sets. This year’s line-up is headlined by former lead singer of rock band Oasis, Liam Gallagher, together with Australian drum and bass and electronic rock band, Pendulum. Also topping the Snowbombing bill this year, is English hip-hop recording artist and record producer Dizzee Rascal, who 15 years ago brought London’s grime scene into the mainstream’s consciousness.
Having fun is a big part of Thai culture, even better having fun amidst scorching heat! The hottest month of the year, April, sees the entire country go bananas in friendly water fights and street parties that last nearly a week. Also known as Thai New Year or Thailand Water Festival, Songkran was originally a way for Thai people to sprinkle water on their family members and elders to bring good fortune, as well as pay their respects to images of the beloved Buddha. Today, the festival has transitioned into three days of fun-filled water fights and non-stop revelry, soaking locals and visitors in the teeming streets, with buckets of water, hoses and super soakers. Previously held on dates that were dependent upon the Thai lunar calendar, whilst Songkran is now commemorated on the same days every year, the sopping wet celebrations typically begin before and end many days after the official holiday!
Known as the cultural capital of the Indian state of Kerala, its name literally translating to “the city of the Sacred Siva”, Thrissur, the country’s 20th largest city, is rich in history, brimming in cultural heritage and wealthy in archaeological treasures. If you have a weakness for colourful Indian festivals that both delight and assault the senses at the same time, then this is the one for you, complete with fireworks, folk dancing, revelry and plenty of drumming. In a region in which elephants are a common feature of religious festivities, Thrissur Pooram stands out as an observance that is specially endowed with the presence of these giants, which are, of course, the main attraction – decorated with gleaming golden headdresses, ornamental bells, palm leaves, peacock feathers and beautiful intricate paintings. Ornate parasols – carried by the elephant riders on tall bamboo poles – add to the stunning overall visual feast of it all.
In mid 20th century America, the celebration of Cinco de Mayo became, among Mexican immigrants, a way of boosting pride in their heritage, not to mention an excuse to eat Mexican food and drink tequila. But in Mexico the holiday is celebrated a little bit differently: Since Cinco de Mayo actually commemorates a military victory, when, despite being vastly outnumbered by the French, the Mexican army was triumphant on 5th May 1862, the day is celebrated in the state of Puebla with parades, speeches, mouthwatering meals and historical re-enactments of the 1862 battle. In Puebla visitors experience an authentic, vibrant and colourful celebration, featuring arts spectacles, costumed paraders, Mexican dancers, mariachi bands, parties and dancing filling the streets. Be sure to sample mole poblano, the most traditional Cinco de Mayo dish. It’s a thick sauce made with green chillies – among many other ingredients – that is often served over turkey or chicken.
About 30 minutes north of Los Angeles, the Californian city of Santa Clarita is home to one of the world’s biggest, annual cowboy gatherings. Marking its 25th anniversary this year, the Santa Clarita Cowboy Festival celebrates California’s Western heritage, and the city’s love of the Western film genre. This action-packed happening routinely attracts more than 10,000 attendees for its live music, authentic western activities, trick ropers, gun spinners, magicians and more, as well as living history exhibits and fine Western gear, not to mention Dutch oven peach cobbler which is reputedly so tasty it’s earned a reputation of its own. This year’s festival features four different stages of cowboy, folk and bluegrass music courtesy of a host of performers, including famed band Hot Club of Cowtown, lauded for its down-home melodies and exuberant improvisation, and lifelong buckaroo and cowboy poet Waddie Mitchell, a master in the art of spinning tales in rhyme.
Every year, the picturesque River Rhine in Germany essentially goes up in flames. But there’s nothing to worry about, since the flames are caused by dramatic and elaborate firework shows, in five locations along the Rhein, that illuminate the river during this multi-faceted event. The result is nothing short of spectacular. Rhein In Flammen kicks-off with the Bonn extravaganza on the first Saturday of May. Held at Rheinauen Park, thousands of red fluorescent Bengal fires light the way downstream, for a fleet of more than 70 decorated and illuminated ships along a 26km stretch – the longest stretch of any Rhine in Flames spectacle. There are plenty of places to watch the fireworks along Bonn’s promenade, while many board ships to see the displays from the water and feel more immersed in the incredible pageant. Meanwhile, on the river’s banks, wine festivals attract thousands of visitors and keep them merry late into the night.
Fast-paced, fashion-conscious and overwhelmingly friendly, the Lebanese capital is the quintessential East-meets-West experience, and wholeheartedly lives up to its moniker of “the Paris of the Middle East”, so-called thanks to its French influences and vibrant cultural and intellectual life. The city’s pulsating art, food and nightlife rival anything New York, Paris or London have to offer, and once a year, over the course of five days, Beirut’s boat show blends supreme luxury with exhilarating escapades. Not only is Beirut Boat an opportunity to see some of the world’s most extravagant super yachts and talk all things nautical with luxury yachting companies and brokerage houses, but it also gives visitors an opportunity to be immersed in couture fashion, exquisite jewellery and rare supercars. And, as one would expect of the party capital of the Arab world, the vast array of pleasure craft on show is complemented by a host of live music events and exclusive parties.
Taking place in venues both familiar and unusual across the bohemian, British south coast city, Brighton Festival is an annual celebration of music, theatre, dance, circus, art, film, literature, outdoor and family events. A veritable creative cornucopia of world-class art and entertainment happenings – including debates, musical concerts and theatrical performances – many of the festival’s events are specially commissioned and have their first public airings during these three weeks every May. Previous guest directors of this London-By-The-Sea critically acclaimed mixed arts fest, have included Vanessa Redgrave (2012) and Burmese leader Aung San Suu Kyi (2011). Guest director for the 2018 outing of the Brighton Festival, is acclaimed visual artist and cartoonist David Shrigley (pictured). Best known for his distinctive drawing style and works that make satirical comments on the absurdity of 21st century society, Shrigley’s darkly humorous compositions reflect the inconsequential, the bizarre, and the disquieting elements of daily life.
The historic Spanish city of Girona – located in the country’s northeastern Catalonia region, beside the River Onyar – is best known for its medieval architecture, walled Old Quarter and the Roman remains of the Força Vella fortress. But for ten days every year, Girona’s buildings, courtyards, monuments, patios and gardens are adorned with more than one hundred spectacular floral displays and arrangements, staged alongside a programme of traditional Spanish events and culinary happenings. Whole streets become art installations, accompanied by music, light, fountains and the intoxicating scent of thousands of flowers. Girona’s Town Hall always comes up with a well-constructed and somewhat dignified display, that befits its status and its central location on the Plaça del Vi, the city’s bustling square enclosed by arcades. Throughout Girona during the festival, the wonderful ensembles of striking colours and penetrating aromas that accompany the cultural heritage of this beautiful Catalan city, make this part of Europe a must visit Spring destination.
For ten days annually, from the end of May until early June, when the playful British weather is most likely to be bright and sunny, thousands of literary buffs young and old alike, descend upon Hay-on-Wye in Wales’ beautiful Brecon Beacons National Park, to sit and read books. The world-famous Hay Festival celebrates great writing from poets and scientists, lyricists and comedians, novelists and environmentalists, and the power of great ideas to transform peoples’ way of thinking, and gives everyone from children to professors the opportunity to enjoy the energy of the written word. One of this year’s headline events, is Canadian writer of more than 40 books of poetry, fiction and essays, Margaret Atwood, discussing her 1985 dystopian masterpiece The Handmaid’s Tale with Peter Florence. Also a highlight, will be the performance of great West African all women supergroup, Les Amazones d’Afrique, with their exuberant harmonies and sublime rhythms.