Destinations, Europe, Things to do, Travel List, Travel Tips

Mellow fall – European festivals to sugar-coat your autumn

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There’s a whole special adventure you might be missing out on – participating to fall festivals in Europe. But even with the ever growing popularity of Oktoberfest, going to fall festivals still isn’t too high on the travel lists of Europeans. There’s a few reasons why this happens – first of all, everybody loves taking vacations in the summer, dispatching the autumn as a grey and monotonous season. Here, I’ll show you why this is wrong, and why you should make the most of the delicious autumn festivals.

Summer is overcrowded. Fact. If you’re visiting anything in Europe during the summer, not only are there endless queues everywhere you’re going, but everything’s overpriced too. Besides, autumn is a more weather-friendly season for people who don’t necessarily want a heatstroke to ruin their time. At the same time, and this is why I’d visit European festivals during autumn, people behave as if there’s some kind of a common passion that connects them – going to well organized, but less appreciated events instead of just aiming for what’s mainstream. So let’s be clear about this, Oktoberfest may be the most popular event of its type, but there are plenty of others. There are feasts for every soul who’s wandering and roaming around the old Europe. Here’s what I would recommend from the bottom of my heart.

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Sagre (Italy)

What puts Italy, culturally, on the world map are all these famous dishes: pasta, pizza or ravioli – and yet, there are very few people who’ve ever been to a food festival here. The ironic thing is that what makes Italy most famous doesn’t, in fact, attract tourists, and it’s clearly not because we don’t love pizza, but because we’re not used to having fun during fall. This is why you should try going to a sagra, an authentic Italian festival that celebrates harvest and the local dishes. Even the locals believe that travelers miss so much by not visiting the country in its most beautiful season, while the weather is still pleasant, and it’s also the time you start wearing fashionable heavy textiles.

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Concerning the festival, everything a summer tourist would enjoy to eat or drink is in peak season in the fall. There are plenty of sagre to choose from and from truffles to wine, pumpkin rivoli and risotto, everything’s a cornucopia. Celebrate local food products the Italian way and don’t miss out on the fun. The people are even more sociable in the autumn and you’ll have the best chance to find the Italians gregarious then. For centuries the sagre used to be highly religious – something you won’t find in today’s festivals. Still, there is a certain religiousness in the way the dishes are both made and enjoyed.

If you’re more into sweets, there’s Eurochocolate. A delicious event meant to impress you with different exhibits made entirely of chocolate, while you are busy tasting a large variety of experimental combinations of flavors. Chocolate sculpting and street performances, along with chocolate displays make your autumn experience sweeter than ever.

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Grape harvest, France

Summer’s about the ocean breeze, winter’s definitely for skiing in the Alpes, and spring is what brings lavender in Provence. But autumn’s thing comes under the shape of a festive weekend in Montmartre (or not necessarily here, because there are plenty of events on the occasion of making wine happen). There have been over  400,000 people at the last edition, and even more are expected this year.

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Between workshops, stalls featuring crafts and tasting wine, you won’t have time to get bored. Besides, if you’re in a family trip, there are special events and activities organized for the kids as well. Even after all these 80 editions of the event is that, as a friend of mine put it, you know the wine’s great when you don’t have to be experienced to feel the differences.

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Marathon de Médoc is another original idea to promote the wonder of grape harvest. If you ever believed that sports marathons were exclusively about sports drinks and energy bars, well – not this time. Every single attempt to describe the event would have to end up with mentioning the stops for runners, which pound the pathways of Médoc with wine of all types, for all tastes. In addition, just like the road to hell’s paved with good intentions, yours is going to be paved with beauteous châteaus (castels) and vineyards.

The 8,500 runners are expected to attract over 50,000 spectators, who not only watch the marathon but also feast with irresistible grapes and, most of the time, wine, while getting to know the locals.  The food stalls offer you different kinds of authentic snacks to drink your wine with, and people sometimes beat their personal bets when there’s a wine reward at stake.

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The Repas des Mille Pâtes is clearly lots of fun. In translation it means a thousand pasta dinner and every year, a different local hosts the party in his mansion. It also includes a cocktail hour, and the party always continues either in Pauillac (a small town nearby) or somewhere else along the quays of river Gironde anyway. Then, there’s the Ballade de Récupération on the morning after the race, which is a 10 km walk along which you can either taste more wine or fight the hangover.  You’ll find, on this occasion, that grape fun is underrated in most of the places where you’ve been before this event and that grape harvest is quite an important national event that we should always praise

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Beer festivals in Germany

There’s a series of festivals that truly rival Oktoberfest, despite its stellar reputation. One of these takes place in Stuttgart – the Cannstatter Volksfest. The event is massive and the locals know it under the name of Wasan, the champion’s largest beer rival. The origins of Wasan go back to the beginning of the 19th century, but there are still over 4 million beer enthusiasts who return every year.  If what you’ve known Stuttgart for is giving birth to the Mercedes Benz, it’s time for this to change – you’re going to see it as the king of the parties in Germany.

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Another great option if you’re looking for fun in the fall in Germany is Bremen Freimarkt. This is the oldest fair in the country. Of course, it’s pretty clear that many things have changed in a thousand years since the festival is running. Nowadays, what’s going to impress you is probably the number of carnival rides. Besides, since it’s so close to the North Sea, it would be a shame not to try the delicious local sea foods.

Lyon Film Festival

What makes France popular in terms of cinematic events is, by far, Cannes, when glitz and glam fill the city for a spectacular festival. Although not as well known, Lyon Film Festival (or Festival de Lumière as it’s also called) is another quality event for cinephiles, organized in the fall.

If you’re the least bit a film buff, you’ll find it unique because it’s not about presenting new movies. Instead, it’s meant to pay respect to famous casts and producers of classic, yet timeless cinema. The festival comes along with a flea market and lots of stalls to fill your time.

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