Where to head this summer for festival fun
1. Gloucester Cheese Rolling Festival: Gloucester, England – Last day of May
Year after year, Cooper’s Hill in Gloucestershire hosts one of the world’s wackiest events, The Cheese Rolling Festival. Five races take place every year, all having the singular and all-important purpose of winning a huge piece of Traditional Double Gloucester Cheese. I know what you’re thinking: where do I sign up?
Competitors have to run down the hill after the piece of cheese has been rolled and cross the finish line first. Sounds easy enough, but the steep slope makes it impossible to stay on your feet all the way down so injuries—yes, injuries!—are quite common. Granted, most of the injuries are minor, but it’s still exciting to think of The Danger™ involved. Most contestants come back to compete year after year. You know what they say: Once a Gloucester Cheese Roller, always a Gloucester Cheese Roller.
Your kids will love the novelty, and the chance to talk about cheese too dangerous for them to play with.
2. The Inca Festival of the Topless Snake Dancer:Cusco, Peru – June 24
Technically, this is called the Inti Raymi Inca Festival of the Sun but, whatever. Grab the sunscreen and get ready to honor the daddy of the Inca world–the Sun God “Inti”–during this annual one-day festival. Occurring on the Winter Solstice of the Southern Hemisphere, it’s considered the second biggest festival in Latin America, after Rio’s Carnival. The celebration gathers hundreds of thousands of people from around Peru and the world, who all come to witness the re-enactment of the ancient Inca ceremony which has roots dating as far back as the 13th century. After you have visited the Inca fortress of Saqsayhuaman (pronounced sexywoman!), you can head down to the market where yes, it is indeed possible to see topless snake dancers, some cowboys, people in bird costumes and any other myriad of festival activities.
3. The Vermont Quilt Festival: Essex Junction, Vermont – Last weekend in June
The Vermont Quilt Festival attracts thousands of quilt enthusiasts from around the world. New England’s oldest and largest annual quilt event offers exhibits of new and antique quilts, lectures and workshops presented by renowned quilt artists, classes for children and a colorful display of wares in its Merchant Mall. Free and informative gallery talks, free vendor demos, appraisals, and the “Booth Hop” add to the excitement. If arts and crafts are your family’s thing, then see what all the fuss is about and get your summer started right.
4. L’ardia di San Costantino: Italy (Sardinia) – July 5-7.
Why not head on down to Sardinia and celebrate Constantine’s victory over Maxentious at the Mulvian Bridge in 312 A.D? Lesser-known than most festivals, si, but this Sardinian festival is fraught with danger and meaning for the locals, and a great picture-taking opportunity for tourists. Constantine is reported to have seen a flaming cross inscribed with the words “in this sign thou shall conquer”. Every year, Constantine’s charge is recreated with a monumental horse race held. After many prayers, horses charge down a hill, the man representing Constantine first, his two flag bearers next, then the thundering herd close behind. And don’t miss your opportunity to mingle by an open fire where suckling pigs rotate in wood-fired ovens and live skewered eels writhe over hot coals.
5. Essaouira Gnaoua Music Festival: Essaouira, Morocco – June 22-25
This is just really cool. The Gnawa are the descendents of slaves originating from Black Africa who established brotherhoods throughout Morocco. They are made up of master musicians (maâlem), metal castanet players, clairvoyants, mediums and their followers. So they got together and decided to sing. The Essaouira Gnaoua Music Festival has a laidback, alternative vibe, and the music which brings together a wide range of predominantly folk, jazz and World Music greats) is so worth the trip. Pick up a Fez while you’re there and check one more thing off your ‘Cool Things to Do Before I Die’ list.
6. The Calgary Stampede: Calgary, Alberta, Canada – Second week in July
Lauded as the Greatest Outdoor Show on Earth, this 10-day event is more than just a rodeo. It’s the largest event in Canada and attracts over a million visitors a year. The parade is actually a CIVIC HOLIDAY and almost everyone is given the morning or the day off to see the parade. For kids, the Midway is stocked full of games and rides, and the agricultural exhibition is essentially the world’s biggest petting zoo. The entire city gets into the spirit and businesses far and wide provide free Stampede breakfasts.
The Grandstand show is an impressive extravaganza featuring the Young Canadians, a dance and theatre troupe of hundreds of students aged 7 to 20. Come for the rodeo, stay for the corn dogs.
7. Great Northern Arts Festival: Inuvik, N.W.T, Canada – July
Tell the kids they’re headed straight to bed at sundown. Thanks to the city’s northern location, the sun never sets during the Great Northern Arts Festival, but you sure will have fun trying! Inuvik (place of people) is the homeland of the Inuvialuit and Gwich’in and other aboriginal and non-aboriginal people and cultures. At just two degrees above the Arctic Circle, Inuvik has hosted the Festival for the past 20 years. Known as the Land of the Midnight Sun, it’s a neat place to go and see a range of artists from across the north. For 10 days, over 50 public art workshops, performing arts, traditional dance, an arctic fashion show, northern film screenings, story-telling and readings. And if you’ve ever dreamed of running away with the circus, now might be your chance. It may be your only opportunity to see the ArtCirq, the Arctic Circus!
8. Puck Fair: Killorglin, Ireland – August 10, 11, 12.
Held without fail every year, Puck Fair is considered not only one of Ireland’s most unusual street festivals, but is also one of the oldest and longest celebrated. A quick look at the website shows a programme with dubious events like the Wobbly Circus, Balloon Modelling and the Biddy Bunratty Experience. You and your children will enjoy this free festival for the a horse fair, a parade and a coronation ceremony of King Puck, open air night concerts, fireworks display, children’s competitions, street entertainers and dancing displays. And of course, you will enjoy the Guinness.
9. La Tomatina Festival: Buñol, Spain – Last Wednesday of August.
Return of the killer tomatoes. Oh sure. You could go to Pamplona for the Running of the Bulls *or* you could bring some ratty clothes and a pair of goggles and pelt strangers with tomatoes in Buñol. Nobody really knows how the world’s largest food fight got started, but the Tomato Festival has been a strong tradition since 1945. Some 275,000 pounds of ripe tomatoes are available for about 30,000 people to throw at one another. Opportunities to act like a ruffian abound! It may not be the same as getting chased by an angry bull, sure, but it’s gotta be up there. Just remember: it’s all fun and games until somebody gets a squirt in the eye with some tomato juice. Do we really need to explain why your kids will love this?
10. Burning Man: Blackrock Desert, Nevada, U.S.A – September
This festival is not for everyone. This ultra-alternative gathering celebrates self-expression, self-reliance and art as the center of community has gone mainstream in recent years. You don’t need to make sculptures out of garbage, drive a car powered by vegetable oil or have solar panels on your roof to attend, but…wouldn’t hurt. Either way, Burning Man is the antithesis of traditional corporate sponsorship-mad festivals. It’s also not Woodstock. Contrary to what you might think, it’s also very family-friendly, with dozens of games and events specifically for kids. Held in the middle of the Nevada desert, the flat plain becomes a virtual community for a week, with off-beat art exhibits, music performances and all sorts of random mayhem. Random mayhem! One thing you won’t need for this festival, believe it or not, is MONEY. Burning Man actually runs on a full barter system and the only things you can buy are water and ice. Even cooler, the festival culminates with the burning of a massive, building-sized effigy.