Rose Petalled Knights & Prague Spring
History enthusiasts love the Czech Republic, where the past is celebrated in countless festivals in numerous destinations.
Napoleon’s battleground at Austerlitz, for instance, has a Historical Museum in the chateau and visitors can join in a virtual experience, part of the Austerlitz Phenomenon commemorating the 1805 combat.
May Day celebrations (April 30 to May 2) welcome spring and the fairytale medieval town of Cesky Krumlov offers a rich cultural program for the family. Cesky is also home to the Five-Petal Rose Festival (June 17 to 20) a return to the age of knights, jesters and nobles. And there are few better places to enjoy Advent, from November 27 onward with Christmas markets, dancing in the square and street entertainment in a magical atmosphere.
Any visit to the Czech Republic must include the lovely city of Prague, and each year the Prague Spring music festival presents about 50 concerts with more than a thousand musicians. The three-week event begins May 12. A different kind of music descends on the capital with Hip Hop Kemp (August 18 to 21) drawing more than 500 performers from around the world. More information from www.czechtourism.com
Lisztomania & The Sound Of Music
Franz Liszt was a 19th-century heartthrob and musical genius and 2011 marks his 200th birthday (October 22) with concerts and exhibitions across Austria.
His birthplace, Raiding, has drawn top-flight international musicians since the 2006 opening of its Liszt Centre. Two weeks of performances begin June 12, and October 21 spotlights Liszt’s friendly rivalry with Wagner. (“Lisztomania” was coined in the 19th century to describe female hysteria whenever the musician appeared.)
Through April, Vienna’s Spring Festival features classical masterpieces and May sees the city’s famous Life Ball, a renowned AIDS charity event.
Salzburg has its strong Mozart connection, and is the movie locale for The Sound of Music’s von Trapp family home. From July 27 to August 30, the massive Salzburg Festival offers a plethora of drama, opera and music every day, and from October 26 to November 6 the Salzburg Jazz Festival is a lively launch to winter, when Christmas markets adorn cities and villages throughout the nation. And what better way to celebrate the end of the season on December 31 than with Vienna’s Grand Opera Ball in the city’s fabulous Opera House? More from www.austria.info
Elfin People & Thermal Springs
If it’s adventure you crave – on any level – Iceland is the place. It offers the softest of soft (bathing in a thermal spring) right on up to some pretty edgy survival training. Just visiting is an adventure because the experiences are unique.
In the east is Borgarfjordur Eystri – a hidden treasure at the road’s end, an hour’s drive from East-Iceland’s service centre Egilsstaoir. The 130 inhabitants are proud of their well organized hiking trails, all marked, and ranging from one kilometre to 26. Guided tours are available
Here, too, is Iceland’s most densely populated elfin settlements. More than 170 folk tales involve “the hidden people” but your chances of seeing puffins are considerably better. The birds are readily observable and each summer about 10,000 pairs nest here between late April and mid-August. Borgarfjordur Eystri is a fishing village where hospitality is legend. Traditional cuisine of fresh fish and Icelandic lamb are local specialties.
Iceland itineraries might include trail riding on rugged little Icelandic horses, sampling traditional cuisine in natural settings, experiencing Viking heritage, being pampered in one of the high-end spas, learning about myths and folklore, viewing the Northern Lights, enjoying the south’s black sand beaches, and bathing in Iceland’s hot springs. The experiences are unforgettable. www.icelandtouristboard.com.
Tourism IrelandTall Ships & Titanic Tales
With some of the world’s loveliest – and challenging – courses, Ireland is renowned among golfers. This year sees the Solheim Cup at Killeen Castle in county Meath, September 23 to 25, pitting top American female golfers against their European counterparts in the three-day match-play competition.
But there’s more than golf in Ireland as any visitor will attest.
In 2011, events range from the literary (Dublin is a UNESCO City of Literature and celebrates throughout the year) to the nautical, with the Tall Ships Races in Waterford from June 30 to July 3. The event attracts more than 70 majestic ships, 1,500 sail trainees, and an anticipated half-million maritime, music and festival fans to the quays of Ireland’s oldest city.
Titanic 100 Festival commemorates the launch of RMS Titanic from her Belfast building yard, March 31 to May 31 with tours, talks, theatre events and exhibitions. Next year is the centenary of that fateful Atlantic crossing on April 10, 1912.
The Giant’s Causeway, replete with myth and legend and the gem of Northern Ireland, gets a facelift in 2011 as part of the Causeway Coast & Glens Signature Project. A two-year renovation includes a new visitor centre and restoration to the headland. The Giant Finn would doubtless approve.
Too late to celebrate Saint Patrick’s day in Ireland this year, but save the dates – festivities are always launched with a spectacular parade in Dublin on March 17 and continue for several days. More information at www.discoverireland.com
A Queen’s Birthday, Blossoms, & Music On The Canals
Amsterdam’s canals inspired many through the ages, so it’s no wonder the 17th-century ring has become a UNESCO Heritage Site. Soak up the atmosphere of old Amsterdam, a remnant of the Dutch Golden Age when Holland was a leader in art, architecture and trade. This is the Netherlands’ ninth UNESCO Heritage Site.
With spring comes the opening of Keukenhof Gardens’ 32 hectares of blooming bulbs, this year from March 24 to May 20. Running in tandem and until June 21 is the Van Gogh Museum exhibit Blossom. A package for €49.50 includes museum and garden entrance, a canal cruise and bus transportation between Amsterdam and Lisse (home of the gardens).
If you’re in Holland on April 30, you’ll enjoy the nation-wide party celebrating Queen Beatrix’s birthday. Among the events: the world’s largest flea market in Amsterdam and non-stop performances across the country.
The Canal Festival (Grachten Festival) in August is a summer spectacle for music lovers when central Amsterdam rings to the sound of classical concerts on and around the canals.
In other events, Heritage Days (September 10 and 11) sees 60 historical Amsterdam buildings open their doors for free visits – a chance to see unique structures usually closed to the public. Uitmarkt, September 26 to 28, opens the cultural season with the largest festival in Holland, when 2,000 performers take to the stage at more than 30 venues. More information from www.holland.com
A Cultural Capital & Fishy Fashion
Scandinavia – Norway, Denmark, Finland, Sweden and Iceland – is a smorgasbord of delights. (See separate listing for Iceland.) A favourite area is Lapland, capping Finland and Sweden and offering sparkling summers with bright nights and adventurous winters. A winter high point is the Icehotel, built fresh each year of ice and snow, in Jukkasjarvi, Swedish Lapland, open between mid December and late April and offering a selection of outdoor adventures.
In Erksbergshallen, Gothenburg, a strangely named event draws the eye from May 27 to 29: the Fresh Fish Fashion Fair showcasing rising designers. More about Sweden from www.visitsweden.com.
Finland’s Turku is the country’s oldest city, the former capital and a university town. It shares this year’s European Cultural Capital title with Tallinn, Estonia. Celebrations feature a Tall Ships Regatta September 2 to 4. On Finland’s Eastern Gulf the Kotka Maritime Festival includes concerts from classic to rock, street theatre and a children’s festival. (July 28 to 31) Kotka is just over an hour’s drive from Helsinki. More from www.visitfinland.com.
Exploring and Norway go hand in glove. This year marks the 150th birthday of explorer Fridtjof Nansen, and the centenary of Roald Amundsen being the first to reach the South Pole. This is also Norway’s Year of Architecture, and related events are plentiful across the country. (www.visitnorway.com)
Danes, voted “happiest people in the world,” enjoy a spectrum of festivals including the Ribe Viking Market (Ribe) from April 30 to May 6, with a wealth of Viking crafts, combat displays and more. www.visitdenmark.com
Switzerland TourismYodelling, Jazz, & Woolly Roman Pigs
Switzerland, a compact little country of 7.7 million, has plenty to show off.
If you like time travel, you’ll find ancient sites, historic hotels and old-time transportation like the Glacier Express between Zermatt and St. Moritz, or the William Tell Express, a delightfully slow paddle-wheeler on Lake Lucerne.
One historic site is the 2,000-year-old settlement of Augusta Raurica, a fascinating museum in the north on the southern bank of the Rhine. It’s the best-preserved Roman town north of the Alps, where settlers bred woolly grazing pigs. It’s near Basel, which has its own major festival, Art Basel, from June 15 to 19.
Switzerland equals mountains and mountains bring to mind, well, yodelling. If you’ve ever wanted to try it, the National Yodelling Festival takes place in Interlaken between June 16 and 19. It only happens every five years, so get those vocal chords oiled.
Still on the music scene, the Montreux Jazz Festival has grown from its original three-day event in 1967 to a 16-day extravaganza from July 1 to 16.
The country is sportif with alpine events galore in winter. In summer, mountain bikers flock to the World Championships (downhill and cross-country) at Champery from August 30 to September 4 and golfers eye the Crans-Montana Golf Club, the Swiss stop on the Omega European Masters September 1 to 4.
The best way to get around Switzerland is with a Swiss Pass giving unlimited access to rail, bus and boat travel plus admittance to more than 450 museums. More from www.MySwitzerland.com