This Summer: Quirky Festival-Hopping in Europe!

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Must Love Festivals

I’m finally able to reveal it to you all — my big summer plans involve festival-hopping all over Europe!

Must Love Festivals

Must Love Festivals is a campaign highlighting quirky, unusual, lesser-known festivals in Europe. You won’t see us running with bulls, throwing tomatoes, or hitting up the festivals that get all the attention. Instead, you’ll see a different side of Europe — a side where regions celebrate their music, their food, their arts, their culture, their sports, and much more. Festivals that are mysteriously absent from pop culture.

Must Love Festivals is the brainchild of my dear friend Kash Bhattacharya, the Budget Traveller.

Members of the team include myself, Frankie Thompson of As the Bird Flies, Michael Turtle of Time Travel Turtle, Victoria Watts and Steve of Bridges and Balloons, Bethany Salvon and Randy Kalp of Beers & Beans, Peter Parkorr of Travel Unmasked, Dylan Lowe of The Travelling Editor, Sophie Collard of Sophie on Track, Abigail King of Inside The Travel Lab, Sebastian Canaves-Börner of Off The Path, and Alex and Ben of Hejorama.

Dylan and Peter will be diving into Asian culture in The Hague. Frankie combined the best of comedy with a dose of snowboarding in Austria. Kash will be eating all of the oysters and Guinness in Galway.

Altogether, we’ll be visiting more than 40 festivals this summer!

For more details, check out the Must Love Festivals website. You can also become a fan of Must Love Festivals on Facebook and follow the hashtag #mustlovefestivals on social media to see the latest updates.

Must Love Festivals is brought to you by the Budget Traveller with lead partner Expedia and in association with Visit Finland, Ireland.com, I Feel Slovenia, Rotterdam Festivals, Malta Tourism Authority, Germany Tourism, Eurail, Den Haag Marketing, Austria Tourism, Puglia Events, Generator Hostels and Meininger Hotels.

Dancing in Shetland

Why Festivals?

It’s been more than two years and I’m still raving about Up Helly Aa, the Viking fire festival in the Shetland Islands, to everyone I meet. Dancing to traditional Shetland music with a bunch of “Yarrr!”-yelling Vikings until 8:00 AM was one of the most exhilarating nights of my life and one of my most cherished travel memories.

Songkran, a water-throwing festival celebrating the new year in Thailand, was three days of sheer fun and madness. Las Fallas in Valencia, Spain, was a crazy celebration of fire with explosions and music around the clock. Mardi Gras in New Orleans was a melange of music and beads and beignets and debauchery.

And on a hometown level, I love spending Marathon Monday and the Fourth of July in Boston, when everybody seems to be in a great mood.

Joining a festival is a way to get to know a community, let them show off their best assets, and feel like a local, if only for one day. Simply put, festivals rock!

L'entrée du Parlement ( Ljubljana)

So, where am I going?

I’m scheduled for five festivals and I’ve attended one so far. Here’s the lowdown:

In Limerick, Ireland, I attended several events in Limerick: Ireland’s 2014 City of Culture. I saw so much modern art, a beautiful flamenco ballet performance of Carmen, climbed castles, marveled at architecture, and learned that Limerick is not remotely the bleak environment as which it was portrayed in Angela’s Ashes.

I’ll be writing about Limerick soon, but let me tell you for now that I am so impressed at the beauty that can emerge when a city chooses to invest generously in the arts.

Next, in early July, I will be attending the Ana Desetnica Street Theater Festival in Ljubljana, Slovenia. I have fervently wanted to visit Slovenia since I was in college and I’m so glad the time is finally now! I look forward to seeing performances, gaping at the architecture, and falling under the spell of a city that has claimed several of my friends’ hearts.

In late July, I will be attending the Kuhmo Chamber Music Festival in Kuhmo, Finland. Now, this is a special festival — every year, some of Europe’s finest classical musicians convene in Kuhmo, a rural town in Finland’s lakes region, where they perform exquisite music in an environment absent of urban noise. It sounds fantastic and peaceful.

This is my first time in Finland, and I’m ready to explore its natural beauty, saunas, and chocolate.

In early August, I will be attending the Carpino Folk Festival in Puglia, Italy. While Italy is my favorite country in Europe and I visit a few times a year, I haven’t been south of Rome in nearly a decade (!). Puglia is the heel of the boot and, many have told me, the best culinary region in the south.

I’ve been to several events catered by Puglia Tourism in the past few years, and if their food is a fraction of what lies ahead, I will be extremely happy.

In late August, I will be attending the Cologne Music Festival in Cologne, Germany. This will be interesting because I’m not a concert-hopper at all — I’ve been to about six major concerts in my life, mostly the Backstreet Boys and Spice Girls. My music taste could not be more mainstream. So I’m wondering if I have what it takes to blend in with a crowd of German hipsters! I’ll be staying at the Meininger Hotel in Cologne on this leg of the campaign.

I’m also going to be using Must Love Festivals as an opportunity to stay a bit longer and visit the UNESCO World Heritage Sites of the surrounding regions. As I write this, I’ve just visited the incredible Skellig Michael in Ireland, my 80th World Heritage Site, and I’ll probably visit about 10 more sites around the festivals.

Altogether, this is a very exciting project, and I hope you enjoy it!

Have you been to any of these festivals? Have any suggestions? Let me know!

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