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Festivals in the Mediterranean

Colorful, passionate, impressive, noisy and tasty; these are a few ways to describe the innumerable religious, performing arts and harvest festivals that spark up the calendar of events in the Mediterranean. Be sure to experience the exuberance of Mediterranean festivals on your visit to Europe.

It would seem that not a month goes by in Cyprus without a festival with a religious or cultural basis. A Greek Orthodox festival with strong pagan roots focusing primarily on water, Kataklysmos or Festival of the Flood marks the day of the Holy Spirit. Coastal cities seize the opportunity to stage concerts and games near the waterfront, but even inhabitants of inland towns and particularly children – their water guns a necessary accessory, enjoy a good ‘splash”. Cyprus’s wine capital Lemesos lives up to its reputation as a party town with its annual wine festival every year.
Inspired by the ancient festivals dedicated to Dionysos and Aphrodite, it combines fun and merrymaking with ample wine and food and a variety of performances from local and international artistic groups.

Traditional local festivals and international convocations of talent abound throughout Turkey. Food is critical as always and is celebrated variously at the Malatya Apricot Festival, the Aksu Cherry Festival, and the Diyarbakir Watermelon Festival. Listen to stirring classical music of the music of the Balkans and Anatolia with the melody of jazz, fusion and funk at the Ankara Music Festival or go to the coast to enjoy the Çeşme Music Festival. Have a group love-in for gorgeous Turkish rugs at the Carpet Festival in Eşme and see stellar films at the Antalya Golden Orange Cinema Festival. Istanbul and Izmir are two other cities that host multiple festivals showcasing jazz and film.

The Tyrnavos Carnival, dramatically described as “the forbidden festival” and a “local rebellion” – this is in Greece after all, the birthplace of western drama– is a hundred-year old, all-stops-out, month long extravaganza. The town plays host to evenings of theatre, fancy dress parties and streets alive with music and dance. Thessaloniki Crossroads honors Middle Eastern cultures with a series of musical and culinary events, theatrical productions, film festivals, exhibitions, conferences and symposia, proving east and west have always existed in a state of mutual influence. Check local calendars for a plethora or music, film, and culinary festivals throughout the year.

Malta may hold more festivals per capita than any other country in Europe. Every single village and town holds its own festa in honor of its patron saint, so there’s almost always a town on holiday status, holding a parade and enjoying special foods and snacks for sale from carts along the way. Festival Mediterranea celebrates everything about the island of Gozo; other annual events showcase jazz, Maltese folk singing, and fireworks. The Malta Arts Festival comprises a wide variety of art forms, such as theatre, dance, music and art.

A world of festivals awaits in Italy, where festivities can honor everything from a mushroom to opera. In the Pisa neighborhood for instance: there’s the luminaria of San Ranieri, the Regata delle Repubbliche Marinare, the festival of cherries and the festival of pappardelle with truffles. Near Modena, home of balsamic vinegar, is the Gnoccata, the festival of gnocchi, those cute little potato dumplings, which are given out to all visitors from steaming pots along the streets. Then there’s the festival of dieting, but that’s after you get back home. In Sicily seat yourself in Taormina’s Ancient Theater for the Cinema Festival, or witness a mix of faith, folklore and tradition at festivals dedicated to the Patron Saints of Sicily. Dozens of festivals throughout Italy feature historical parades honoring different figures in history and giving everyone a reason to don a costume.

A festival is always on the calendar in Monaco; go Latin at the International Salsa Festival, have a laugh at the International Circus festival and just enjoy the jazz festival. Thanks to the quality and variety of its programming the Printemps des Arts festival has become the "crown jewel" among Monaco's many cultural events. The program ranges from classical music to heavy metal and includes a fashion show.

Fiesta! Enumerating the festivals in Spain is not quite possible, there are so many in every region. Madrid hosts a huge International Dance Festival annually that attracts dance companies encompassing the full range of dance styles, from classical to avant-garde, including Spanish and flamenco dance. Fancy some time travel? Streets decked out like the Middle Ages, magnificent processions and exciting mock battles mark the 400-year old festival of Moors and Christians: days filled with magic, legend and spectacle. Come and enjoy this unique festival in which thousands of people take part year after year, all trying to outshine each other in splendour and brilliance. These are only two of so many enriching and wildly fun festivals in Spain; start making your list.

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