Amazing local traditions
Here in the UK, we've got some odd local traditions; rolling cheese down hills, setting fire to tar barrels, pretending we understand morris dancing. But for sheer inventiveness, we can't hold a candle to the Continent. All across Europe ancient traditions and curious customs have hung on to the modern day to become tourist attractions - and with our handy guide to some of the most unusual festivals and events, you can avoid the crowds and experience something truly different.
Battle of the Oranges, Ivrea
Inspired by the story of a young woman who saved herself from a tyrannical baron by cutting off his head, the largest food fight in Italy is a citrussy carnival held less than a day's drive from Eurotunnel Le Shuttle in Calais. The Battle of the Oranges is held on the Sunday, Monday and Tuesday directly before Lent begins, so the next event will take place on 25-28 February 2017. Spectators can hide behind nets or wear a symbolic red cap to avoid being hit, but beware of stray flying oranges!
Festa della Madonna Bruna, Matera, Italy
Many Italian towns hold ceremonies venerating the Virgin Mary, but none of them are quite like the ritual performed every year in the southern Italian city of Matera. On July 2nd, 'shepherds' and 'knights' parade through the streets from dawn to announce the arrival of a huge, gorgeously decorated float depicting the Madonna, which is led through the streets under police guard. However, no sooner has the statue arrived at Matera's beautiful cathedral then the crowd tears it apart in a potent symbol of rebirth and freedom. A truly memorable spectacle.
Wattolümpiade, Brunsbüttel, Germany
Say goodbye to the idea that Germans are always sensible and efficient when you visit the Mud Olympics, held each year in the coastal town of Brunsbüttel. Well under a day's drive from Calais, this indescribable two-day event - which celebrated its 10th anniversary in 2014 - involves mud football, mud cycling, a muddy version of Woodstock and all sorts of other activities (as long as they involve mud). This year's Olympics will be held on July 21st - make sure you take a change of clothes...
La Pourcailhade, Trie-sur-Baise
Held in the foothills of the picturesque Pyrenees, Trie-sur-Baise's unique Festival of the Pig honours the town's former status as home to Europe's biggest pig market. Held on the second Sunday in August (this year it's on August 13th), this incredible celebration of all things porky includes piglet races, black pudding eating competitions and the hotly contested Cri de Cochon or pig-squealing contest. As you'd expect, the food is magnificent - and with the mountains on one side of you and the surf of Biarritz on the other, there are plenty of ways to work off the calories!
La Tomatina, Buñol, Spain
One of Spain’s oddest and best known festive events, Buñol’s annual tomato battle is held on the last Wednesday of August (in 2017, August 30th)
as part of a week-long festival. In one hour, the twenty thousand participants throw around 150,000 tomatoes at each other, painting the town centre red with juice. You’re free to watch or spectate, but be aware that from this year the town has started to charge a €10 entry fee; tickets can be bought online
Brussels International Tattoo Convention
Somewhat more modern than the other festivals on this list, the
Brussels International Tattoo Convention nevertheless offers an opportunity to experience a culture unfamiliar to most. The fifth BITC will take place from November 10th-12th, with incredible displays of the tattooist's art available to all comers. The convention also includes a fashion show, art auctions, a wide variety of musical and burlesque acts and various shops, bars and more. Plus, you can commemorate your holiday with a bespoke tattoo! Ideally located just a few hours' drive from Calais, this is an opportunity to watch a new European tradition slowly finding its feet.
We've chosen festivals that are all within a day's drive of Calais, so you can factor them into a gentle road trip and see the sights along the way. The best general advice for visiting one of these festivals is to make doubly sure of the dates it's happening, perhaps arriving a day or two before so you know where you need to be and where it's safe to leave your car. It's also good to remember that, particularly in Spain and Italy, many quaint local festivals are religious in nature - have a good time, but try not to get in the way of the townspeople.
Getting there and around
Wherever you're heading in Europe, the best possible start to your holiday is a quick, cheap and hassle-free journey from the UK with Eurotunnel Le Shuttle. All the festivals listed above are within a day's drive of our Calais terminal, and with a crossing time of just 35 mins and with four trains an hour at peak times, you can spend less time travelling and more time flinging oranges!
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