Lugano's Autumn festival / photo: Lugano Tourism

Lugano’s Autumn festival / photo: Lugano Tourism

By Jim Ferri

Researchers will tell you there are three basic reasons people travel: to experience a foreign culture, to shop, and to enjoy new foods. Food Festivals offer the opportunity to do all three at once.

There is no place where this is truer than in Europe where hundreds of festivals are held each year. Some are focused entirely on food, others mostly on it, still others have only a small food component.

To help you separate the food-festival wheat from the chaff we’ve put together a guide to the best food festivals in Europe. Some are weekend-long events; others run for weeks each year. One lasts only for a day.

This list does not include faux “food festivals” such as La Tomatina in Bunol, which is nothing but a huge food-fight. Others though, are worthy of some gourmet grazing and also include a heavy dollop of local culture and fun.

Here are the 20 best, categorized by country.

Belgium

Oostduinkerke: Shrimp Festival  (Shrimpfeast and Shrimppageant)

June 28-29, 2014

photo: belgiancoast.co.uk

photo: belgiancoast.co.uk

Head to Oostduinkerke on the Flemish coast for a festival that heralds the fisherman who ride their horses into the sea to trawl for shrimp. This way of shrimp fishing is so unique UNESCO recently added it to its world list of Intangible Cultural Heritage. At the Shrimpfest, held the last weekend of June every year, the catch is brought to shore where it’s cooked in any number of ways. Activities include a Shrimp Parade on Sunday afternoon.
http://oostduinkerke.com/en/oostduinkerke.php

Denmark

Copenhagen: Copenhagen Cooking

August 22 – 31, 2014

photo: Copenhagen Cooking

photo: Copenhagen Cooking

To spread word of Copenhagen as a world-class gastronomic destination the Danes have launched one of the biggest food festivals in Northern Europe. It is an open-source festival that profiles Danish gastronomy by paying homage to its food culture, Nordic cuisine and chefs from some of the city’s leading restaurants.You’ll find cooking workshops, wine tastings and markets among the hundred or so events that take place around the city.
http://www.copenhagencooking.com/

Finland

Helsinki: Baltic Herring Festival (Silakkamarkkinat)

October 5-11, 2014

photo: VisitFinland

photo: VisitFinland

This is a bit of a niche festival but it’s an ancient tradition in Helsinki. Every October fishermen bring their small boats to the wharf at the city’s Market Square to sell their catch. All about the square you’ll find plenty of herring prepared in a variety of ways, as well as other Finn foodstuffs.  The fair activities include a competition for the best herring dish and a race of traditional sailing ships.
http://www.visithelsinki.fi/en/events-in-helsinki/

France

Honfleur: Shrimp Festival (La Fête de la Crevette)

October 4-5, 2014

photo: Atout-France-Franck Charel

photo: Atout-France-Franck Charel

Held annually in one of the prettiest old ports in Normandy, Honfleur’s Shrimp Festival attracts thousands who come to town for the great shrimp-peeling competition. There are also concerts, an arts and crafts market and plenty of sea shanties as old sea vessels gather in the port. In addition to crevettes and other seafood, on the festival menu you’ll also find cheeses, meats, pastries and bread as well as plenty of Calvados and cider.
www.ot-honfleur.fr

Gourin: Crêpe Festival (Fête de la Crêpe)

July 26-27, 2014

photo: Fête-de-la-Crêpe

photo: Fête-de-la-Crêpe

If you’re looking for a small-town festival with a food connection, on the last weekend in July visit the Brittany town of Gourin for its annual Crêpe Festival. Feast on crêpes as well as galettes, the region’s famous buckwheat pancakes and watch the contest to cook the world’s biggest crepe. There’s plenty of music and dancing in traditional costumes, as you might expect.
http://www.fetedelacrepe.com (in French only)

Arles: Rice Festival (Féria du Riz)

September 12-14, 2014

photo: Féria d'Arles

photo: Féria d’Arles

During this three-day celebration the old Roman city of Arles adopts a decidedly Spanish flavor with the running of the bulls through its streets and bullfights in the old Roman arena. There’s also plenty of seafood paella cooked in huge pans as well as churros and tapas for sale. The festival celebrates the harvest of the region’s distinctive red Carmargue rice with parades, music and men galloping about on local Camargue horses.
www.feriaarles.com

Germany

Weimar: Weimar Onion Market (Weimarer Zwiebelmarkt)
October 10-12, 2014

photo: Weimarer Zwiebelmarkt

photo: Weimarer Zwiebelmarkt

Munich may have its Oktoberfest but Weimar, a small town southwest of Leipzig, has an onion market that is 150+ years older. It’s a huge market with more than 500 stalls selling everything and anything having to do with the popular bulb. There’s plenty of other foods (sausages, spiced Lebkuchen cakes) and drink too, along with entertainment through the city.
www.weimar.de/en/tourismus/culture-leisure/markets-festivals/onion-market/

Great Britain

Abergavenny: Abergavenny Food Festival

September 20-21, 2014

photo: Abergavenny Food Festival

photo: Abergavenny Food Festival

With 200 exhibitors from Wales and England coming together for cooking demonstrations, workshops, talks, tastings and competitions, Abergavenny has been called the “biggest date in Wales’s gourmet calendar.” Visit the five festival sites about town and try everything from Welsh onion bread to Herefordshire cider. It attracts nearly 30,000 visitors, and last year was the winner of “Best Event in Wales” in the National Tourism Awards.
www.abergavennyfoodfestival.com/‎

Cardiff: Great British Cheese Festival

Late September 2014

photo: Hannah Waldram/guardian.co_.uk

photo: Hannah Waldram/guardian.co_.uk

For years an annual event, the festival has now become biennial but still promises to be top notch with more than 460 cheeses on offer. There are master classes in cheese making and, as one would expect, plenty of tastings as well as stalls offering British meats, veggies and breads. Try Stinking Bishop, Britain’s smelliest cheese – described as “smelling like something between a rugby club changing room and old nappies.”
www.thecheeseweb.com

Nantwich: Nantwich Food & Drink Festival

September 5-7, 2014

photo: Nantwich Food Festival

photo: Nantwich Food Festival

This wide-ranging festival brings together producers from Cheshire, Wales, the Marches and he northwest England. Set in two main venues and smaller ones scattered about the town, it has tastings of beer and wine, sausages and vinegar, foraging walks, cookery demonstrations, jam judging, even a cocktail workshop. At the last festival the “Man vs Burger” (the burger being a 5-pounder) challenge was popular.
www.nantwichfoodfestival.co.uk

Hungary

Békéscsaba: Csabai Sausage Festival (Csabai Kolbászfesztivál)

October 23-26, 2014

photo: Csabai Kolbászfesztivál

photo: Csabai Kolbászfesztivál

This festival, about 3 hours by car southeast of Budapest, celebrates the paprika-spiked Hungarian Csabai sausage. The highlight of it is the sausage-making contest in which about 500 teams compete. There are also traditional pig-feast meals, a stuffed cabbage-making competition, folk music and a wine festival. It’s attracted about 10,000 visitors in recent years.
http://csabaikolbaszfesztival.hu/43/sausage-festival-of-csaba

Ireland

Galway: Galway Oyster Festival

September 25-28, 2014

photo: neece.com

photo: neece.com

The Irish know how to party and they throw one of the largest in Galway every September. It’s said to be the most internationally recognized Irish festival after St Patrick’s Day. You can down countless pints of Guinness and beer while consuming copious amounts of oysters and other seafood. It all kicks off with a traditional parade on Friday and continues with the World Oyster Opening Championship and music and parties throughout the weekend.
http://www.galwayoysterfest.com

Italy

Foligno: The First of Italy (I Primi d’Italia)

September 25-28, 2014

photo: I'Primi D'Italia

photo: I’Primi D’Italia

This festival takes place in the Perugian town of Foligno and is all about such classic Italian food firsts as pastas, gnocchi, soups and rice. It’s a lively festival that includes tastings, demonstrations, master classes and even the creation of traditional medieval foods for sampling. It also embraces some quirky food events such as pasta sculpture and food clips from classic movies.
http://www.iprimiditalia.it (in Italian only)

Alba: International White Truffle Fair (Fiera del Tartufo)

October 11-16, 2014

photo: Fiera del Tartufo

photo: Fiera del Tartufo

Alba is a small Piedmontese town that comes alive every October for the Truffle Fair. It’s a major event for which some of the world’s most famous chefs fly in for the annual truffle auction. The auction is an invitation-only event where the exotic truffles can go for more than $1,200 a pound. Beyond the auction it’s a festival that showcases the foods of Piedmont including roast pork, salami, polenta, etc. Mangia!
www.fieradeltartufo.org

Netherlands

Amsterdam: Rolling Kitchens (Rollende Keukens)

May 28 – June 1, 2014

photo: Flickr/Rose-Mentink

photo: Flickr/Rose-Mentink

For one long weekend every year in Amsterdam gourmet-food trucks roll into the city’s Westergasfabriek park and turn it into a huge open-air kitchen. You’ll find quite a variety of food including Indian cuisine, suckling pig and American barbecue. Add music, dancing and rides for the kids and the whole event takes on the atmosphere of a county fair.
www.rollendekeukens.nl/

Portugal

Portimão: Sardine Festival (Festival da Sardinha Portimão)

Second week in August

photo: Portimão Sardine Festival

photo: Portimão Sardine Festival

If you love sardines Portimão’s Sardine Festival on the Algarve may be your nirvana. Here you’ll find countless sardines charcoal-grilled and dusted with sea salt with a side of potatoes, perfect to down with a cool, crisp vinho verde. While competitive eaters can enter the festival’s sardine-eating contest, everyone can enjoy the music when the festivities morph into a music concert at 10pm.
http://www.algarve.eu.com

Spain

O Grove : Seafood Festival (Fiesta de Marisco)

October 2-12, 2014

photo: Fiesta De Marisco

photo: Fiesta De Marisco

O Grove is a Spanish town in Galicia, on the Atlantic coast near the Portuguese border. It’s not a big town but every October it hosts one of Europe’s biggest food festivals dedicated to seafood (including shrimp, crabs, clams, scallops, even barnacles) and chefs compete to come up with an innovative mussel dish. It’s all infused with a lot of dancing and folk music.
http://www.turismogrove.com

Sweden

Stockholm: Taste of Stockholm (Smaka på Stockholm)

June 4-8, 2014

photo: Taste of Stockholm

photo: Taste of Stockholm

The Swedes bid farewell to spring at the beginning of June when they host the Taste of Stockholm, six wonderful days of food and music that attract hundreds of thousands of people. About 25 of the city’s best restaurants set up outdoor stalls in the Kungsträdgården (the King’s Garden park), where the Taste of Stockholm food and drink festival proves that there is more to Swedish cooking than little meatballs and lingonberries.
http://www.smakapastockholm.se/english/

Switzerland

Lugano: Autumn Festival (Festa d’Autunno)

October 3-5, 2014

photo: Lugano Tourism

photo: Lugano Tourism

Ticino, the Italian-speaking region of Switzerland, celebrates its grape harvest every year with a huge street food fair in Lugano.  In addition to performers and street musicians offering traditional entertainment, you’ll also find stalls offering roast pork, risotto, gnocchi, polenta, minestrone and other Ticinese specialties. And, of course, plenty of vino. Delizioso!
www.lugano-tourism.ch

Gruyères: Gruyere Cheese Festival (Fête du Fromage à Gruyères)

May 4, 2014

photo: La Gruyère Tourisme

photo: La Gruyère Tourisme

What better place to sample Gruyère cheese than in the little medieval village of Gruyères, northeast of Lake Geneva in Switzerland. And what better time than at the annual Gruyère Festival? This one-day festival, now in its seventh year, serves up its famous cheese amid the fanfare of Alpine horns, music and flag throwing. There are cheese demonstrations and regional handcrafts for sale.
http://www.la-gruyere.ch/en/fete-du-fromage

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