Taking a language course during a festival will not only give you an insight into the culture of the country you’re visiting, it’ll also give you great opportunities to practise the language, and will assure you accommodation that may otherwise be hard (and expensive) to find. Of course, it’ll also mean that you have some great nights out…
Here are our pick of the best winter festivals for the start of 2012.
1. Karneval, Cologne and Düsseldorf
Every February Germany sheds its straight-laced image and parties hard with endless events and parades. The cities of Cologne and Düsseldorf are especially well-known for the scale of their festivities…
Karneval is the name given to this period of celebration in the area around Cologne and Düsseldorf (in the north west of Germany), although it’s known by other names in different parts of the country. Although the festivities officially commence in November, Carnival’s three-day climax is the best time to see the cities let their hair down.
It’s a time of parades, masks, parties and Carnival kings and queens – in fact, for fun in general. The exact time of celebration and the traditions vary from region to region but it generally takes place in early spring, six weeks or so before Easter.
2. Carnevale, Venice and Viareggio
Just as in Germany, there are lots of festivities in Italy that mark the beginning of Lent. Venice is doubtlessly home to the most famous carnival in the country, with its characteristic carnival masks and the party atmosphere that goes alongside it, but the Tuscan seaside town of Viareggio also celebrates in style. Whilst the carnival in Venice is hugely well-known and certainly something to behold, the small streets and alleyways make it very crowded, and prices during this time can be fearsomely expensive. Whilst Viareggio still attracts thousands of visitors, it can be a little less chaotic and less expensive option for enjoying the festivities.
3. Carnaval, Nice
Granted, people need little persuasion to visit this classy city on the French Riviera, but the carnival presents a great reason to go. It may not be as warm as in the balmy summer months, but there’ll still be plenty of sunshine to enjoy.
The Nice carnival (17th February – 4th March 2012) is actually one of the biggest in the world, and offers an array of entertainment options, lots of carnival processions and the pretty “flower battles” between floats. The theme for 2012 is ‘King of Sport’ a reference to the 2012 London Olympics and the sporting dynamism of Nice.
4. Las Fallas, Valencia
Taking place every March (17th-20th March in 2012), Las Fallas is a spectacular pyrotechnic festival – it is one of Spain’s most famous and certainly one of the world’s most unique. Taking place in the coastal city of Valencia each March, this is a fiesta for those who like noise and little sleep!
It’s a fantastic display to see, and the events surrounding the pyrotechnics will give you a great insight into the lively side of Spanish culture, and of course, give you ample opportunity to taste the local gastronomic delights…
5. St Patricks Day, Dublin and Cork
St Patrick’s Day (17th March) is a national holiday in Ireland and celebrations are held throughout the country, although wherever there are Irish people, or people of Irish origin, there is also likely to be a party! St Patrick’s feast day was originally a religious festival, but over the centuries has become far more associated with parades and parties. Holding St Patrick’s Day parades is a custom which began in 1737 in Boston, America when people of Irish origin held a modest celebration but since then the custom has spread to places all over the world.
Dublin holds a St Patrick’s festival over a few days around the 17th March, which includes a funfair, a circus, concerts, a treasure hunt, street performances, dances, art exhibitions, firework displays, a big parade and a variety of other activities and shows. Each year over a million spectators and some four thousand performers take part in these events.
There is also a three-day St Patrick’s festival in Cork involving a big parade, marching bands, dancing, street theatre, concerts and much more.