Location: Grande Piazza, Arezzo, Tuscany, Italy

Dates: Penultimate Saturday in June and first Sunday in September


Taking the baton from Siena’s Il Palio, Arezzo’s medieval jousting tournament is like taking a ride in a time machine to the days of knights and maidens. Churches are decorated with pictures of 12th-century crusaders and the streets fill with costumes from an era predating even Giorgio Vasari, the Renaissance heavyweight who grew up here.


Following a blessing by the bishop on the steps on the 13th-century cathedral, the parade ends in the Grande Piazza, the venue for the afternoon’s archaic fun. Proceedings are begun by the sbandieratori (flag wavers), touting the standards so loved by territorial medieval types. The jousters and their horses sport the colours and symbols of Arezzo’s four districts, which are all hoping to win the Golden Lance. Rather than aiming their lances at each other, contestants score points by hitting a wooden target held by a carving of a Saracen (Islamic) king.

The tradition possibly derives from a jousting display held to honour a knight in the late 13th century, and was certainly going strong by the early 19th century.


Essentials: Wear a doublet or tunic for that heraldic look. 


Local Attractions: Arezzo was bombed heavily in WWII but many Renaissance and Gothic buildings still stand. The Chiesa di San Francesco contains frescoes by Piero della Francesca.


More Info: www.lagiostradelsaracino.it in Italian




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Location: Abbots Bromley, Staffordshire, England


Dates: Wakes Monday (first Monday after the first Sunday after 4 September)


The date of the Horn Dance is not the only archaic aspect of this ancient rite. Held in a small village in the English Midlands, the ritual begins at 8am on the dot. The participants take the six sets of deer’s antlers, which carbon dating has revealed to be about 1000 years old, from the church. The horns are rather big, weighing between 7kg and 11kg. Six ‘deer men’ spend the next 12 hours carrying them around a 16km circuit of the surrounding countryside, accompanied by a hobby horse, a Robin Hood–style archer and Maid Marian. They regularly stop to dance, mimicking a bowman killing a deer, to music provided by a melodeon and triangle player.


One of England’s oldest surviving ritual dances, the event dates back to 1226. It has apparently only been cancelled once – in the 1920s, because the musician was ill and one of the dancers had died. It possibly began as a commemoration of the village’s acquisition of hunting rights in Needwood Forest, and the dance was an animistic ritual to ensure lucky hunting. Hobby horses are also a fertility symbol.


Local Attractions: Stay the night at the Goat’s Head pub in a room named after highwayman Dick Turpin, who holed up here. 


More Info: www.thehorndanceofabbotsbromley.co.uk




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Location: Bohinj, Slovenia


Dates: Sunday in mid-September



Kitsch, possibly of the unintentional kind, comes out to play at the Cow Ball. More than 50 years old, the festival marks a winter homecoming; not of men, but of cattle, which return to the alpine Bohinj valley after a summer spent in green pastures. Daisy and friends are truly the belles of the rural ball, as they are decorated with wreaths and shown off on a parade. Accompanied by herders, cheesemakers, milkmaids and other dairy-farming types, they pass Lake Bohinj and, rising 130m above it, Govin waterfall. The falls are only active after heavy rain, so hopefully there won’t be any spray to spoil the animals’ get-up. Stands line the cattle convoy, selling wicker and wood souvenirs and, of course, cow’s milk cheese. When you tire of the sound of jingling bells, have a go at folk dancing, log sawing, horseshoe casting and sling shooting.


Essentials: A willingness to try anything, even yodelling, will be appreciated.

Local Attractions: September is an ideal month to visit Slovenia because it’s the best time for hiking and climbing, and the summer crowds have disappeared. Skilled mountaineers can tackle Triglav (2864m), which looms above the Bohinj valley. The highest peak in both Slovenia and the Julian Alps, which stretch into northeast Italy, it features on the country’s flag and 50c euro coin.



More Info: www.bohinj.com

Location: Barcelona, Spain

Dates: Four days around 24 September


The Catalan capital’s festa major, a final burst of prewinter madness for the Mediterranean city, is dedicated to its co-patron saint, the Virgin of Mercy. Nostra Senyora de la Mercè, whose image lies in the church of the same name on Plaça de la Mercè, was named co-patron after she single-handedly beat off a plague of locusts in 1637! Then in 1714, as Barcelona faced defeat in the War of the Spanish Succession, the obviously desperate town elders appointed her commander in chief of the city’s defences.

Some 600 events take place, most of them in the city centre. There’s a swimming race across the harbour, a fun run and a series of free concerts. Adding to the local colour are the essential ingredients of all self-respecting Catalan festivals: sardana (folk dancing from northern Catalonia) and parades of gegants (giants), dancing in synch with the costumed groups carrying them. Brave combatants known as castellers compete to form the highest human pyramid; the towers rise up to eight storeys high. The correfoc (fire run) is a pyromaniac’s dream. Crowds hurl themselves along Via Laietana before ‘devils’ and other fire-spurting beasts, not to mention kids armed with firecrackers.


Local Attractions: Take the opportunity to visit Barcelona’s museums for free and to sample the local Cava (sparkling wine).


More Info: www.bcn.es/merce



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St Asaph Cathedral


St Asaph. Clwyd, Wales

End of September

Hosted in the smallest ancient Cathedral in the UK, the festival boasts one of the most intimate settings in which to hear the world’s leading classical musicians.



When: September
Where: Galway, Ireland

The Galway International Oyster Festival is a food festival held annually in Galway during September, the first month of the oyster season. Inaugurated in 1954, it was begun by Great Southern Hotel manager, Brian Collins, and in 2000 was described by the Sunday Times as “one of the 12 greatest shows on earth”[1] and was listed in the 1987 AA Travel Guide one of Europe’s Seven Best Festivals.[2]

The reason why the International Oyster Festival began is all from the worries of a hotel manager. Brian Collins was the manager of the Great Southern Hotel, he was questioning himself about how he would be able to extend the tourist season through the month of September. The head chef of the hotel and Brian had discussed having oysters put into the menu since they were in season. Brian Collins realized that by not just adding oysters to the menu but having an oyster festival would surely increase tourists to their hotel. Therefore in September 1954, the first oyster festival was held, and still remains today as one of the longest running festivals of the world.

Galway International Oyster Festival website