Europe’s Can’t-Miss Festivals

From food in Brussels to seeing stars in Cannes, Europe is filled with can’t-miss festivals. It’s hard not to get amped for the traditional festival season, which spans the warmer months and includes favorites like Glastonbury in England and Pride Festival in Amsterdam. Whatever your festival style, Europe offers something for everyone.

Sentier de l'Embarcadère 1, 1000 Bruxelles, Belgium
There are dozens of foodie festivals in Belgium throughout the year, but my favourite, by far, is the EAT! Brussels restaurant festival, in early autumn. Located in the vast Bois de la Cambre Park, you can sample your way around the Brussels restaurant scene, in one easy location. 25 Brussels restaurants have booths at the festival, where they offer a few small dishes (normally 3-5) in exchange for tokens. Each token = 1€ and can be bought individually or in packages, on-site or in advance on-line. Buying a package will give you a reduced rate and includes extra goodies like tickets for champagne, coffee, and ice cream. In addition to the restaurants, there are several bars, sponsor tents, and eight world regions, also offering food and drink tastings and sometimes products for sale. It’s the best way to discover new restaurants in the city, or sample some of the top offerings without a huge financial commitment. (Michelin-starred La Truffe Noir was on-site this year.) For More Information:
315 Prinsengracht
Grachtenfestival is a week-long outdoor classical music festival held every August in Amsterdam. World-famous musicians, ensembles and new talent perform in locations around the city. The festival’s grand finale, the free Prinsengracht Concert, is held on a floating barge on the Prinsengracht Canal in front of the Pulitzer Hotel. Starting that morning, thousands of boats, large and small, stake out their spots. Day-long floating parties culminate in a shimmering, magical concert held under the stars. At the end of the evening, the Dutch join together to sing “Aan de Amsterdamse Grachten”, a song about life on the Amsterdam canals - so beautiful it brought tears to my eyes. Stake out your picnic spot on the sides of the canal, find a Dutch friend who has a room with a view, or book a canal-front room at the Hotel Pulitzer.
With well over a thousand lakes, Switzerland is blessed with its fair share of stunning bodies of water. The most extensive, however, is Lake Geneva (also known as Lac Léman), where you can bask in seductive views and amazing sunsets. It’s practically impossible to take your eyes off the shimmering water when driving down the mountainside or gazing out a train window, especially in the upper regions of Montreaux and Vevey. Other recommended viewing points include the banks of Lausanne, where bobbing swans and crystal-clear water calm the soul, and the Château de Chillon, a castle three miles from Montreux. Of course, you could also enjoy the views from the lake itself, where steam boats, ferries, and private yachts roam freely.
“People can either be over-the-top romantic about Paris, or they think life is ridiculous here,” says David Lebovitz. “I try to strike a middle ground.” Lebovitz, an American, worked for 13 years in the pastry department at Chez Panisse in Berkeley, California, then moved to Paris to launch a second career as a writer, blogger, and occasional culinary tour guide.

The author of six self-referential cookbooks, Lebovitz most recently published The Sweet Life in Paris, a collection of recipes and stories about life in his adopted city. During a day off from my tour of duty with Arnaud Delmontel, I wandered through Paris with Lebovitz to pick up some foodie tips. We met at Du Pain et des Idées (34 Rue Yves Toudic, 10th arrondissement, 33/(0) 1-42- 40-44-52), an artisan boulangerie founded by Christophe Vasseur, a fashion executive turned baker.

For bread, Lebovitz’s other favorite boulangeries include Eric Kayser (85 Boulevard Malesherbes, 8th arrondissement, 33/(0) 1-45-22-70-30; plus other locations around Paris) and La Boulangerie par Véronique Mauclerc (83 Rue de Crimée, 19th arrondissement, 33/(0) 1-42-40-64-55). As we walked and talked, Lebovitz insisted we stop for an afternoon snack of chouquettes, palm-size cream puffs covered with sugar and baked until brown.

We picked up 10 of them, studded with chocolate chips, at the pâtisserie Aux Péchés Normands (9 Rue du Faubourg du Temple, 10th arrondissement, 33/(0) 1-42-08-47-73). When I asked Lebovitz about the most pleasing pastry he’s had lately, he mentioned Alsatian kugelhopf, a semisweet confection somewhere between a cake and a bread, spiked with rum and almonds. It’s available at Vandermeersch (278 Avenue Daumesnil, 12th arrondissement, 33/(0) 1-43-47-21-66).

“The only problem is that they just make them on weekends, so I have to wait all week to get one,” he said. And his favorite morning pastry? The bostock, a disk of light almond cake topped with crackly almonds, which Lebovitz picks up at Ladurée (75 Avenue des Champs-Elysées, 8th arrondissement, 33/(0) 1-40-75-08-75). Photographs by Brian Doben. This appeared in the premiere issue, 2009. Read “13 Tips for Visiting a Paris Boulangerie.”
Djurgårdsslätten 49-51, 115 21 Stockholm, Sweden
No celebration brings otherwise reserved Swedes out of their shells more than the summer solstice festival of Midsummer. While its roots are pagan, Midsummer is celebrated by all classes of society. You’ll find folks wearing handmade wildflower wreaths on their heads, dancing and hopping around the maypole (majstång) decorated with flowers and greens, and singing traditional Swedish folk songs. Along with dancing and singing, locals also dig into hearty smörgåsbord, which include various flavors of pickled herring (sill), cured salmon, yellow almond-shaped potatoes, and a wide range of alcoholic snaps and aquavits to loosen up the nerves and get people into celebratory spirits.
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