Art, theatre and dance: Europe’s best festivals


Art and opera in Avignon
One of Europe’s premier arts events, the Avignon Festival, is in one of the world’s most beautiful walled medieval cities from July 4-25, with up to 50 shows in 20 venues, including the famous Cour d’Honneur palace of the popes. There are theatre shows, art installations, a sacred music cycle in various churches, lots of cinema (including children’s films), dance, opera and, this being France, open-air discussions at the “workshops of thought”. The town has a frantic, febrile and creative atmosphere comparable to Edinburgh in August (only with better weather). has the details in English. Prices vary, but under-25s can get a good-value pass for four shows from £30. There is also an “off” or fringe festival running alongside the main event (
Where to stay The five-room chocolate-themed Hotel La Banasterie (00 33 687 729636, is a central and friendly place to stay, with B&B doubles from £120. Eurostar ( has a direct service to Avignon, with fares from £99 return

Jousting, music and beer in Bavaria
The Sandkirchweih Festival is ostensibly a celebration of Bavarian culture that takes place in the splendid historic town of Bamberg, a Unesco world heritage site, although many people only seem to be there for the beer. Over four days from August 20 there is jousting, music, traditional dancing and a firework display. And did I mention the beer? Bamberg itself has nine breweries and Aufsess, a town between Bamberg and Bayreuth, has the highest concentration of breweries in the world, so it is little surprise there are plenty of beer stalls. Most events are free (
Where to stay Railbookers (020 3327 0866, can tailor a three-night break to Bamberg including return rail travel from London from £619pp B&B in a central hotel

Literature in Ireland
The West Cork Literary Festival in Bantry, Ireland, runs from July 12-18 and includes events with Graham Norton, SJ Watson (Before I Go To Sleep; Second Life), David Nicholls (Us; One Day) plus workshops and seminars. There’s music, too. And the odd drink, we hear. Admission prices vary, from free to £37 for an advice session with a top editor (
Where to stay the Maritime Hotel (00 353 27 54700,, hosts many of the events and speakers and has doubles from £67 a night. Return flights to Cork from Stansted with Ryanair ( are from £46

Ballet and opera in Budapest
The Budapest Summer Festival is an extended concert series, with ballet, opera, musicals, pop music and art performances each weekend over three months. All the events take place in an open-air venue which can seat up to 3,000 people in Margaret Island, . This year there is Carl Orff’s Catulli Carmina & Carmina Burana ballet, Puccini’s Tosca, Swing à la Django, Chico & the Gypsies and Jesus Christ Superstar. All performances are individually priced and the calendar can be found on
Where to stay The 80-room grand but stylish Hotel Palazzo Zichy (00 36 1 235 4000, is an excellent base and has B&B doubles from £75 a night. EasyJet (0843 104 5000, flies from Gatwick, with returns from £130 over summer weekends

Johnny Hallyday in Carcassone
Few festivals can rival the backdrop of the medieval citadel of Carcassonne, France. This year marks the event’s tenth anniversary and it offers a mix of music, theatre, art and dance, all performed among the walled city’s historic buildings, including the open-air Théâtre de la Cité Médiévale and Basilique Saint-Nazaire plus a new festival site, Grande scène la Fajeolle. Performers include celebrated Celtic harpist Alan Stivell, French pop legend Johnny Hallyday and trip-hop god Tricky — how’s that for eclectic? The festival runs from July 6-August 1 and events are individually ticketed, although there is a complicated multi-event pass (
Where to stay The Hotel Le Donjon (00 33 4 68 11 23 00, is in the heart of the city and has a decent restaurant, with room-only doubles from £120. Ryanair ( has returns from £98

Sting on the Costa Brava
There can be few more civilised settings for a music festival than the exotic botanical gardens of Cap Roig castle, in Calella de Palafrugell, Costa Brava, Spain. Running from July 10 to August 16, the Cap Roig Festival crams in music from Sting to Spanish pop stars such as Miguel Bosé, all amid the heavenly scented air. Calella de Palafrugell itself is a lovely bay, lined with cafés, bars and hotels. Tickets for each concert are priced individually (
Where to stay Stay in town at the friendly, sea-edge Hotel Mediterrani (00 34 972 61 45 00,, doubles from £103). Vueling (00 34 931 51 81 58, has return flights to Barcelona from Gatwick from £118. Car hire through from £109pw.

Classical music in Croatia
The Dubrovnik Summer Festival (July 10-August 25) features the Slovenian and Zagreb philharmonic orchestras, Croatian mezzo-soprano Renata Pokupic, pianists Andrea Padova, Alexander Kutuzov and Bojan Gorisek, plus a variety of chamber ensembles. A few class acts that come from the soul-pop area, such as Nnenna Freelon and the great Gregory Porter, are sprinkled into the high-quality mix, plus there are ballet and theatre performances. Concerts take place in open-air squares, historic buildings and churches. Events are individually priced (
Where to stay Avoid the crowds and stay outside the city at theSun Gardens ( on the Adriatic coast, which runs a shuttle into town. It has a four-night package for £520 per room, B&B, with airport transfers and food and drink tours. EasyJet ( has return flights from Gatwick to Dubrovnik from £180 in July/August

Shakespeare and sonatas in Kilkenny
The Kilkenny Arts Festival bills itself as “artistic adventures in Ireland’s medieval city”, which sums it up nicely. It includes new interpretations of Shakespeare’s Richard II, Henry IV (parts 1 & 2) and Henry V performed in the open-air Castle Yard; Sir Andras Schiff performing the last sonatas of Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven and Schubert; a comprehensive concert/recital series performing the works of JS Bach in a variety of contexts, plus theatre, dance, literature talks and street events and parties. It runs from August 7-16 (
Where to stay The Pembroke (00 353 56 778 3500, is a smart boutique hotel near the castle, with a nicely exuberant bar/restaurant during the festival, a car park, and B&B doubles from £106 a night. Irish Ferries (08717 300 400, has return fares from Pembroke to Rosslare for a car and two passengers from £243

Opera in Le Marche
Italian opera festivals brings to mind Verona but the Le Marche hilltown of Macerata, which has a festival that runs July 23-27, offers an equally stunning setting — the Arena Sferisterio, a 19th-century games arena. This year the festival has an all-Italian cultural theme, with Verdi’s Rigoletto, Puccini’s La bohème and a double bill of Mascagni’s Cavalleria rusticana and Leoncavallo’s Pagliacci. Top-note Italian food and wine are also on offer (
Where to stay Specialists Travel for the Arts (020 8799 8350, has four nights from £1,595pp B&B (plus two lunches) staying at the 4-star Hotel Claudiani in the centre of Macerata, including top tickets for the three opera nights, guided sightseeing tours, BA flights to Bologna and transfers

Feria in Malaga
The Feria de Malaga, the Malaga Fair, is a fantastically senses-battering, colourful, noisy and good-natured party, with processions of riders and fancy carriages, flamenco music and dancing, fireworks, wine and tapas tasting, a huge fairground, lots of fino and more flamenco. It runs from August 15-22. Plus of course, Malaga now has the new pop-up Pompidou Centre ( with Magritte, Calder, Giacometti, and Bruce Nauman and the temporary display of treasures from the State Russian Museum in St Petersburg (including works by Kandinsky, Chagall, and Malevich) housed in La Tabacalera, an old tobacco factory, for the rest of this year ( The fiesta concentrates on the streets around Marques de Larios during the day and evening and then the massive fairground to the west, which opens from 9pm-dawn (
Where to stay Room Mate Lola (00 34 912 179 287,, doubles from £96) is a cool, modern hotel in the rapidly gentrifying former red-light district near the port, with rooms from £96 a night. Both Flybe ( and Ryanair ( have returns from £96

New Prada museum in Milan
Milan is bulging with art and architecture projects thanks to Expo 2015, but one of the associated unveilings will have a much longer life. Miuccia Prada has long been involved in creative arts beyond fashion and recently her Prada Foundation unveiled a new space on the outskirts of Milan. Converted by Rem Koolhaas from a former distillery into a vast, new and spectacular arts complex, it will display some of Ms Prada’s contemporary art holdings as well as a rolling programme of other exhibitions in the halls (at the moment a show about the human body featuring works by John Baldessari, David Hockney, Francesco Vezzoli, William Copley, Llyn Foulkes and Yves Klein) and in the cinema (where a documentary on Roman Polanski is showing). It even has a café designed by Wes Anderson. Entry to the museum is £7.30 (
Where to stay The hostel Ostello Bello (00 39 02 3658 2720, isn’t far from the Duomo and has private en suite rooms from £30-£40. easyJet ( has return flights to Milan from Gatwick this summer from £95

The blues in Tuscany
You think of Italy for opera (Verona, Lucca, etc) and in some cases for jazz (eg Perugia, Rome) but the blues? Yet in this overlooked but lovely small town in Tuscany, from July 1-24, twelve-bar and boogie rules. OK, so the definition of blues is more than flexible this year — Counting Crows, Sting, Hozier and Santana are featured, but there is an Italian Blues Night and all concerts take place in the open-air Piazza del Duomo, a great setting no matter who is playing. The Italian Blues Night is free; other shows are from £27 (
Where to stay Villa de’ Fiori (00 39 573 450351,, is a charming agriturismo estate just outside town, with very good food. easyJet ( has return flights to Pisa from £105 in July

Jazz on the beach in Greece
It is unusual for a private festival at a holiday resort to pull in world-class names, but the Sani complex near Thessaloniki has done just that. Over the summer it presents a mix of top-flight jazz/pop and Greek artists on Sani Hill, its main open-air venue. This year, among other treats, the incomparable jazz vocalist Kurt Elling performs his multilingual Passion World project; the African superstar Salif Keita brings the sounds of Mali; and the Symphony Orchestra of the Municipality of Thessaloniki and Filippos Pliatsikas light up the hill with a multimedia rock-classical fusion. The accommodation, food and drink at Sani are not to be sniffed at either. Tickets start at a reasonable £11 or £7.30 for resort guests (
Where to stay ITC Luxury Travel (01244 355 550 , has seven nights at the Sani in July from £1,185pp, half-board, including flights

Opera in Finland
Not as well known as Verona or Salzburg perhaps, but highly regarded by the cognoscenti, this opera festival is staged in Olavinlinna Castle, a spectacular setting built in 1475 that rises from a lake. Performances use the fabric of the castle, with singers performing on grand stone staircases or deep in the dungeons. The surrounding scenery and fresh air of this remote region is equally stimulating. This year the festival runs from July 3 to August 2 and includes top-class stagings of Tosca, Boris Godunov, The Merry Widow and La traviata (
Where to stay Given its remoteness and limited accommodation options, an opera package might be the best bet for Savonlinna. Martin Randall Travel (020 8742 3355, has a four-night trip with tickets for three operas, guest lecturer, flights and all transfers from £2,460pp B&B plus some other meals

Open-air art in Switzerland
Best known for its swanky hotels, skiing and the Cresta Run, Switzerland’s St Moritz turns into an open-air gallery in the summer for the Art Masters festival. Hundreds of artists from across the globe are invited to create a work in and around the town, to form the Walk of Art. There are also conventional shows in galleries and hotels as well as workshops and discussion groups. The festival runs from August 21-30 (
Where to stay Hotel Monopol (00 41 81 837 04 04, offers a reasonably priced alternative to some of the town’s glitzy palaces, with a spa and terrace including wonderful views. Fly to Zurich with easyJet from £82 return and take the train to St Moritz (an advance Swiss transfer ticket is £104 return, 00800 100 200 30,

Spandau Ballet in Sicily
Taormina, a small town on Sicily’s east coast, hosts an arts festival of opera, dance, theatre, exhibitions and music, which this year encompasses Spandau Ballet, Mika, Toto and Damien Rice as well as the operas Carmen, Don Giovanni, Nabucco, The Barber of Seville, La traviata and Aida. Best of all, these performances will take place in the ancient and beautifully set open-air Teatro Antico which dates to the 3rd century BC and offers a fabulous viewpoint over Sicily, looking towards Mount Etna. In fact the view might be the star of the show. Concerts run from now until late September and are individually priced (
Where to stay Massimo Villa Collection (0203 529 8013, has a number of villas in the area, including the impressive Villa La Baronessa, which is within walking distance of town and comes with a pool and plenty of outdoor terraces. It sleeps eight and costs £6,500 a week in high season. A fly-drive to Catania with British Airways ( costs from £389pp

Open-air art in Zagreb
The Croatian capital’s Summer on Stross festival plays out along Strossmayer, a romantic promenade in the lovely Upper Town. It runs from now until September 2 and is a rolling programme of art events and workshops, concerts, installations, fashion shows and open-air cinema. It has the feel of a big, arty open-air party. From July 17-26, it includes the opening of the Courtyards, the most beautiful gardens in the city, also in the upper town. All events are free (
Where to stay Hotel President Pantovcak (00 385 1 4881 480,, a smart boutique hotel close to one of the most attractive squares in the city, has doubles from £87 a night. Croatia Airlines ( has returns from £160

Food and light in Aarhus, Denmark
The ten-day Aarhus Festival (August 28-September 6) is a highlight in this cultural city, with thousands of events, many free and aimed at families. The theme is “Light, more light — into the darkness, out in the light”, which will no doubt parse from clunkiness into plenty of vibrant, multihued son et lumières and installations. One highlight will be Efterklang, the Danish indie-rock band, performing a new opera with singer Lisbeth Balslev. In the last three days the whole shebang morphs into a food festival, down at the nearby seaside, focusing on Scandi cooking and ingredients. Many events are free but others, such as Efterklang, are charged (from £15). See for more details.
Where to stay If Danish design is your thing stay at the Comwell Aarhus (00 45 8672 8000,, which has been given a makeover by the influential Hay design studio, and is all sharp lines and bright colours with B&B doubles from £140 a night. Ryanair ( flies to Aarhus from Stansted with returns from from £55pp

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