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Europe’s harvest festivals are legendary, but with the COVID-19 pandemic, most have been canceled over the last couple of years. In 2022, they’re back, bringing opportunities to plan a trip that includes joining in these annual celebrations. They occur around the time of the main harvest in a given region, typically featuring a wide range of food, drink, entertainment, and activities based on old traditions. If you’d like to experience one or more this year, these are a few of the very best.
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The La Rioja province in the north of Spain is famous for being one of the most important wine producers, with the grapes grown in vineyards that are tucked into the rolling hills and in the valley along the Ebro river. With the Cantabrian Mountains in the backdrop, it’s incredibly picturesque. The capital city of Logroño hosts the Fiestas De San Mateo, or the Wine Harvest Festival, which starts on September 21st, St. Matthew’s Day, and lasts for a week. It dates back over 900 years and is held in the main square, featuring processions, grape stomping, wine tastings, live bands, bullfights, and firework displays.
Boppard sits along the banks of the Rhine and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site as a center for wine-making. Pinot Noir, Riesling, rare ice wine, and more, are produced here. During the last week of September and the first week of October, the Fall Wine Festival celebrates it all. While there are no parades, this is a great opportunity to sample all of the outstanding Rhine wines along with other regional delicacies like cheese and sausage. There are plenty of other reasons to visit Boppard too, with many charming villages in the area that have half-timbered homes lining narrow streets, while grand castles stand above, providing fairy-tale settings that include lush, sloping vineyards.
The village of Impruneta in Tuscany, renowned for its exquisite white truffles and fine wines, is in the heart of the Chianti Classico zone which refers to a stretch of wineries and vineyards between Siena and Florence. It hosts a vibrant, colorful grape festival every year on the last day of September which attracts locals and visitors alike. Enjoy an elaborate procession with floats that are built by each of the village’s four districts. Afterward, there are food and wine tastings, street performances, and dances.
While you’re here, the ancient Church of Santa Maria and the Museum of the Treasure of Impruneta are must-visits, with the church’s origins linked to the legend of the miraculous discovery of a painting of the Virgin Mary a story illustrated in a 15th-century marble bas-relief preserved in the museum.
The Ban des Vendanges is an event that kicks off Saint-Émilion’s annual harvest, which translates to “lifting the ban of the grape harvest.” It takes place in front of the picturesque collegiate church of Saint Emilion by the Jurade, which is a group of winegrowers dressed in red caps and robes. It was founded 800 years ago with its mission to supervise the production of fine wines. Today, their role is more symbolic, preserving the old traditions of the wine area. As part of the parade, they parade through town in their traditional attire. Wine tastings and many local arts, crafts, and produce will be for sale as well.
Alba’s International White Truffle Festival is hosted for nearly two months, from early October through early December each year. It’s a great opportunity to sample one of the world’s most desirable delicacies without getting your hands dirty. There will be cooking demonstrations, food and wine pairings, sensory analysis sessions, and plenty of tastings. One of the highlights is the donkey race that kicks it all off.
The famous traditional German harvest celebration, Oktoberfest, takes place between the third weekend in September and the first Sunday in October. Held in Bavaria for more than 200 years, it’s become the world’s biggest beer festival, but there’s a lot more than tasty brews to enjoy here. That includes traditional cuisine like soft pretzels, often served with sausage and sweet mustard, bratwurst and currywurst on bread rolls, and plenty of sweets, like waffles with chocolate sauce and warm crepes with applesauce. Live music, parades, and carnival rides are all part of it too, providing the perfect excuse to dress up in Bavarian attire and even get up on the table and dance.
While the majority of vineyards in France are in the countryside, for nearly 90 years there’s been a huge five-day festival in the Montmartre neighborhood of France in early October to celebrate the wine harvest. It becomes a giant street party here, complete with parades, food and wine stalls, picnics, and the grand finale: an open-air concert that takes place at the base of Sacré-Coeur, a church that towers above the city at over 426 feet.
This unique Estonian food festival held in early November celebrates dark-colored foods, from dishes dyed with chocolate and coffee to traditional balsamic vinegar and plump blackberries, with the aim to inspire and educate visitors about some of the world’s popular and lesser-known black foods. It’s all about culinary creativity and experimentation, enjoyed during some of the “blackest nights of the year,” with black squid ink pasta as the must-try dish. Tallinn itself offers many reasons to visit as a budget-friendly destination with a rich cultural scene in a historical setting, including quaint cobbled streets and impressive medieval fortifications in the form of city walls.
Lugano sits along the shores of Lake Lugano beneath the shadow of magnificent mountains just south of the Alps. A beautiful city anytime, in fall it’s particularly spectacular, highlighted with brilliant autumn colors. Over the first weekend in October, you can attend the Lugano Autumn Festival which celebrates grapes and fine wines in addition to hosting folkloric music. One of the highlights is the grottini, eating stations that are run by local vendors where you can sample typical Ticinese specialties like polenta with stew, roast pork, minestrone, and gnocchi, along with Ticino wines and many other local delights.
The “City of Truffles,” Buzet is a hilltop town in the very north of Istria near the Slovenian border. Its historic center dates from the Middle Ages and every October it celebrates its most famous delicacy at the Subotina Festival. The huge street party includes arts and crafts, and all things truffle, from truffle tastings and exhibitions to stalls that sell truffle-inspired food and drink. Pop-up restaurants offer truffle dishes like gnocchi and the grand finale is a massive truffle omelet. While you’re here, you’ll find many wineries for touring and tasting fine Croatian wines.
The largest settlement and capital of the Svalbard archipelago, Longyearbyen hosts Taste Svalbard, the northernmost food festival in the world. A four-day culinary celebration in early October, it’s a great opportunity to sample the region’s unique culinary delights with everything from reindeer soup to expertly prepared raw salmon, herring, trout, and Arctic cheeses, along with beer from the most northerly brewery on the planet, Red Bear. There are pop-up dinners, concerts, film screenings, and lectures too. Of course, it’s also worth visiting to experience a place that’s home to more polar bears than people, with a landscape of craggy mountains and pristine glaciers.
Every September, Vienna hosts Erntedankfest, a huge harvest celebration marking the beginning of fall and the return of some of the most delicious foods. There will be dozens of stalls with everything from sausages and mountain cheeses to pumpkin pancakes along with sturm, a fermented grape juice, and mostis, similar to cider. Live music, traditional Austrian performances, and all sorts of other entertainment are included too. While you’re here, visit popular attractions like Schönbrunn Palace and Gardens, St. Stephen’s Cathedral, and at least one of the many great museums like Kunsthistorisches, Beethoven Museum, and the Sigmund Freud Museum.
The Wine and Music Valley Festival takes place in Portugal’s Douro Valley, one of the world’s oldest wine grape growing regions, combining good music, food, and wine. Alongside tasty vino and a variety of delicious cuisine, there are music performances featuring local and international artists, with shows held on three stages. You’ll be able to sample grapes, enjoy wine shows, cooking shows, unique gastronomic experiences, and much more.
Olivagando is a two-day festival held in Magione every November, celebrating the local olive harvest and the feast day of St. Clement. Everyone involved in olive oil production gathers here and a priest blesses the new olive oil at a special mass. While the highlight is obviously this much sought-after olive oil, made from la dolce agogia, those who attend can also enjoy handmade cheeses, fresh chestnuts and walnuts, cured meats, truffles, and plenty of wine. There are art contests, workshops, antique markets, and a medieval dinner at the town’s 12th-century castle too.