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Harvest Festival

Whether you have a thing for the humble onion or go crazy over roasting chestnuts, now is the time to celebrate the abundance of produce in some of Europe's most beautiful destinations. Andrew Eames shucks, plucks and picks his way around the continent

Onions Weimar, Germany Onion Market 12-14 October

It’s rare to celebrate this ubiquitous vegetable, but the eastern German city that calls itself home to Goethe, Liszt, Schiller and the Bauhaus Movement takes its onions very seriously. They plait them up in strings, interspersed with dried flowers like elaborate corn dollies, and they even elect an Onion Queen. The event has been a fixture since 1653, helped by Goethe’s praise for the onion’s health-giving properties, but has grown to attract 300,000 visitors with much more than just onions.

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Travel Details

BOOK IT Weimar will be completely rammed, so stay in Erfurt, a 15-minute train ride away. The comfortable Hotel am Kaisersaal is by Erfurt’s medieval bridge. Doubles from £94.

Olives Caimari, Mallorca Olive Fair 17 November

It’s olive harvest season all over the Mediterranean, and not just on the mainland. With the tourist invasion mostly gone, the island of Mallorca reverts to its rural roots, celebrating the olive trees found up in the hilly Tramuntana. It’s here, in the quiet stone village of Caimari, which still has a horse-powered olive press, that the olive has its day. Olive oil and black and green olives of all shapes and sizes are sold from stalls that line the main square, along with pungent sobrasada sausage.

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Travel Details

BOOK IT Get a real sense of rural Mallorca in the country estate of Monnàber Vell, in the Tramuntana foothills, a ten-minute drive away from Caimari and boasting its own well-equipped spa. Doubles from £99.

Oysters Galway, Ireland Galway Oyster Festival 28-30 September

Oysters from the ultra-clean waters of Galway Bay are exported to restaurants all over Europe. Although once a year Europe comes to Galway, to celebrate the oldest oyster festival in the world and the biggest international Irish festival after St Patrick’s Day. Catch the World Oyster Opening Championships, as well as street parades, seafood trails and, of course, extensive consumption of a certain creamy stout beginning with ‘G’. It’s a shucking great excuse for a party.


Travel Details

BOOK IT Five miles west of Galway along the bay is the Connemara Coast Hotel, its windows drinking in the clear blue sea and its therapy rooms worth a visit. Doubles with breakfast from £60.

Plum Brandy Sibiu, Romania Transylvanian Gastronomy Festival 14-16 September

It’s plum season in one of Europe’s most rustic and traditional rural economies, and many a householder will be loading tubs of the fermented fruit onto his horse and cart for the short trip to the village still. The end result can be rocket fuel – it’s a lottery – but that only adds to the fun. Try it with local salamis in the festival in Sibiu, which is set to be European Region of Gastronomy in 2019, or at the more refined gourmet weekend in October at the nearby Valea Verde Resort.

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Travel Details

BOOK IT Run by a German chef and set in a valley within striking distance of Sibiu, Valea Verde is a mix of restored farmhouse and village apartments centring on a rustic-style restaurant, and is running its gourmet weekend 26-28 October. Doubles from £62.

Sweet Chestnuts Lovran, Croatia Marunada Festival 20-21 October

The Croatian chunk of the Istrian peninsula is maruni (sweet chestnut) country, and every year the coastal town of Lovran is the focal point of a street and restaurant festival that spreads all along the shore. Streets are aromatic with the smell of roasting chestnuts. Cafés and patisseries offer special pastries and cakes made with chestnuts, while restaurants serve everything from steak with chestnut sauce to crêpes with maruni cream.

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Travel Details

BOOK IT Stay in the riviera resort of Opatija, a place of classy villas and tea rooms, among which the dowager Hotel Kvarner is extensively chandeliered and has its own private beach. Doubles from £82.

Apples Beuvron-en-Auge, France, Fête du Cidre 21 October

Apple juice in all its forms, from freshly squeezed to fermented into cider and distilled into the apple brandy Calvados, is the theme in this ravishingly pretty half-timbered village at the heart of Normandy’s orchard region. The region’s cider has AOC status and the area produces a cool 70 million bottles every year. Each October, the little village square is piled high with fruit, and apple-cheeked farmers, giving tastings every which way.

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Travel Details

BOOK IT Sleep in a cider barrel bed at converted farm buildings La Cour au Grip, in the hills above Beuvron (other room options are available). Doubles from £84.

Chilli peppers Espelette, France Fête du Piment 27-28 October

The chilli pepper was brought to France’s Pays Basque, in the foothills of the Pyrénées, by a sailor who travelled to the Americas with Columbus. It prospered in the local climate, becoming part and parcel of Basque cuisine, and is now the mainstay of local farms around the village of Espelette. Every harvest season Espelette’s house fronts blush a deep red with necklaces of drying chillies. Expect flamboyant Basque dancing and pelota-playing, too.

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Travel Details

BOOK IT Hotel Txistulari, just down the road in neighbouring Itxassou, has a pool and terrace and its restaurant emphasises seasonal local cuisine. Doubles with breakfast from £51.

Sherry and wine Jerez, Spain Fiestas de la Vendimia 1-16 September

Sherry is an integral part of the heady wine-producing whirl that is Jerez. While you can still do tasting tours of the Tío Pepe and Sandeman bodegas during Vendimia, their finos and manzanillas will be jazzing up street-fair tastings, particularly at September’s De Copa en Copa. Expect plenty of grape stomping and gastronomy, plus some spectacular flamenco and horse prancing typical of Andalucía. The party goes on deep into the night.

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Travel Details

BOOK IT The Hotel Villa Jerez is a conversion of a luxury villa built for the Domecq sherry dynasty in a quiet part of town; you don’t want to be downtown in fiesta season if you value your sleep. Doubles from £88.

Truffles Bonvillars, Switzerland Marché aux Truffes 27 October

This small but perfectly formed celebration of the mighty truffle is takes place in an immaculate village in the heart of Switzerland’s wine-growing district. The black gold is on display on street stalls, and you can expect guess-the-weight competitions, carriage rides and truffle-hunting dog demonstrations, as well as stalls selling all manner of truffle-infused delights. A fair few truffles escape the clutches of the market – but only to get as far as the menus of village restaurants, where they’ll be paired harmoniously with the pick of local wines.

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Travel Details

BOOK IT The lovely Hotel Restaurant Bellevue, in the nearby hamlet of Onnens, has a fine outdoor terrace for aperitifs, and a view out over Lake Neuchâtel, Switzerland’s largest lake. Doubles from £115.

Pumpkins Venzone, Italy Festa della Zucca 27-28 Octobe

Venzone is a medieval fortified village up in the foothills of the Alps in the Friuli-Venezia region of north-eastern Italy, and was 2017’s ‘most beautiful village in Italy’. The backstory to the festival tells the legend of a medieval craftsman who fooled the town council by placing a painted pumpkin instead of a golden sphere on top of the church belfry, so the celebrations contain a lot of period costumed tomfoolery and decorative pumpkin competitions, along with pumpkin bread, pumpkin cakes, pumpkin custard and a particularly delicious pumpkin gnocchi.

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Travel Details

BOOK IT Stop & Sleep Venzone is a fresh, imaginatively decorated collection of bedrooms with private kitchen access overlooking the medieval town hall square. Doubles from £49.

Herring Helsinki, Finland Baltic Herring Market 7-13 October

The humble herring has nourished north Atlantic communities for centuries and this five-day market is its largest celebration. It’s the oldest in Finland, having been established in 1743 and a Herring Jury convenes each year to select the year’s best recipe. All manner of herringrelated edibles are available: we like the sound of the fish marinated in cloudberries, lingonberries and blueberries from Finland’s moors. Expect stalls selling traditional Finnish woollen goods, handicrafts and artisan foods from all over the country, including saaristoleipä (tasty island bread).

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Travel Details

BOOK IT Boutiquey and well-located Hotel Fabian, which is a bit funky and achingly cool in typically Scandi style, is within strolling distance of the harbour and Market Square. Doubles from £116.

Alpine cheese Grosse Scheidegg, Switzerland Alpkäsefest 15 September

The best nutty Gruyère and creamy Vacherin cheeses are made up in Alpine dairies from herb-rich milk from the high meadows. The cows coming home from these pastures at the end of summer is a big cause for celebration, when bell-clanging herds descend into the valleys again. Mostly these festivals are held in the villages they return to, but this Alpkäsefest is up by the dairies in the spycher – farm barns – on the glorious Grosse Scheidegg pass above Grindelwald, in a place that will be familiar to skiers and mountaineers, with the north face of the Eiger looming.

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Travel Details

BOOK IT The classic wooden Hotel Bellevue des Alpes on the Scheidegg pass has preserved a timeless gentility under the Eiger’s eye. Doubles with breakfast and four-course dinner, from £306.

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