If the back-to-work January blues are hitting you hard, you might be inclined to start leafing through your diary to plan your next getaway. But before you get all wrapped up in yet another yoga retreat in Bali, consider some of the timely events happening around the globe. From opera in Verona's ancient amphitheatre and cheese festivals in Spain to Saharan adventures and art fairs on your very doorstep, it's never been a better time to scrap planning around destinations and start seeking out experiences. Our month-by-month guide provides you with a year of inspiration for the must-do events in the best of must-see destinations - so what's stopping you?
Take your classic winter carnival, put it on steroids and you’ll get the Harbin International Ice and Snow Sculpture Festival. There are four vast theme parks—Sun Island International Snow Sculpture Art Expo, Harbin Ice and Snow World, Songhua River Ice and Snow Happy Valley, and the Zhaolin Park Ice Lantern Fair—and each one is more fantastical and rainbow-coloured than the last. Marvel at colossal sculptures that seem remarkably lifelike for frozen water and partake in sledding competitions and parades. Don’t forget your furs as the temperature can hit a bone-chilling -30C.
For eight days each January, Cartagena, one of Colombia’s most photogenic cities, opens its bougainvillea-covered colonial spaces to the public for performances by classical musicians from around the world. Founded by the late Italian-American harpist Victor Salvi and his Colombian wife Julia, there are also masterclasses with top musicians and, in true Colombian style, endless opportunities to dance in the streets, cocktail in hand.
After the immense success of the Longines Grand Slam Indoor of Show Jumping in Paris and Los Angeles, Asian fans of the sport started to wonder why there were so few events on home turf. Happily, the Hong Kong leg of the event was launched in 2013 and is now held each February at the AsiaWorld-Expo. It offers three days of innovative show-jumping competitions as well as a feast for the senses with an array of the best art, food, culture and entertainment the city has to offer.
Walking around the Carnival of Venice is like stepping into a world you last experienced in literature class at the age of 16. Men in ruffles and knickerbockers prance down narrow walkways while women in petticoats flirt with amorous gondoliers as they glide around the city. There are carnivals and parades each morning and masked balls in the evening—if ever there was a moment to let your hair down and enjoy the more eccentric side to Italian life, this is it.
If you’re a fan of Star Wars, sand and electro music, this festival at the original film set in the Tunisian desert is for you. Dress as Princess Leia or Luke Skywalker, dance to tunes by Fabrika Crew, N’to and Kölsch, go sand-dune surfing or re-enact your favourite lightsaber scenes.
If the idea of adventure travel gets you going then look no further than Beyond Sahara, an activity-based festival, for your next holiday. Options include sand-boarding, a 5km desert run and camel races. Although happily the organisers behind it know that even adrenalin junkies need a few luxuries—think traditional Moroccan cooking by candlelight and four-poster beds to collapse into after a day in the sun.
By March, all those Ibiza bunnies are getting serious withdrawal symptoms from their summer high. Happily, the European party hubs are now being recreated in the Caribbean, which means five sunshine-filled days on St Martin—enough, hopefully, to tide you over until June. In fact, you’d be forgiven for thinking you were in Ibiza if it weren’t for the cheap rum cocktails and perfect white sandy beaches. This year’s line-up includes Lee Burridge, Jamie Jones, DJ Tennis, Psychemagik, Adriatique, Dubfire and Blond:ish.
The largest Asia-based art fair in the world, Art Basel in Hong Kong has cemented the city’s growing reputation as the art hub of the region. With more than half of the participating galleries in 2017 having exhibition spaces in Asia, this is essential viewing for anyone interested in contemporary Eastern art. And with the already frenetic city putting on its sparkliest party shoes for art week, visitors can expect incredible soirées everywhere from the Mandarin Oriental to penthouses on The Peak.
Skiing and jazz: an admittedly unusual but undoubtedly wonderful combination. Although not one we would have thought of if it weren’t for the Tanzcafe Arlberg festival—a new fixture on the Austrian ski scene’s calendar. Every April, the small town of Lech gets transformed into a snowier version of New Orleans with hundreds of jazz bands and swing orchestras filling up all the cafes and bars. Try to time your dates for the end-of-season musical extravaganza at the Kristiania hotel on the 17th.
Billed as the world’s coolest marathon, this is a race for people who don’t usually consider running 42km a challenge, so need to spice it up with some sub-zero temperatures, Arctic ice floes and freezing winds. Fly to Svalbard in Norway and get transported by helicopter to the polar region where you will run in the only marathon in the world conducted entirely on (frozen) water.
Are there any two words in the English language more tempting than “cheese festival”? Clearly not to the 100,000 avid fans of fromage who flock to the historic main square in Trujillo, Spain each spring for this three-day celebration of all things cheese. Visitors can sample over 500 different types of queso and dine in one of the square’s six restaurants, all of which create cheesy regional menus complemented with local wines.
The historic Italian race Mille Miglia is a 1,000-mile (1,609km) journey from Brescia to Rome and back again in the most beautiful classic cars on earth. This opulent event includes overnight stops in Parma, Rome and Rimini and lunches in some of Italy’s most sumptuous restaurants. Recent racers include David Gandy and Jodie Kidd, who clearly fitted in perfectly with what is often described as the world’s most beautiful car rally.
Let’s be honest, you probably won’t visit St Petersburg too many times in your life. So when you’re there, why not try and fit in as many cultural events as you can? The best way to do this is by visiting during this annual festival featuring a series of classical ballets, operas and orchestral performances. While the festival has only been in existence since 1993, some of the traditions that are part of it—such as the Carnivals of the White Nights and the Scarlet Sails fireworks display—date back many years.
It goes without saying that a seven-day, 250km race in the Gobi Desert’s stifling heat is not for the faint-hearted. Often described as the antidote to modern life, this race will show you exactly where your limits lie.
Kate, Wills and Harry are regulars at this uber-glamorous polo event, which is not only described as the highlight of the polo calendar but also the pinnacle of the famous British season. As well as the royals, the polo usually attracts all the most attractive residents of West London, and in typical British fashion, at least one rain shower throughout the day. Held at Guards Polo Club in Windsor Great Park.
If the thought of falling in mud and drinking warm beer for three days leaves you cold, then fear not—you’re not too old for festivals, you’ve just been going to the wrong ones. Set in warm, beautiful Lisbon, Nos Alive is for people who like their music festivals with a large dash of running water and a side of art galleries, sea swimming and sunbathing. And in true Iberian fashion, the gates only open at 4pm and shut at 4am, so you can dance all night (Depeche Mode is already confirmed) and relax on the beach all day.
Festival? Beach holiday? Gourmet trip? How about all three? This festival takes over the tiny olive-tree filled Croatian island of Obonjan and lasts for six weeks—guests can dip in and out according to which bands they like best. Acts will play at the stone amphitheatre overlooking the Adriatic, while elsewhere there’s an underwater sculpture garden, open-air cinema and woodland well-being centre. Sleep in safari-style tents, eat at beach clubs, drink in rum bars and spend your mornings floating in the warm sea, vowing to never leave.
Yes, the New York Met is rather wonderful, and the Palais Garnier in Paris is adorned with more gold than Trump Tower, but can any opera experience beat sitting in Verona’s Roman amphitheatre on a warm summer evening? Well, you’ll never know unless you try. This highly anticipated version of Tosca will be staged by Hugo de Ana and will also give you a chance to explore Verona, one of Italy’s best-kept secrets.
For the first time since 1991 (and that one was only partially viewable from Hawaii) a total solar eclipse will be occurring in America. The first place to see it will Oregon, where at 10.15 in the morning the sun will be completely blocked by the moon for about three minutes, and for the rest of the day it will move slowly across the country.
If you love modern art, you’ve probably already planned trips to New York, Paris and London in 2017. But Turkey? Not so much. Well, thanks to Contemporary Istanbul, you now have the chance to see some of the most exciting new Middle Eastern art in the world in one of the most intoxicating cities in Europe.
Despite the name, this Munich-based festival mainly takes place in September, and despite the overwhelming focus on beer, it also offers the best sauerkraut and weisswurst in the world. Oktoberfest-approved brews include Paulaner and Augustiner—but the main reason we want to go is that we know how adorable we’d look in the required dirndls and lederhosen.
Oysters are a bit like Marmite—you either love them or you hate them. For those on the hate side of things, please find entertainment elsewhere. But for the rest of you, keep the end of September free. Marking the start of Ireland’s oyster season, this three-day festival offers shucking classes, tasting events, parades, a ball and all the oysters and champagne you could ever dream of.
An Asian art fair in Paris—why would we cross the world for that? Well, this new arrival on the Parisian art scene is making serious waves due to the fact it brings together all Asian artists with a connection to France. Held in a beautiful Haussmannian building on Avenue Hoche, it coincides with FIAC, the city’s biggest annual art fair, and is an essential add-on to any Parisian art week diary.
So you know all about Coachella, but what about Oldchella, the tongue-in-cheek name given to Desert Trip? Set in the same location as the celebrity-filled April festival, the line-up is a celebration of all things 1960s—The Rolling Stones, Bob Dylan, Neil Young and The Who were all there in 2016. And because we get a little more particular about what we eat as we get older, there are also four-course meals and wine pairings on the bill. If this is what ageing is about, sign us up.
OK, so back in the January section we made the potentially outlandish claim that Cape Town’s Queen’s Plate snags the prize for best-looking race day in the southern hemisphere. Well, the beautiful guys and girls at the Melbourne Cup have something to say about that—and rightly so as their outfits hit the fashion pages of newspapers around the world. Dating back to 1861 and known as one of the richest turf courses in the world, this is one of the most iconic events in Oz.
One night in Paris, like the heroines of the Disney fantasies they grew up watching, 20 to 25 well-born young women are transformed from typical teenagers into glossy, couture-clad goddesses. Run by Ophélie Renouard, a French PR with a not-so-little black book, Le Bal is commonly known as the Crillon Ball, and 2017 marks its return to the luxurious Hotel de Crillon on Place de la Concorde after an extensive three-year renovation.
The Formula 1 season culminates in a nail-biting finale at the Yas Marina Circuit on November 26. For the ultimate VIP experience, host your Grand Prix party on one of the superyachts that overlook the track, or secure an invitation to the exclusive Paddock area where you’ll discover fine dining, free-flow champagne and killer tunes on the panoramic roof terrace. VIPs also enjoy special access to the pit lane where you can catch a glimpse of the F1 mechanics in action.
How many Instagram likes would you get for a shot of you and Hozier chilling out in the Blue Lagoon? Well, imagine no more. What began in an aeroplane hangar in 1999 has evolved into Iceland Airwaves, an exciting mix of musical acts (2016 saw Ásgeir, Caribou and Hozier) playing in locations throughout Reykjavik. This includes the famous Blue Lagoon, which is luckily also known for its healing qualities and thus will hopefully kill your hangover before it has even begun.
A festival born in Las Vegas but transposed to Delhi sounds like something worth sampling. Excess is the order of the day at the Electric Daisy Carnival, held on a Formula One track about two hours from the
Taj Mahal. It attracts a similar crowd to Burning Man in Nevada, and in its first incarnation guests danced all night to electro music dressed in clothes that have been described as part Little Mermaid, part Indian wedding.
OK, so we did jazz and skiing back in April, how about comedy and skiing to end the year? British comedians such as Jimmy Carr and Eddie Izzard have both been recent star attractions at the Altitude Comedy Festival in Mayrhofen, one of Europe’s top resorts. And what better way to end 2017 than with a good old laugh at the year and all things Christmassy?
If you’re a competitive sort of person and want to ring in the new year before anyone else you know, why not try Rhythm and Vines? This music festival is set in and around a vineyard in Gisborne and has hosted acts such as Calvin Harris, Mark Ronson and NERD. Depending on your tolerance for mud, you can choose to stay in a camper van, sleep under canvas, in a traditional tepee village or just go to a nearby hotel. There are also boat trips to Tuamotu Island on offer if you want to start the year surfing and swimming with dolphins.
This article was first published in the December 2016 issue of Hong Kong Tatler Society