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Festivals in the Balkan Peninsula

Countries on the Balkan Peninsula offer up wonderfully diverse festivals form the most refined artistic performances to rowdier, down-to-earth folk celebrations and from the utmost in traditional to the extremes of the avant-garde.

It’s clear from a look at Bulgaria’s calendar of festivals that children are adored and revered, with so many events dedicated to the young. Among them are the International Children’s Folk Dance Festival and two children’s performing arts events with irresistible names. The Magic Curtain and Lacquered Shoes includes music, theatre, children’s drawings and paintings, modern ballet and folk dances. You know your heart will break in a happy way when you hear performances at the International Festival of Children’s Choirs. Your grown-up choices include an astonishing range of events, for example the Koukeri Masked Dancers Festival, Sofia’s Film Fest, the International Symposium in Sculpture, and the International Varna Summer Theatre Festival – and that’s just a sample!

Of all the events enjoyed during the year, folk festivals are without a doubt the most spectacular in
Romania. Throughout the year, ancient heritage, changing seasons, religious holidays and life-cycle events are celebrated with festivals that have remained unchanged for centuries. Some of Europe's most traditional folkways are meticulously preserved here, with young celebrants wearing the same costumes and dancing the same steps to tunes played on instruments traditional to their forefathers since time immemorial. Of special note for crafts lovers are the huge Traditional Crafts Fair and the Folk Art Festival, where you’ll see woodcarving, weaving and embroidering, pottery molding, glass blowing, and egg painting. Bucharest holds several festivals where traditional dress is showcased; and folk dances are the lure at the Dance at Prislop festival.

The Tyrnavos Carnival, dramatically described as the forbidden festival and a local rebellion – this is in Greece after all, the birthplace of western drama– is a hundred-year old, all-stops-out,month long extravaganza. The town plays host to evenings of theatre, fancy dress parties and streets alive with music and dance. Thessaloniki Crossroads honors Middle Eastern cultures with a series of musical and culinary events, theatrical productions, film festivals, exhibitions, conferences and symposia, proving east and west have always existed in a state of mutual influence. Check local calendars for a plethora or music, film, and culinary festivals throughout the year.

Jazz and the autumn leaves fill the air in Serbia at three festivals: Belgrade’s event attracts huge audiences and features superstars of jazz; in Novi Sad and Pancevo you’ll listen to musicians from around the world as well as Serbia’s own jazz talent. Also in Novi Sad is the International Festival of Alternative and New Theatre (aka INFANT but nothing to do with babies), a harbinger of coming trends in stage production. For over 50 years Sokobanja has hosted the International Accordion Festival; where else will you hear accordion duets? In the Rajac Mountains villages host a hay-stacking competition and festival. Hay stackers wear traditional dress, complete with straw hats and colorfully embroidered bags. The most skillful – and some say most handsome – is crowned master hay stacker. Plenty of good food, drink and entertainment are part of the fun!

Croatia is a country where folklore, art, food and music are highly appreciated. Cases in point: the Zagreb Film Festival is one of several cinema fests that leans towards non-mainstream movies and this may be on of your few chances to see them onscreen. But you have to eat, no? Check out the Asparagus Festival and learn why an asparagus frittata with prosciutto is so tasty. There’s not a single recipe involving chestnuts that can’t be found at the Kostajnica Chestnut Festival. Besides sampling the goods, you can contribute to the effort and help with the chestnut harvest. There are so many other festivals highlighting children’s art, lace, Slavonian traditions, jazz, chamber music, and more.

Slovenia has events of all kinds, to suit everyone’s taste. Some of the main cultural events in Ljubljana are the Summer Festival, the Jazz Festival and Druga Godba, all for music, but the Round Ljubljana Walk is one of its biggest recreational events. Maribor, the second largest city, boasts an outstanding Lent Festival. Local artisan traditions can be discovered at the wooden goods fair in Ribnica, the shoemakers’ fair in Tržič and the coachmen’s festival in Postojna. Some of the best culinary experiences are to be had in the festivities marking St Martin’s day, when the grapey must officially becomes wine. Carnival is an unforgettable experience in many towns; enjoy the parades but watch out for Zofka the Witch in Cerknica!

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