From the sublime to the ridiculous, food festivals are the epitome of gastronomic curiosity-quenching, elevating local delicacies to the likes of idols. Here, lemons line the streets in the form of intricate sculptures, oysters are artfully shucked in contests of speed, and onions are celebrated with raucous street parties – as they have been for over 350 years. So if you can’t turn on the TV without switching to Professional Masterchef, or you simply appreciate the beauty of humble ingredients, then these specialty food festivals in Europe are sure to be right up your street.
Lemon Festival 2018 – Menton, France – 17 February – 4 March
Served up in drinks or alongside fresh fish, baked into sweet pie or simply squeezed into a refreshing beverage – an ordinary lemon can bring quite extraordinary things to many a dish. No-one knows this better than the town of Menton, where the locals have been celebrating this ingredient with lavish festivities since 1933. Expect towering citrus sculptures with beautiful light shows, colourful processions down cheering seaside streets, and plenty of lively performances that channel all of the lemon’s zip and zest. Not to mention, of course, all manner of dishes to try.
Shrimp Festival 2018 – Oostduinkerke, Belgium – Last weekend of June
The people of Oostduinkerke in Belgium have caught shrimp on horseback for over 500 years – and it’s the only place in the world where the method is still practised. In 2013, it was added to the Representative List of the UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity. The local community spends months preparing floats and performances for the two-day Shrimp Festival each summer, when the produce is at its peak. As well as sampling some of the freshest seafood you could dream of, the fishermen also pass on their skills to both children and adults during the event, making it a fully interactive example of food festivals in Europe.
Oyster Festival 2018 – Galway, Ireland – Last weekend of September
For a decadent weekend enjoying the finer things in life, look no further than the 65th Galway International Oyster & Seafood Festival. Watch the world’s best compete in oyster-shucking competitions, before enjoying a plate of the most delectably-prepared morsels along with a glass of champagne or stout. This year brings Mardi Gras dress-ups, live music, and plenty of fun for the whole family – and what’s more, the kids go free!
Onion Festival 2018 – Weimar, Germany – 12 – 14 October
Love them or hate them, you’re bound to fall for the madcap celebrations of Weimar’s Onion Festival. For over 350 years, this city in central Germany has come together with songs, gifts and contests celebrating the underrated ingredient that lends itself to most every cuisine around the world. Sample the best and the bravest concoctions of onions in all forms – from caramelised and sautéed to munched raw – you’re sure to see it all. Locals also compete to be titled “Queen of the Onion” – and are awarded with a literal onion crown to go with the honour – perhaps one of the strangest food festivals in Europe!
Chestnut Festivals 2018 – Ardèche, France – 7 Oct-11 Nov
The end of autumn was made for crisp leaves, fresh breezes and the smell of freshly roasted chestnuts. Each year, towns and villages throughout the Ardèche department of southern France hold mini two-day celebrations of this humble delicacy. The most famous takes place in Marjou on the 20th and 21st of October.
The village has held the event since 1990, when a small group of local youngsters realised that modern agriculture was bringing about the decline of the village’s majestic chestnut tree. They rose awareness by organising a programme of live performances, culinary competitions and food stalls – and today the festivities have spread to many other villages in the area.
Ready to treat your inner foodie at one of these food festivals in Europe? Take a look at our ferry crossings today! Alternatively, have a look at these top cooking courses in Europe and get ready to try your hand at some continental recipes instead!