On The Road
How To Get Your Cultural Kicks This Winter
Six superlative happenings to cheer you up in the colder months
Fireworks over Aspen Mountain and the Wintersköl torchlight parade, January 2014. Photo by Chris Council/C2 Photography, courtesy of Wintersköl
One of the unwritten rules of hedonism is that it tends to happen between the start of May and end of August. We don’t know why, but that is when most of the world’s festivals, north and southern hemisphere, take place. An odd state of affairs, as most of us do like to have fun, to take in culture, high or low, beyond that thin, reedy period of time. Although less numerous, there are, however, some cultural sunspots in the next few months. To help you find your fun, we have traversed the world to bring you the best festivals outside of festival season.
Amsterdam Light Festival
Light installation: Light a Wish! Artist impression by OGE Group. Courtesy of The 7th Amsterdam Light Festival
If you’re looking for booze and bands, this one is definitely not for you. Amsterdam may be known for its excesses, but this festival is on the sedate side, but nonetheless rather wonderful. From the end of November until late January, Amsterdam is comprehensively transformed, its familiar monuments and waterways stained and coloured with magical illuminations and innumerable light installations. Last year, 30 artworks were displayed, whittled down from more than 600 submissions from designers, architects and artists from all over the world. There is a different theme each year and 2019’s is “the medium is the message.” Paid guided walking and bike tours and canal cruises take you through the installations.
What to pack
Meredith Music Festival
Meredith Music Festival, March 2018. Photograph by Naomi Lee Beveridge. Courtesy Meredith Music Festival
The Meredith Music Festival is Australia’s version of Glastonbury, just shrunk to fit and with flip-flops rather than wellies. The Nolan family and their farm, located in the rural, sheep-grazing lands 60 miles west of Melbourne, had an open-door policy for society’s alts for generations. However, after a “one-off” gig in 1991, it has morphed into something a hell of a lot bigger. This year, 15,000 festival goers will pack into the Meredith Supernatural Amphitheatre to watch Mr Billy Bragg, The Breeders and Sampa the Great, and an always eclectic line-up. Commercial sponsorship is banned, camping is free and it is BYOB. We like it. We think you will, too.
Where to stay: The Rochester. This converted shipping container isn’t exactly the Dorchester, but it’s on site and has a double bed, which is about as luxe as you’re going to get at this particular party.
What to pack
Cape Town International Jazz Festival
Jonas Gwangwa (left) and Friends during the 18th annual Cape Town International Jazz Festival, March 2017 in Cape Town, South Africa. Photograph by Dereck Green/Getty Images
The Cape Town International Jazz Festival at the end of March is billed as Africa’s Grandest Gathering for a good reason. With five stages, more than 40 international acts and 40,000 people jazzing their hands, this 40-year-old event really is a global gathering. This year, the acts range from Ms Chaka Khan to the Soweto Gospel Choir, while Ms Lauryn Hill, Earth, Wind & Fire and Mr Sal Masakela have all wowed crowds in the past. As well as the music, there are also art installations and even jazz safaris. A two-day festival of incredible charm.
Where to stay: Kensington Place, an ultra-chic townhouse on the slopes of Table Mountain with easy access to the festival.
What to pack
Ultra Music Festival
Ultra Music Festival, Miami 2018. Photograph courtesy of Ultra Music Festival
The world’s premier electronic music festival has moved from its 18-year home in downtown Miami to Virginia Key, a rare wildlife sanctuary in the heart of urban Miami. The line-up always includes the biggest dance DJs on the planet. Ultra is all about getting hot and hedonistic as 40,000 music fans make merry in the Floridian heat. Artists for next year’s festival (29-31 March) have yet to be announced, but last year’s headliners included Mr David Guetta and Tiësto.
Where to stay: Fisher Island Club. Luxury, privacy and tranquillity on a private island just off South Beach.
What to pack
Up Helly Aa
Up Helly Aa, 2018. Photograph by Dave Gifford
Shetland Islands, UK
Part sub-Arctic bonfire, part enormous booze-up and part northern Mardi Gras, Up Helly Aa is a celebration of Shetland’s Viking history. Held on the last Tuesday in January, it is a procession of 1,000 local men, known as guisers, through the darkened streets of Shetland’s capital, Lerwick. Dressed in traditional Viking gear and carrying torches, they march to a newly built dragon boat then set it ablaze. The men and the 5,000-odd spectators sing “The Norseman’s Home”, an old Viking requiem, as the inferno rages. Sounds intense, right? Post-bonfire, the 40 squads of guisers then visit a dozen halls in rotation, drinking and singing until the sun comes up. Which, given Lerwick is on the same latitude as Greenland and this is January, could be days away.
Where to stay: Kveldsro House Hotel. Pronounced Kel-dro, which is Old Norse for “evening peace”, this is rustic, rather than boutique, but is minutes from the harbour and the town.
What to pack
Wintersköl Festival. Paepcke Park. Photo by Ms Emily Chaplin, courtesy of Wintersköl
Snow sculptures, fireworks, torchlight ski runs – Wintersköl is the stuff of kids’ dreams. Aspen was once a silver-mining town, but is better known now for its celeb visitors and incredible terrain. At the Wintersköl festival you are quite likely to find yourself oohing and ahhing over the firework display beside Mr Bill Murray or sharing a candle with Ms Mariah Carey on the Torchlight Descent of the famous Little Nell Run. The skiing is incredible and any stay in Aspen is bound to be special, but by going during Wintersköl, you’ll see the real, beating heart of the place. Oh, and maybe Sir Elton John’s snowplough.
Where to stay: The Little Nell. Just steps from the Silver Queen Gondola, this is hip, luxe and lively with interior design by Holly Hunt. What more do you need?