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Running counter to the dour national stereotype, Switzerland in fact has masses of festivals (Feiertage, jours féries, festività), held in towns and villages all over the country for the slightest excuse, from celebrating the joys of carrots up to St Moritz’s inimitable horse-racing-on-ice extravaganza. Listing them all would be impossible, and anyway would ruin the experience – still well within the bounds of possibility – of stumbling by chance onto some small Swiss village’s unadvertised annual knees-up of folk-dancing, street-barbecuing and general merriment. Switzerland Tourism’s free annual “Events of Switzerland” brochure outlines hundreds of pageants big and small.
In Catholic areas – French-, German-, Italian- and Romansh-speaking – each town or region keeps one day a year to honour the local patron saint, and these are jovial local events, by, with and for the townspeople. Equally, the many local festivals celebrating food or wine are heartfelt community experiences, with not a thought of tourism in mind. Filling out the calendar are many large or international events, often themed around sport, music or art, which are primarily moneyspinners but which, with Switzerland’s pulling power, can be graced by more than just a handful of world-class performers.
In music, the biggest show is July’s famous Montreux Jazz Festival, televised around the world and these days featuring as much rock, dance and world music as jazz and blues. Massive open-air weekends in July at Bern and Nyon are regular stopoffs on the European festival circuit, and Bern’s own orthodox jazz festival pulls in top artists year after year. Zürich’s Street Parade attracts half a million techno revellers from all over Europe. In classical music, the Luzern International Festival each August is one of the premier events of its kind, with opera at Avenches and summer performance cycles at Verbier, Gstaad and Sion no less stellar. The Locarno International Film Festival is one of the top five in the world.
Of the more traditional festivals, carnival, in mid-February, features huge street parties in Luzern, Basel and Bern in particular, with Zürich, Lugano and smaller towns also mounting parades. Spring festivals in Zürich and Lausanne, and autumn harvest festivals all round the country, keep alive traditions of costume and cuisine stretching back to the Middle Ages. Some of the moveable events worth looking out for include Schwingen, traditional Swiss wrestling that’s hugely popular in rural areas and is generally accompanied by traditional markets, beer-quaffing and hearty sausage-feasting. Weekends devoted to Schwingen championships take place all over the centre and east of the country at various dates between April and September – either ask at tourist offices or keep your eyes peeled for posters and flyers. There are also many yodelling events through the springtime, culminating in the annual Swiss Alpine Yodelling Championships, held in early July in a different town each year.
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