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5 of the best alternative festivals

Spoleto Festival USA was founded in 1977 as an American counterpart to the annual Festival of Two Worlds in Spoleto, Italy

Join the cultural crowd and expand your mind and horizons at these global arts festivals. By CATHERINE FAIRWEATHER


BEST FOR MUSIC BUFFS Spoleto Festival USA, Charleston, US

There is never a bad time to bask in the Southern charm of Charleston, with its glorious Antebellum villas, plantation houses and gardens, lively waterfront restaurants and nearby beaches. But this summer marks the photogenic beauty’s 42nd year hosting the nation’s main arts event that encompasses jazz, opera and dance performed in some of the most evocative venues throughout the city – sometimes with free admission. May 25 - June 10 2018

STAY: The Belmond Charleston Place is all about cut-glass elegance: think imposing bronze statuary, Italian marble floors and a fanfare of a staircase. Grand certainly, yet spacious and also welcoming, with its substantial spa area, rooftop swimming pool and some of the largest suites in the city.


BEST FOR FIREWORKS AND FEASTING Festa del Redentore, Venice, Italy

The Redentore is a showcase for Venice at its best. The most authentic and deeply felt of Venice’s many festivals, it combines religion and pageantry with an incredible fireworks display that lights up St Mark’s Basin and all the fairy-tale spires, domes and bell towers of the city. The energy of the place is infectious as the city’s population takes to the water to celebrate from the decks of any floating vessel – big or small – all decorated for the occasion. July 14-15 2018

STAY: The new 10-bedroom Heureka in the peaceful and artisanal heart of the Cannaregio district combines ancient and modern elements in startling ways. The lovely Rubelli furnished suites overlooking the canal are worth the upgrade, and the magical enclosed garden makes a wonderful candlelit retreat away from the festive mayhem.

Stay close to the festivities at 15th-century Venetian palazzo Hotel Heureka


You have to go to the ‘Woodstock of the Mind’ – as Bill Clinton once called it – at least once in your life, just for the pleasure of rediscovering your creative mojo amid some of the world’s best brains and artists. For this famous literary festival is not just about books: there are also inspiring performances from comedians, topical debates with politicos, colorful cultural circuses and entertaining workshops for the whole family, all within a pop-up tented area in the idyllic rural setting of the Welsh Brecon Beacons. May 24 - June 3 2018

STAY: Llangoed Hall, in the stunning Wye Valley, is only nine miles away from the festival. It was once home to the family of English designer Laura Ashley and sits magnificently within 17 acres of parkland. While grand and stately, the hotel manages to maintain a boutique and intimate vibe, especially in some of the bedrooms that boast some of the original floral décor from the Laura Ashley era. It’s a favorite escape for privacy-seeking festival guests, such as Jane Fonda.

BEST FOR PHOTO OPPORTUNITIES The Rencontres d’Arles, France

The normally sedate Roman city on the edge of the Camargue marshland draws international crowds in the summer for Europe’s greatest photography festival. Many ancient buildings not usually open to the public become atmospheric venues for a series of lectures, performances and shows exhibiting big names; this year’s program includes Robert Frank, Raymond Depardon, William Wegman and Wolfgang Tillmans. With everything from street dancing and parades to communal paella pans in the town squares, it’s a raucous and inspiring season to visit. Opens July 2-8; events run until Sept 23

STAY: The centrally located Hôtel Jules César is one of the city’s iconic historic landmarks, which has now been given rock-star status by the designer Christian Lacroix, a native of Arles, who has injected colorful design twists into the elegant 18th-century framework. The pool in the tree-shaded garden makes a welcome sanctuary on hot summer afternoons.

Viva España
With its historic hotels and dramatic dance performances, Seville is the perfect European escape

BEST FOR ALL-NIGHT DANCING Bienal de Flamenco, Seville, Spain

Seville moves to the rhythm of the flamenco beat, which is at the heart of its culture and identity. Visit during the Flamenco Biennial in September, when the world’s best dancers and musicians come together for both scheduled and joyfully spontaneous performances. Revel in their talents until the early hours in various venues around the city or over a chilled fino sherry in the atmospheric bodegas that line the cobbled streets. September 6-30

STAY: The grand Moorish palace that is the Hotel Don Alfonso XIII is marinated in a sense of the romantic past with its tiled walls, palm-fronded interiors and art-nouveau details. Cocktails are a popular ritual in the fountain-studded courtyard after a siesta beside the pool (or a workout in the adjacent alfresco gym).