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Best Food, Wine and Smoke Fests for Winter 2018

By David Jenison on December 22, 2018

Don't hibernate this winter! The dollar remains strong for now, making this an ideal time to peg your travel to one of the top food, wine and smoke fests around the world. Sick of the cold? Several fests take you south the equator allowing for warm beach days and hot party nights. If looking for something wild this winter, start your search here. 

The Taste of Tasmania
Tasmania, Australia
December 28 to January 3

Australia, which legalized medical cannabis in 2015, claims an entertaining food and alcohol festival on Tasmania, an island state 150 miles south of the mainland. The weeklong fest is all about eating, drinking, live music and theater on the waterfront, and Taste extends into the next year with a Midsummer Night's Eve-themed New Year’s Eve party. And in case you are wondering, Tasmanian devils are real, and National Geographic says "the familiar Looney Tunes portrayal... as a seething, snarling, insatiable lunatic is, at times, not all that far from the truth." So when people ask what you did for New Year’s, tell 'em you dined with the devils. 

New Year's Eve Full Moon Party
Koh Phangan, Thailand
December 31 to January 1

The world's best full moon parties happen on Haad Rin beach, but that's not Koh Phangan island's best party. That honor goes New Year's Eve! As part of the Samui Archipelago in the Gulf of Thailand, the island has become a yearlong party place that attracts the biggest crowds on December 31, but this year will be especially massive with a New Year's Day party and the next full moon coming January 2. Those who come early can celebrate Christmas with parties geared toward Santa's naughty list. Hotels typically require a minimum stay of three to 10 nights, and even at that, the vacancies fill up fast. 

Errl Cup
Phoenix, Arizona
January 13

The group that launched the first-ever medicated camping event in the Grand Canyon State returns with its third-annual Errl Cup. With a focus on patient appreciation and dispensary accountability, the latest Errl Cup involves flowers and edibles that are lab tested and judged by a panel of medical cannabis patients. The event is free for patients, and it will include awards for nine patients and 14 dispensaries. 

Union des Grands Crus de Bordeaux
Miami to San Francisco
January 18 to 26

Union des Grands Crus (UGC) launched in 1973 to promote Bordeaux wines, and each year, it hosts tasting events in cities around the world to promote the latest vintage. This year's tour promoting the 2015 harvest kicks off January 18 in Toronto and Washington and then continues on to St. John's, Boston, Montréal, New York, Chicago, Denver, San Francisco and then wraps up January 26 in Los Angeles. Additional events will follow in Europe with tastings in Amsterdam on March 5 and Brussels on March 6. What can you expect? For a set price, attendees can sample wine from several dozen different châteaux and appellations, including Pomerol, Saint-Émilion and Médoc. You are going to get shit faced, and yes, the French winemakers will be appalled. Do you really care? 

International Cannabis Business Conference
San Francisco, California
February 1 to 2

The International Cannabis Business Conference (ICBC) killed it with fall events in Oregon and Hawaii, and the next installment comes to San Francisco with big names like Henry Rollins, Tommy Chong, Congressman Dana Rohrabacher and California Cannabis Czar Lori Ajax. More speakers and programs will be announced soon, and the whole event takes place at the sleek Hyatt Embarcadero near the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge. ICBC takes places Thursday and Friday, so many attendees will likely stay for the weekend. 

Carnaval
Rio de Janeiro and Salvador, Brazil
February 9 to 14

Carnaval finishes on Valentine's Day this year, and if you smell the love in the air, it's best not to touch anything in your immediate surroundings. The debaucherous celebration takes place throughout the world, but the biggest bashes take place in Rio de Janeiro and Salvador, Brazil. What is the difference between the two? In Rio, the parade happens in a stadium, and the partying mostly takes place on the beaches and in nightlife areas. The people are less concentrated in a single area, but considering the sheer volume of people who participate, this can be a good thing. Conversely, the parade literally travels through the streets in Salvador, where getting groped like a Weinstein intern is pretty much a given. For those able to blow a few bucks in Salvador, shell out to participate in a bloco, meaning you actually join the parade procession alongside a traveling party truck, or watch the party from an all-inclusive camarote club overlooking the parade route. Our recommendation is to stay near Ipanema Beach in Rio or Barra for Salvador. (Note: Carnaval is the typical spelling in Brazil and Portugal; Carnival most everywhere else.)

Trinidad and Tobago Carnival  
Port of Spain, Trinidad
February 12 and 13

Most people think Brazil when it comes to Carnaval, but the world's best is arguably in the Caribbean. Carnival in Port of Spain is a colorful, music-driven party that demands participation, and Carnival historian Barbara Ehrenreich says it "makes Mardi Gras look like a Veterans Day parade." Actually starting weeks (and even months) before the actual two-day event, the party officially begins at midnight on the first day when people fill the streets dressed as demons, devils or covered in chocolate, paint or mud. Rum is the drink of choice, and the local soca music plays a pivotal role as top artists compete for the prestigious Soca Monarch crown.

Ressaca
Morro de São Paulo
February 14 to 18

A couple decades ago, Morro de São Paulo became the place where people went post-Carnaval to recover from all the drinking and late nights. The five-day recovery became known as Ressaca, which translates as the Hangover, but the annual tradition soon turned into a more exclusive continuation of the Carnaval celebration. Morro is a town on Tinharé Island off the coast of Salvador, and the boats that jettison people to the island come with barf bags that are used waaaay too often. The beautiful beach town has no cars, and the island clubs take turns hosting the various parties, which typically include a foam party on one of the nights. Still, the best times are had drinking caipirinhas on Beach #2 as rows of tiny stands make the cocktail with a wide variety of fresh tropical fruits that you choose simply by pointing. And in case you're wondering, Morro's four beaches are in fact named #1, #2, #3 and #4. 

Vegas Cannabis Summit
Las Vegas, Nevada
February 14 to 15

Imagine the conversation: "Honey, I really want to be here for Valentine's Day, but I have to go to Las Vegas for a cannabis convention." In the other words, the cannabis industry—along with their spouses—descend upon downtown Sin City for two days of panels, vendor exhibits, parties, concerts and seminars. The last Vegas Cannabis Summit took place in July, the month when legal cannabis sales started in Nevada, and sales have only increased interest in the industry. Most people who attend the midweek summit might consider staying through the weekend, which might be when the best business gets done. 

Canapa Mundi
Rome, Italy
February 16 to 18

Launched in 2015, Canapa Mundi is Italy's largest fair dedicated to cannabis and hemp, and the fourth edition will feature 150 exhibitors set up across nearly 100,000 square feet of event space. Most of the companies (but not all) exhibiting at the fair will be Italian, which makes this an ideal place to learn about Italian producers, distributors and consumers in the hemp and cannabis space. Now practice saying that in the mirror 10 times and go pitch your boss on the need to send you to Rome for the weekend.

South Beach Wine & Food Festival
Miami, Florida
February 21 to 25

The party, now in its 17th year, involves Food Network overload with channel-approved personalities like Bobby Flay, Anne Burrell and Guy Fieri and superstar chefs like Juan Manuel Barrientos, Enrique Olvera and Alinea executive chef Mike Bagale. Cannabis-friendly rapper and VICE food star Action Bronson is even on the talent list. Dining events include a Nobu Matsuhisa lunch, a Women of Syria dinner, late-night tacos with Rick Bayless and a Harlem-themed jazz brunch by Marcus Samuelsson of Red Rooster, but the top ticket might be a $250/person dinner hosted by Spanish culinary heavyweight José Andrés and Central chef Virgilio Martinez. 

Montréal en Lumière
Montreal, Canada
February 22 to March 4

The beloved French-Canadian city hosts this major winter festival attended by a million people with activities that include concerts, theater, comedy and a strong gastronomic focus. Fine-dining activities include tastings, top local chefs, international pairs and nearly three tons of cheese at the Festival of Quebec Cheeses. Cannabis won't be legal until July 2018 at the soonest, so prohibition presumably won't be lifted until the event's 20th edition in 2019, but the current fest still lends itself to an elevated experience. 

Holi (Festival of Colors)
India and Nepal
March 1 to 2 

The festival of colors in South Asia celebrates good over evil, sharing love and the end of winter. The two-day party, which starts on full moon day (or Purnima), is the most psychedelic party that doesn’t involve hallucinogens (unless you want). Participants throw colored water, paint and powder at each other turning the streets and people into a massive canvas covered in iridescent colors. The most famous Holi events take place in Kathmandu (Nepal) and the Indian cities of Jaipur, Mathura and Sri Krishna. Cannabis bhang beverages are especially popular and available during Holi, especially in North India. 

Beer Day
Iceland
March 1

For nearly a century, Icelanders battled with beer prohibition, which somehow only ended in 1989. Holy shit, right? The end of prohibition made the citizens so happy that they now celebrate repeal on March 1 each year in a national party known as Beer Day. Moreover, the Northern Lights are often still visible in March making this a good time to visit the Island nation. Keep an eye out for local brews like Kaldi Black IPA, Einstök White Ale and the power-packed Garún No. 19 with 11.5 alcohol by volume. Skál!

The Grape Harvest Festival
Mendoza, Argentina
March 3 to 5

Think of this as Carnival for wine lovers. Fiesta Nacional de la Vendimia (Grape Harvest Festival) is an annual celebration in Argentine wine country that officially started 80 years ago but unofficially goes back centuries. The Blessing of the Fruit kicks things off as the Archbishop of Mendoza dedicates the new vintage to God. You can probably skip the spiritual and go straight to the spirits, which start flowing in full with a street parade, parties and the crowning of the Harvest Queen. National Geographic dubbed this the second-best harvest festival in the world, second only to Thanksgiving at the original site in Plymouth. Sure, the wine fest should have topped the list, but writers often try to avoid the sometimes accurate lush stereotype. 

Noche de Brujas (Night of the Witches)
Catemaco, Veracruz
March 2 

It might not be Hogwarts, but you can get your magic fix at this lakeside town in Mexico. On the first Friday in March, the mystic-friendly Catemaco draws shamen, healers, witches and fortune tellers for the Noche de Brujas convention. The regional witchcraft mixes indigenous religions, West African voodoo and medieval Spanish traditions, and a local shaman started the annual witchfest nearly 50 years ago. The event draws loads of spectators who can solicit black-magic spells for a price, but dressing like Hansel and Gretel is a huge no no.

All-Star Chef Classic
Los Angeles, California
March 7 to 10

In 2016, the All-Star Chef Classic became one of the best food events in the country with a lineup that included high-profile locals like Niki Nakayama (n/naka), Josiah Citrin (Mélisse) and Ludo Lefebvre (Trois Mec) as well as high-level imports like like Wylie Dufresne (wd-50), Tatiana Levha (Le Servan), Paul Qui (Qui) and Peruvian icon Gastón Acurio. Unfortunately, the 2017 event went almost entirely local, which took away some of its luster, but the lineup arguably features a better mix this year. The 2018 chefs include Dufresne, Jamie Bissonette (Little Donkey), José Andrés and popular local talent like Vartan Abgaryan (71Above) and Top Chef alum Nyesha Arrington. Now in its fifth year, the L.A. Live-based event includes both high-volume tastings and multi-course Masters Dinners.

Spannabis Barcelona
Barcelona, Spain
March 9 to 11

Amsterdam is still the cannabis king in Europe, but Barcelona has been stealing the Dutch thunder lately with events like Spannabis. Cannabis social clubs exploded in Barcelona in recent years, and Spannabis is the top event for enthusiasts seeking a deeper experience. The three-day event, now in its 15th year, features exhibitors from around the world, and it is already considered one of the best cannabis expos in Europe. Participants include major companies like Barney's Farm, El Cultivador, Planta Sur, Green House Seeds and countless other companies you likely won't find at a stateside event. 

Spring Equinox at Chichén Itzá
Pisté, Mexico
March 21

El Castillo is the most famous Maya temple and one of the New Seven Wonders of the World, and the masses gathered here on December 21, 2012 when the Maya calendar supposedly said the world would end. Mother Earth obviously lived to see another day, so travelers have more chances to see another gorgeous equinox at the Chichén Itzá ruins. The temple design, seemingly aligned with an astronomical axis, produces a light and shadow show during the equinox that looks like a feathered serpent slithering down the steps. Spectators can also expected to see meteor showers during the solar eclipse.

Stepping High Festival
Negril, Jamaica
March 2018

Negril is party central in Jamaica. The beautiful beach town claims the clothing-optional Hedonism II resort, Tedd’s magic mushrooms and lots and lots of smoke. If all that sounds like your kind of funzone, head to the island for Stepping High, the self-described "longest-running ganja festival in the Caribbean." The Connell family started the Stepping High organization as a social enterprise, and one of the founders, Daniel Connell, was the first person in Westmoreland parish to land in jail for cannabis possession. His grandson Lyndon started the Stepping High festival, and it celebrates its 15th year in March. 

David Jenison (david@prohbtd.com) is Editor-in-Chief at PRØHBTD. Photo credits: Flickr/Roberto TrombettaFlickr/Dominic Lockyer, Flickr/Nicolas Vollmer, Wikipedia, Spannabis, Mexican Tourism Board and the All-Star Chef Classic.  

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