STORIES

Winter's Best Eat, Drink and Smoke Fests

By David Jenison on February 16, 2017

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 eat, drink and/or smoke fests around the world. In some cases, the events head south of the equator allowing for warm beach days and hot party nights. If looking for something wild and different, these are some of your best bets. 

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

Australia, which legalized medical cannabis in 2015, also 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 even theater, and Taste extends into the next year, meaning it includes a major 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. 

Errl Cup
Tempe, Arizona
January 14

Arizona was the only state out of nine that voted down cannabis-related ballot initiatives in November, but its medical program continues to grow thanks to organizations like the Errl Cup. The people behind the Cup held its first event in January 2016, but this awards ceremony will be its fourth event in the past year. The awards focus on patient appreciation and dispensary accountability, and the judging takes place throughout the year as secret shoppers visit different dispensaries and blindly test the products. As if that isn’t respectable enough already, admission to the Errl Cup for free for all medical cannabis patients. 

Þorrablót
Iceland
January 22 to February 18

Thorrablot (or Þorrablót) is a midwinter celebration celebrating the Icelandic gods of yesteryear throughfood and drink, and as an ancient tradition, the locals break out the old school grub. How bad can it be? Much worse than you think. Let’s start with hákarl, a dish made from shark that has been left to rot until it has a blue cheese-like aroma. Apparently nothing on the planet makes your breath smell worse. Blóðmör is another delicacy made from thick, congealed sheep’s blood mixed with spices and wrapped in a ram’s stomach lining (think Scottish haggis), while svið is boiled sheep’s head beloved for the meat inside the eye socket. Other Thorrablot options can include seal flippers, cured ram testicles, sheep liver sausage and whale blubber, and Icelanders typically wash it all down with the potent spirit Black Death made from caraway and potato. Though completely unrelated to the festival, it is impossible not to note that some Icelandic shops selling whale penis wallets. Just thought you’d like to know. (Iceland image by Moyan Brenn/Flickr.)

Union des Grands Crus de Bordeaux
Miami to San Francisco
January 20 to 27

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 2014 harvest kicks off January 20 in Miami and continues on to Philadelphia, New York, Toronto, Chicago, Los Angeles and then wraps up January 27 in San Francisco. Additional events will follow in Europe with tastings in Amsterdam on March 6 and Brussels on March 7, among other cities. 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, but do you really care? 

South Beach Wine & Food Festival
Miami, Florida
February 22 to 26

The party, now in its 16th year, involves Food Network overload with channel-approved personalities like Guy Fieri, Valerie Bertinelli and PRØHBTD fave Marcus Samuelsson. Events include the Heineken Light Burger Bash with Rachael Ray, Asian Night Market with Andrew Zimmern and Croquetas & Champagne with three Michelin-starred chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten (whose namesake restaurant, which resides in NYC’s Trump Tower, is where the Prez-Elect and Romney dined on frog legs together). Still, the top ticket is an $850-a-pop dinner by Italian chef Massimo Bottura, whose Osteria Francescana is currently ranked No. 1 in the world, with special guest Giada De Laurentiis. The only negative is that the event should have had the foresight to host a medical-cannabis edibles event with The Herbal Chef, but maybe next year. 

Montréal en Lumière
Montreal, Canada
February 23 to March 11

The beloved French-Canadian city hosts this major winter festival attended by a million people, and the 2017 event will be especially festive since Montreal celebrates its 375th anniversary this year. Activities include concerts, theater, comedy and a strong gastronomic focus with top chefs, cheese tastings and other fine-dining activities. Each festival showcases the culture of a different international city, and the featured city for 2017 is Lyon, a city in France’s historical Rhône-Alpes region. 

Carnival
Rio de Janeiro and Salvador, Brazil
February 24 to 28

Several smaller and arguably more interesting Carnival celebrations take place throughout Brazil, but the biggest bashes take place in Rio de Janeiro and Salvador. What is the difference? 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 is not necessarily a bad thing. Conversely, the parade literally travels through the streets in Salvador, where getting a camera or wallet stolen in the crowd is 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 with a particular traveling party truck, or watch the processions from an all-inclusive camarote club overlooking the parade route. Our recommendation is to stay near Ipanema Beach in Rio or Barra for Salvador. 

Trinidad and Tobago Carnival  
Port of Spain, Trinidad
February 27 and 28

Most people think Brazil when it comes to Carnival, 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 (or even months) before the actual event, the party officially begins at midnight on the first day with people filling the streets dressed as demons, devils or covered in chocolate, paint or mud. The local music, soca, plays a pivotal role as top artists compete for the prestigious Soca Monarch crown.

Ressaca
Morro de São Paulo
March 1 to 5

A couple decades ago, Morro de São Paulo became the place where people went post-Carnival 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 Carnival 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 way too often, but enduring the stomach-churning sounds is worth it. 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 arguably 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 yes, the town’s four beaches are simply named #1, #2, #3 and #4. 

The Grape Harvest Festival
Mendoza, Argentina
March 1 to 4

Think of this as Carnival for wine lovers. Fiesta Nacional de la Vendimia (the 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, special 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 turkey-sharing site in Plymouth. Nice list, NG, but we’re more thankful for malbec.

Noche de Brujas (Night of the Witches)
Catemaco, Veracruz
March 3

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 no no.

Stepping High Festival
Negril, Jamaica
March 4 to 5

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, arguably the 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 12 years ago. The music line-up has yet to be announced. 

All-Star Chef Classic
Los Angeles, California
March 8 to 11

Surprisingly, the best food event in the U.S. does not happen in New York City or Napa Valley but in Michelin-spurred Los Angeles with the All-Star Chef Classic, now in its fourth year. In 2016, the All-Star Chef Classic featured high-profile locals like Niki Nakayama (n/naka), Josiah Citrin (Mélisse) and Ludo Lefebvre (Trois Mec) as well as high-level imports like like molecular gastronomist Wylie Dufresne (wd-50), French maestro Tatiana Levha (Le Servan), Philippines-born Paul Qui (Qui) and Peruvian culinary great Gastón Acurio. This year’s line-up has yet to be announced, but expect big names. The All-Star Chef Classic includes larger tasting events, but the multi-course Masters Dinners are what make this event so special.

Spannabis
Barcelona, Spain
March 10 to 12

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 14th year, features exhibitors from around the world, and it is already considered one of the best cannabis expos in Europe. Participants at this year’s event include Barney’s Farm, Sensi Seeds, General Hydroponics Europe, Green House Seed Co., Canna, Leaf Life and countless other companies you likely won’t find at a stateside event. 

Holi (Festival of Colors)
India and Nepal
March 12 and 13

The festival of colors in South Asia celebrates good over evil, sharing love and the end of winter. The two-day festival, which starts on full moon day (or Purnima), is the most psychedelic party that doesn’t involve hallucinogens. 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. 

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 arguably suggested 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.

David Jenison (david@prohbtd.com) is Editor-in-Chief at PRØHBTD.

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