Summer in Europe will be very festive Sights to see: A European trip needn't cost the moon, and some festivals and celebrations are free.

April 21, 1996|By ALAN SOLOMON | ALAN SOLOMON,CHICAGO TRIBUNE

Europe, once the weather improves, continues to be an expensive travel option for most Americans. Summer air fares are no bargain, and quality hotel rooms in some major cities routinely top $200 a night.

As always, some countries are more reasonable, once you get there, than others. Good lodgings in Spain and Portugal can be had for less than $100, and a search through guidebooks on Italy, Turkey, Greece and former Soviet-bloc countries can yield rewards.

In fact, in almost every European country, a little homework, a spirit of adventure and some common sense can bring land costs down to Des Moines levels -- which may be why more Americans than ever made Europe a destination in 1995.

"Use local transportation in the cities," said Frederique Raeymaekers of the Belgian Tourist Office in New York, chairwoman of the European Travel Commission. "Always look for museum packages. Sometimes they come in combination with transportation passes. Buy your hotels here, or buy packages here, where the tour operator has bought in bulk and can give you better prices than if you just show up in Europe.

"There's always a festival or a celebration around the corner, because a lot of the cultural life of Europe is in the streets. And that doesn't cost anything. That's just fun."

Where to find some of it:

Austria: Austrians will celebrate 1,000 years as an entity (credit King Otto III) with festivities centered in Neuhofen. Innsbruck, meanwhile, marks the 500th birthday of its landmark Golden Roof; and lovers of Anton Bruckner, who died 100 years ago, will want to be in Upper Austria for an exhibition in his honor.

Belgium: Beer, mussels, chocolate and jazz. Especially chocolate, with a major exhibition continuing in Brussels through June 2. In Bruges, they hold the Procession of the Golden Tree every five years. This is the year; Aug. 25 is the date.

Bulgaria: This year's Festival of Roses is May 29-June 2. In July and August, the Varna Summer International Music Festival holds its 60th season.

Cyprus: Kataklysmos -- the Flood Festival -- is June 3 in seaside towns and villages.

Czech Republic: Everybody wants to experience Prague (the Prague Spring Music Festival is May 12-June 2), but consider a side trip to Gothic Telc, a UNESCO World Heritage site.

Denmark: It's Copenhagen's turn at being Europe's Cultural Capital, which means you won't be able to walk far before bumping into a festival. One of the good ones: the Ballet Festival, May 14-31.

England: The European Football (soccer to us) Championships run June 8-30. You saw the TV show, you bought the "Anthology," now see Liverpool, where the Beatles began. Lovers of Dylan (Thomas, that is) might prefer the Welsh town of Swansea.

Finland: Good choices for music: the Savonlinna Opera Festival (July 6-Aug. 3) or the Pori Jazz Festival (July 13-21).

France: Paris' Palais Garnier opera house reopens this spring after a two-year restoration, and the D-Day beaches along the north coast will be without 1995's crowds. The Le Mans auto race is June 15-16.

Germany: They're calling it "Luther Year," marking the 450th anniversary of his death, with exhibitions in many cities.

Greece: The founding country for the Olympics is the place for July's Medical Olympiad and Congress of History in Kos, or ancient-style athletics June 1 at Nemea.

Hungary: Budapest and lesser-known towns will have exhibitions on the 1,100th anniversary of Hungarian settlement by the Magyars beginning Aug. 20. Before that there's Budapest '96, an orgy of opera and ballet, Aug. 7-18.

Iceland: The wonders here are primarily natural, but for something a little different, watch the Arctic Open -- a midnight sun golf tournament -- June 21 in Akureyri.

Ireland: Not that anyone here needs an excuse to sing and sample the brewer's art, but the Galway Oyster Festival is Sept. 2-29. June 5-16, you're invited to hear "Music in Great Irish Houses" throughout the country.

Italy: In Rome, the Spanish Steps are climbable again after months of repair work, part of the general fix-up for the Holy Year of Jubilee 2000. Venice is celebrating the 300th birthday of painter Giovanni Battista Tiepolo all year, and 1996's Palio races in Siena are July 2 and Aug. 16.

Luxembourg: The International Music Festival lasts all summer in Echternach. And National Day, June 23, will have parades, concerts and fireworks all over the little country.

Malta: See St. Paul's Church in Rabat, along with early Christian catacombs. During summer, time your visits to villages celebrating weekend feasts honoring patron saints.

Monaco: The International Fireworks Show celebrates light and noise July 20, July 27 and Aug. 10. The Grand Prix celebrates mostly noise May 16-19.

Netherlands: A major exhibition of painter Jan Vermeer's work continues at The Hague through June 2; on Sept. 21, 35 Jan Steen masterpieces go on show in Amsterdam's Rijksmuseum -- about the same time Peter the Great Year (he stopped by 300 years ago) begins.

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