5 Not-to-Miss Winter Festivals

From Florida to France, these international festivals are your gateway to an unforgettable winter escape.

Fete du Citron parade float

One of the many impressive floats in the Golden Fruit Parade held annually during the Fête du Citron.

Winter: It brings colder temperatures, shorter days, and often, snowy conditions. And while sunny summer days and autumnal hues may be in the rear-view mirror, it doesn't mean you can't enjoy the current season. Whether you're looking for an escape from the snow or a way to revel in the fluffy white stuff, you can find your bliss at one of these five unique festivals. 

Cayman Cookout, Cayman Islands (January 12–15, 2017)
For the ultimate culinary escape, head to the Ritz-Carlton Grand Cayman for an incomparable mix of extraordinary meals, famous chefs, and beautiful vistas. Situated along Seven Mile Beach, host Eric Ripert will lead you through exclusive tastings, award-winning meals, live entertainment, and food demonstrations by notable chefs such as Emeril Lagasse, Anthony Bourdain, José Andrés, and Christina Tosi, to name a few. Most events are capped to 100 seats or fewer to ensure a well-organized and intimate setting, which makes the chefs accessible and the atmosphere like no other.

Anthony Bourdain at the Cayman Cookout

Chef Anthony Bourdain interacts with guests at the Cayman Cookout.

Naples Winter Wine Festival, Naples, Florida (January 27–29, 2017)
Looking to vacation with purpose? According to the Naples Children & Education Foundation, since 2001, the Naples Winter Wine Festival has raised more than $146 million to help improve the lives of underprivileged and at-risk children. This year, the festival will feature Wolfgang Puck and 17 other all-star chefs. Attend the fundraising auction to bid on wine, travel, and luxury goods, such as the first-ever produced Rolls-Royce Dawn (and a chance to watch it be built), and to perhaps rub elbows with celebrities. But don't hesitate to buy tickets for this one-of-a-kind event — only 580 guests can gain entry and it sells out quickly.

Quebec Winter Carnival, Quebec, Canada (January 27–February 12, 2017)
For those who want to savor and celebrate the coldest time of year, put on your mittens and make your way to Quebec for one of the largest winter carnivals in the world. The carnival boasts roots dating back to 1894 and offers more than 200 family-friendly activities including an international snow sculpture competition, parades, and ice canoe races and rides down the St. Lawrence River. Be sure to look for the elaborate ice palace that houses the carnival's snowman mascot and ambassador, Bonhomme. And for a delectable winter snack, treat yourself to maple taffy — a festival favorite made by pouring maple syrup over fresh snow.

Carnival, Venice, Italy (February 11–28, 2017)
If you enjoy a bit of mystery, grab your finest mask and escape to this unique festival held annually in the two weeks leading up to Lent. Experience what life was like in 18th century Venice as St. Mark's Square swells with elaborately costumed festival-goers whisking off to masquerade balls, concerts, dinners, and other parties. But don't go just for the people-watching. To get the most out of your Venice adventure, schedule your visit for the carnival's final weekend, a two-day extravaganza during which you can immerse yourself in a host of exciting activities and events.  

Fête du Citron, Menton, France (February 11–March 1, 2017)
Need a little Vitamin C to combat your winter blues? According to their archives, since 1935, this French Riviera town located a half-hour from Nice has hosted a lemon festival to entertain visitors of all ages. Head to the seafront Promenade du Soleil on Thursday evenings for a nighttime parade that includes bands, orchestras, and dancers, and culminates with a fireworks show. As darkness falls on Friday evenings, stroll through Bioves Gardens to admire enchanting illuminated displays. But the highlight of the festival is the Golden Fruit Parade, where lemons and oranges are transformed into impressive, whimsical floats, some reaching nearly 33 feet high.

Kari Pedersen Smith is Associate Editor for Conversations.

Photos courtesy of iStock and Cayman Cookout

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