The 50 Best festivals; SUMMER'S HERE AND THE TIME IS RIGHT

This year's bumper crop of summer festivals offers a feast of fun for groovers and culture vultures of every persuasion. Fancy chilling out in the Nevada desert, catching carnival fever in Notting Hill, or dancing in a muddy field in the West Country? No problem! Sharon Gethings has cast her net far and wide, from Womad to Woodstock, to scoop up the best dates on the summer circuit - so pack your sleeping bag, and get ready to toe the party line ... Additional research by Charlie Hamilton

1

GLASTONBURY

Even the torrential rain of last year couldn't keep the fans away from what has become the linchpin of the UK festival circuit. And with the 1999 line-up including James Brown, REM, Underworld, the Manic Street Preachers, Gomez, Mercury Rev and Gay Dad, the crowds will once again be heading west. So, mud, glorious mud - or skin-blistering sunshine? This year, Michael Eavis and co aren't taking any chances: an extra 40 acres of higher ground are being used in case of unwelcome precipitation.

Where & when: Worthy Farm, near Pilton, Somerset (01159 129129); 25-27 June. How much: pounds 85 inc camping.

2

EDINBURGH FESTIVAL & FRINGE

The message from Edinburgh is that festivals are for taking risks. This year, there will be new plays by David Greig and Lluisa Cunille, music premieres from John Adams and Gyorgy Kurtg, and some contemporary Chinese opera to tempt you.

The Fringe is the place to spot new talent, with scores of new actors, comedians and writers finding their feet here, amid all the usual big- name suspects.

Where & when: Festival: various venues (0131-473 2000); 15 Aug to 4 Sept. Fringe: various venues (brochure: 09065 500678; booking, from 21 June: 0131-226 5138); 8-30 Aug. How much: Festival: pounds 5-pounds 50; Fringe pounds 5-pounds 12.

3

WHITSTABLE OYSTER FESTIVAL

As well as being the home and last resting place of that great English thespian Peter Cushing, Whitstable has garnered itself a reputation for being rather a top spot for seafood. And here's the event to indulge your bivalve yearnings to the full. Amid the parades, games of petanque, dances, craft fairs and dog shows, there'll be a landing of oysters - which, of course, will have to be eaten. Book yourself a beach chalet for the duration, and indulge yourself.

Where & when: various locations in Whitstable, Kent (01227 265666); 24 July to 1 Aug. How much: mainly free.

4

CANNES FILM FESTIVAL

The glamour, the parties, the stars... The queues, the extortionate drink prices, the poodles... Cannes Film Festival is the major industry market for the buying and selling of movies. Screenings aren't open to the general public, but celebrity sightings - and the breathtaking annual fireworks display - are for everyone. Bear in mind that you'll have to sell your grandmother and her best mate for a hotel room, even outside Cannes itself: the Monaco Grand Prix happens around the same time. Where & when: Cannes, France (http://www.festival-cannes.fr/cannes99/va/index.html); 12-23 May.

5

BURNING MAN

Set up as an "experiment in radical self-expression" some 15 years ago, the annual temporary art community that is Burning Man invites those who "create" as opposed to those who "spectate". If you've always fancied being your own art work and dressing up in silver in the 40C heat of an American desert, here's your chance, because more or less anything goes. This creative free-for-all culminates in the torching of a symbolic monument - the "man" of the festival's name. Where & when: Black Rock Desert, Nevada (00 1 415 561 9377 or http://www.burningman.com); 30 Aug to 6 Sept. How much: $80-$100 (pounds 51-pounds 64).

6

READING

Having almost completed its slow transition from heavy rock to indie, Reading is now hauling in the big boys and girls of the summer circuit. Blur fans can catch them here at the same time as one of their major influences, the US band Pavement, and Damon's ex's outfit, Elastica. The Charlatans will be airing music from their new album, the Fun Lovin' Criminals should be well on form after their recent successful tour, and the Chemical Brothers will be leading the dance section.

Where & when: Richfield Avenue, Reading (0541 500044); 27-29 Aug. How much: pounds 78 for the weekend inc camping.

7

NOTTING HILL CARNIVAL

You want loud music? You want loud costumes? You want delicious rum cocktails? Then set aside the August bank holiday for a trip to west London. In carnival terms, Notting Hill is second only to Rio, with 75 costume bands, up to 75 sound systems, 12 steel bands and three live stages battling it out for prizes and for your attention. The crush can get a bit oppressive at times along the three-mile carnival route, so plan a pit-stop at South Africa Square for a beer and a breather. Where & when: Notting Hill, West London; 29-30 Aug. Check local press for details. How much: free.

8

FESTIVAL OF MIND, BODY AND SPIRIT

If you already know what pilates, reiki and crystal healing wands are, then you probably have a ticket for this event on your mantelpiece; if you don't, now's your chance to find out. There'll be myriad suggestions on how to improve your physical, mental and spiritual wellbeing here, making this one of the few festivals you'll leave in a better shape than when you arrived.

Where & when: Royal Horticultural Halls, Vincent Square, London SW1 (free programme: 0171-938 3788; tickets: 0171-938 3788); 22-31 May. How much: pounds 8 (pounds 5 advance booking) weekend/bank holiday Monday; pounds 4 (pounds 2.50 adv) weekday.

9

ROSKILDE

This Danish town has a cathedral with royal tombs, a Viking history - and one of the oldest and biggest rock festivals in the world. REM, Echo and the Bunnymen (above), the Chemical Brothers, Mercury Rev, Skunk Anansie and Robbie Williams are among those on the cards for 1999, alongside Scandinavians 22-Pistepirkko and Die Sterne. Roskilde has a reputation for attracting a well-behaved crowd - probably because it knows how to treat its punters: in 1997, there were more than 1,000 toilets.

Where & when: Roskilde, Denmark (0115-912 9116); 1-4 July. How much: pounds 82.

10

JUST FOR LAUGHS COMEDY FESTIVAL

More than 600 comedians from some 14 countries will be cramming into Montreal's pubs, clubs and theatres this July, all with the avowed intention of bringing a smile to your face. The cream of international comedy has performed here in the past - including Brits Harry Enfield, Jack Dee and Lee Evans (above) - so you can expect top-quality funny-bone nudging. The Latin Quarter hosts free evening entertainment throughout the festival. Where & when: various locations, Montreal, Quebec, Canada (00 1 514 845 2322); 15-25 July. How much: C$10-C$35 (pounds 4-pounds 15). T IN THE PARK, PERTHSHIRE

Keeping those music fans north of the border who don't want to lug their tent south happy, T in the Park welcomes the ubiquitous Blur (above) and Fun Lovin' Criminals to their main stages, alongside Stereophonics, James, the Beautiful South, DJ Carl Cox, Bis, Massive Attack and Placebo. And Welsh fans travelling up to see the Manic Street Preachers perform may or may not be interested to know that young Tom Jones is rumoured to be making an appearance.

Where & when: Balado, near Kinross, Perthshire (0141-339 8383); 10-11 July.

How much: pounds 62 for the weekend, pounds 70.50 inc camping, or pounds 35.80 per day.

12

CAMBRIDGE FOLK FESTIVAL

Boasting the only UK festival appearance by American singer-songwriter James Taylor (above), this year's Cambridge Folk Festival - the 35th - looks set to sell out even faster than usual. Crowd-pleasers the Saw Doctors will also be on stage at what is now the UK's largest folk gathering, with Loudon Wainwright III, Oysterband, country maverick Hal Ketchum and gospel veterans the Blind Boys of Alabama also adding zip to the bill.

Where & when: Cherry Hinton Hall Grounds, Cambridge (01223 457245); 30 July to 1 Aug.

How much: pounds 17 Fri, pounds 27 Sat or Sun, or pounds 46 weekend ticket plus pounds 22 camping for Cherry Hinton Hall or pounds 11 camping for Coldhams Common.

13

BUG JAM, PODINGTON

Last month, one of Dusseldorf's major art galleries held an exhibition tracing the history of the Volkswagen Beetle, giving some indication of this car's place in our cultural mindset. VW events pop up around the country on a regular basis, but Bug Jam is one of the biggest and best, with music stages, BMX/skate ramps, a comedy tent and a funfair thrown into the weekend mix. The main focus of the proceedings is the quarter- mile drag-racing strip where the souped-up versions of this German motor show what they're made of.

Where & when: Santa Pod Raceway, Podington, nr Wellingborough in Northants (01234 782828); 23-25 July. How much: pounds 12 a day, pounds 25 weekend inc camping in advance; pounds 15/pounds 29 on the gate.

14

BLOOMSDAY, DUBLIN

On 16 June, 1904, James Joyce "walked out" with Nora Barnacle for the first time. The author preserved this event for posterity by setting all the action of his book Ulysses on that one day, a day that has since been christened Bloomsday after its principal character. Now celebrated throughout the world, Bloomsday has particular significance in Dublin, and the commemorative festivities here include an annual re-enactment of Ulysses character Paddy Dignam's Funeral and Wake, a show celebrating the Sirens episode of Ulysses, a Bloomsday Breakfast and Walk, and a Writers' Festival. A few pints of Guinness will probably be consumed along the way.

Where & when: various locations and venues in Dublin (00 353 1 8788547); 11-19 June. How much: to be confirmed.

15

CHRISTCHURCH ARTS FESTIVAL, NEW ZEALAND

This mid-winter biennial event is New Zealand's largest regional arts festival, and, in only its third year, is already beginning to attract major names. Top of the bill for 1999 is the eminent cellist Mstislav Rostropovich (above), who will be heading the judging panel in the Adam International Cello Competition. There some 450 slots in the programme to check out, and when you feel culturally exhausted, you can recuperate on the region's ski slopes, at the nearby thermal resort of Hanmer Springs, or by whale-watching at Kaikoura.

Where & when: Christchurch, South Island, New Zealand (http://www.artsfestival.co.nz); 21 July to 8 Aug. How much: to be confirmed; check website for updated information.

16

V99

It's a good thing that V99 is well run. With two sites to maintain - Hylands Park in Chelmsford and Weston Park in Staffordshire - as well as the egos and idiosyncracies of its guest pop stars to accommodate, this rock extravaganza has enormous potential for a pear-shaped result. Bands flitting between the two locations over the weekend include the recently resurfaced Suede, Supergrass (above), the Happy "Will Bez be dancing?" Mondays, Massive Attack, Theaudience, The Beautiful South and Gomez.

Where & when: Hylands Park, Chelmsford (0171-287 0932) and Weston Park, Staffordshire (0115-912 9199); 21-22 Aug.

How much: pounds 64 for the weekend, pounds 75 inc camping, or pounds 37.75 per day.

17

ALDEBURGH

The Aldeburgh Festival has the polished sheen of grand pianos and sprung- floor auditoriums about it, with a carefully selected programme of exquisite music, poetry and performance designed to soothe your soul. This year's highlights include I Do Not Know What It Is I Am Like, a film by American video artist Bill Viola; a new production of composer Thomas Ades's opera Powder Her Face by David Alden; and numerous music and poetry masterclasses and performances. There will also be a late-night cabaret with The Divine Comedy.

Where & when: various venues in Aldeburgh, Suffolk (01728 453543); 11- 27 June. How much: pounds 9-pounds 22.

18

GREAT BRITISH BEER FESTIVAL

The recent fuss over genetically modified food has given the Campaign for Real Ale a boost: no longer the sole domain of bewhiskered old buffers ruminating over their Olde Peculiar, objectives such as full-ingredients labelling have cast it in a modern light. The Great British Beer Festival is the biggest real-beer event in Britain, and, alongside its annual competition - Overall Champion last year was Coniston Bluebird - there will be live music, a family room, and food to soak up the ale, cider, perries and imported beers. Where & when: National Halls, Olympia, London W14 (info: 01727 867201; booking: 0870 904 0300); 3-7 Aug. How much: entry from pounds 1.50 (Wed lunch) to pounds 6 (all day Fri).

19

TOTAL ECLIPSE

An event guaranteed to be shoe-horned into an excuse for a festival (see No 36) is this year's total eclipse of the sun. The last time a total eclipse was visible in the UK was 29 June 1927, when it lasted for just 25 seconds; on 11 August this year, you'll be able to luxuriate in more than two minutes of eclipse viewing - and it will be the last time in this part of the world for nearly a century.

Where & when: the total eclipse will start at sunrise to the south of Nova Scotia, before crossing the UK mainland, the Scilly Isles, the Channel Islands, northern France, southern Belgium, Luxembourg, southern Germany, Austria, Hungary, north-east Yugoslavia, Romania, north-east Bulgaria and the Black Sea, before heading out to end at sunset over the Bay of Bengal; 11 Aug. How much: free.

20

WORLD SACRED MUSIC FESTIVAL, MOROCCO

Musicians and singers from all over the world will descend on Morocco this May and June to participate in the fifth edition of the country's World Sacred Music Festival. Art exhibitions and film screenings will run throughout the event beneath the splendour of the ancient city walls, while the concerts, readings and lectures take place in locations such as the gardens of the Batha Museum and the town hall. The inaugural concert features Montserrat Caballe and Montserrat Marti. Where & when: various locations in Fes, Morocco (0171-437 0073); 29 May to 5 June. How much: performances 150-500 dirhams (pounds 9-pounds 31); festival ticket 2,400 dirhams (pounds 151).

21

HOMELANDS

Most of the major rock festivals concentrate on indie guitar rock when assembling their bill, and dance fans have to make do with a tent in a far-flung corner of a field. Which is usually so packed that there's no room to swing a cat let alone your pants. Homelands has been created to fill the gap. An all-night outdoor event dedicated to the electronic beat, it has dance specialists galore for your delectation: the Chemical Brothers, Fatboy Slim, Underworld, Carl Cox, Judge Jules and DJ Shadow are among those already confirmed. Where & when: The Bowl, Matterley Estate, Winchester (0171-344 0044); 29-30 May.

How much: pounds 49.

22

LONDON MARDI GRAS

The inaugural London Mardi Gras takes the place of London's annual gay and lesbian Pride march, which used to be held on Clapham Common. The changes have put a few noses out of joint, not least because the event is now being run as a commercial venture with a pounds 10 entrance fee. Still billed as "A celebration of gay and lesbian life", the Mardi Gras begins with a parade through the capital from 10.30am, followed by a festival in a central-London park. There will be a main stage for live entertainment, plus dance tents and stalls.

Where & when: Finsbury Park (tbc), London N4; 3 July. Check local press for details.

How much: pounds 10. OCEAN FESTIVAL

Those good eggs Surfers Against Sewage are the organisers of this board spectacular at Cornwall's prime surfing site. Incorporating the Billabong/Northshore British Surfing Championships and the Rip Curl Tag Team Event - two of the most prestigious national competitions - the Ocean Festival attracts the top British wave addicts. This is also a great deal of fun for spectators as there is a licensed bar, and masses of clothing, equipment and food stalls. On the beach itself you'll find a volleyball court, life-saving displays, and competitions such as paddle races for children.

Where & when: Fistral Beach, Newquay, Cornwall (01872 553001 or http://www.sas.org.uk); 26-30 Aug.

How much: free.

24

OKTOBERFEST

The Oktoberfest stems from celebrations for the wedding of Crown Prince Ludwig and Princess Therese of Saxony-Hildburghausen on 12 October 1810, when the citizens of Munich were invited to festivities held on the fields in front of the city gates; these fields were consequently named Theresenwiese in honour of the Princess. Locals claim that this is now the largest festival in the world, with some six million visitors arriving each year. As well as formal processions and concerts, there is a vast fairground to enjoy - though it might be wise to visit the dodgems before hitting the beer and sausages for which this event is famous.

Where & when: Theresienweise, Munich (0171-317 0908); 18 Sept to 3 Oct. How much: free entrance, entertainments extra.

25

WOODSTOCK 99

The place to be in 1969 America was Bethel, New York, where the biggest rock festival ever conceived took place - with 500,000 people there to enjoy the experience. Fast-forward to 1999 and a new location at the foot of the Adirondack Mountains for the modern take on this historical event. The predominantly American bill includes Aerosmith, George Clinton, Ice Cube, the Foo Fighters, Jewel, Willie Nelson and Sheryl Crow, but Fatboy Slim, Jamiroquai and the Chemical Brothers are holding up the British end.

Where & when: former Griffiss Air Force base, Rome, New York, USA (00 1 212 397 7474 or http://www.woodstock.com); 23-25 July.

How much: $150 (pounds 96) weekend ticket.

26

LEEDS 99 FESTIVAL

The Mean Fiddler organisation has introduced a northern counterpart to Reading this year: a shindig in Temple Newsam Park, Leeds. Reading headliners the Charlatans, Blur and Red Hot Chilli Peppers (above) will be doing 50 per cent of their work here this weekend, ably supported by Fun Lovin' Criminals, Mansun, the Divine Comedy, the Chemical Brothers, Idlewild and 3 Colours Red, among others. Where & when: Temple Newsam Park, Leeds (0541 500044 or 0171-344 0044); 28-30 Aug. How much: pounds 78 weekend ticket inc camping.

27

RYE FESTIVAL

Rye Festival was founded by popular demand 28 years ago when locals sought a use for the facilities of the beautiful St Mary's Church in the town. The church has now become one of the regular venues for this annual collection of talks, concerts, masterclasses, workshops and exhibitions. Programme highlights this year include talks by Sir Edward Heath, David Lodge, Victoria Glendinning and Melvyn Bragg (above), and music from members of the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra and a Fats Waller Jazz Gala. Where & when: various venues in Rye, East Sussex (01797 224442 or http://www.rye- tourism/festival); 4-19 Sept. How much: pounds 6-pounds 12.

28

EASTBOURNE SKATE99

Organised by skating aficionado and teacher Tim Wheals, Skate99 is a completely independent event covering all forms of skating. The first instalment, last year, attracted more than 4,000 people, and, with up to 10,000 enthusiasts expected this year, it's already catching the eye of major companies eager to lend their name to what could turn into a huge annual bash. Free teaching is available all day, while the various demonstrations of wheel-based prowess are delivered. There are also competitions, a raffle, refreshments, music and a children's play area. Where & when: Prince William Parade, Eastbourne (01323 486676 or http://ourworld.compuserve.com/ homepages/tim_wheals); 25 July. How much: free.

29

HOLLAND FESTIVAL

Amsterdam's various theatres - the Concertgebouw, Stadsschouwburg and Muziektheater among them - play host to a packed programme of innovative contemporary opera, theatre, music, dance and film. Must-sees this year include three musical works by the festival's main guest, Brian Eno (above), one of which is the world premiere of his orchestral arrangement of The Shutov Assembly; Peter Sellars directing Igor Stravinsky's Biblical Pieces; and a new production directed by Romeo Castellucci, who caused a sensation last year with Giulio Cesare, his controversial adaptation of Shakespeare's Julius Caesar.

Where & when: various venues in Amsterdam (00 31 20 621 1211); 5-26 June. How much: 7.50-115 guilders (pounds 2-pounds 35).

30

RED SEA JAZZ FESTIVAL

The Middle East's major jazz bash, the Red Sea Jazz Festival, was born in 1987, and now draws visitors from all around the world. The dramatic setting must play no small part in its popularity: four open-air auditoria, built from sea containers, set amid the giant, illuminated cranes of the Port of Eilat against a background of the Red Sea and the surrounding mountains. The line-up this year includes Chick Corea (above) & Origin, Dianne Reeves, and Jerry Gonzales & the Fort Apache Band.

Where & when: open-air venues in Eilat, Israel (00 972 3 5288 989); 23-26 Aug. How much: $19-$163 (pounds 12-pounds 104).

31

WOMAD

One of the most family-friendly rock festivals, Womad has lots of organised activities for children, a funfair and a swimming pool. The typically international bill includes the Blind Boys of Alabama from the US, Billy Bragg (above) and Asian Dub Foundation from the UK, Cuba's Asere with special guest Toto La Momposina from Columbia, and Japan's Joji Hirota. John Otway is one of the names in the cabaret section, and the Whirl-Y-Gig club room features the mellow sounds of Banco de Gaia.

Where & when: Rivermead, Reading (0118-939 0930); 23-25 July.

How much: weekend ticket inc camping pounds 58 until 5 June, pounds 65 thereafter; Fri pounds 17, Sat or Sun pounds 30.

32

THE PROMS

Though not technically a festival, the Proms has to be included because of the sheer scale and scope of its programme, which is increasingly taking note of musical styles outside the strictly classical. In 1999, the Proms enters its 105th season, with at least one concert every night, plus matinee and late-night performances, adding up to more than 70 concerts in all. Most of these are orchestral but there will also be performances by Glyndebourne Festival Opera and early, contemporary and world music specialists.

Where & when: Royal Albert Hall, London SW7 (info: 0171-765 5575; booking from 11 June: 0171-589 8212); 16 July to 11 Sept.

How much: pounds 3-pounds 35.

33

BRAEMAR GATHERING

The most famous gathering in Scotland, Braemar dates from the beginning of the 19th century, and features such quintessential north-of-the-border pastimes as piping and Highland dancing. There will also be feats of prowess to applaud, such as caber tossing, the tug-of-war contest, and running events. The public can only spectate - which is probably for the best as amateur caber tossing might pose a substantial threat to the members of the Royal Family who usually attend. Where & when: Princess Royal & Duke of Fife Memorial Park, Braemar (01339 755377); 4 Sept. How much: pounds 8-pounds 10 seated tickets by phone; pounds 5 standing tickets on the gate.

34

MONTREUX JAZZ FESTIVAL

Maybe it's the release of pent-up frustration at all those jokes about cuckoo clocks and overwhelming efficiency, but Montreux certainly puts Switzerland on the festival map each year with this bash. The artists lined up for your delectation include Bryan Ferry, Marianne Faithfull, REM, BB King, Al Green, James Taylor, Elvis Costello, Van Morrison, Des'ree (above) and Herbie Hancock, plus the Egg, Nightmares on Wax, and many more. You'll also be able to enjoy jam sessions in the Jazz Cafe, music boats and a music train.

Where & when: Montreux, Switzerland (info: 00 41 848 800800 or http://www.montreuxjazz.com; booking: 00 41 21 963 8282 ); 2-17 July.

How much: SFr39-SFr99 (pounds 16-pounds 42). 35

INTERNATIONAL ISTANBUL JAZZ FESTIVAL

Now in its sixth year, the Istanbul Jazz Festival is going from strength to strength. This year, there are some top names participating, including Patti Smith, Suzanne Vega, Isaac Hayes, Courtney Pine and Branford Marsalis. There will also be a tribute to Duke Ellington on the 100th anniversary of his birth. The venues include the stunning open-air Cemil Topuzlu amphitheatre, which has room for a 4,000-strong audience.

Where & when: various venues inc Cemil Topuzlu Amphitheatre, Istanbul, Turkey (0171-629 7771 or http://www.istfest.org); 7-18 July.

How much: 3m-9m Turkish Lira (pounds 5-pounds 14).

36

LIZARD FESTIVAL

One of a number of rock and dance festivals lined up to mark the solar eclipse down in Cornwall (see No 19), the Lizard Festival was granted its entertainment licence just as we went to press. The 20,000 capacity event will have two main stages and two all-nighters - and if you have any energy left after dancing to proposed headliners Orbital, plus confirmed acts Femi Kuti, Howie B, Sonic Mook Experiment and Plastikman, you'll have the opportunity to try out some beach sports such as jet-skiing, windsurfing and parascending.

Where & when: Goonhilly Downs, Lizard Peninsula, Cornwall (0906 2102376); 7-14 Aug.

How much: pounds 120 festival ticket.

37

CHELSEA FLOWER SHOW

Billed as "a flower show with a strikingly contemporary attitude", this promises a heady mix of art, fashion, food and flora. Gardens to look out for this year are former Royal Horticultural Society Gold-Medal winner Sir Terence Conran's "chef's roof garden"; Christie's reinterpretation of the classical sculpture garden, with its imaginative use of light; and Pet Plan's Beatrix Potter-inspired affair.

Where & when: grounds of the Royal Hospital, Chelsea, London SW3 (info: 0171-649 1885; booking: 0171-344 4343); 25-28 May.

How much: pounds 6-pounds 26; all tickets must be purchased in advance.

38

THE GREAT YORKSHIRE SHOW

Double-harness scurry? Four-in-hand coaches? Wool on the hoof? I don't know either, but these are just some of the events that take place at this popular annual agricultural extravaganza in Harrogate. Curiosity alone may drive some people in the direction of the show grounds, but if you need further encouragement, there'll be some fine food on offer, animal parades to enjoy, and, yes, the Pig of the Year qualifier. Not recommended for vegetarians...

Where & when: Yorkshire Show Grounds, Harrogate (info: 01423 541000 or http://www.yas.co.uk; booking: 01423 541222); 13-15 July.

How much: pounds 5-pounds 25.

39

VERBIER FESTIVAL & ACADEMY

The Verbier Festival & Academy offers two weeks of music and word performances and master classes set against the cool beauty of the Swiss Alps. Among the 40 items on the programme are appearances by Jeremy Irons, Sinead Cusack, Peter Ustinov and Ute Lemper (above), while visitors can take the opportunity to exercise their own musical talents by joining the choir in a public concert. Also lined up to appear are the Emerson Quartet with Martha Argerich, Leif Ove Andsnes and Barbara Hendricks.

Where & when: various venues in Verbier, Switzerland (info: 00 41 21 922 4010; booking: 00 41 27 771 8282); 16 July to 1 Aug. How much: SFr25-SFr1,400 (pounds 10-pounds 570).

40

ALL-ESTONIAN SONG AND DANCE FESTIVALS

These twin events take place just once every five years. The Song Festival Grounds in Tallinn were built especially to host the 24,000 singers and 2,000 wind musicians who take part, together with seats for a 150,000- strong audience. Although the participants are mainly amateur, there will also be a performance by Estonia's professional symphony orchestra. The Dance Festival features some 8,000 folk dancers in traditional costume. Where & when: Tallinn Song Festival Grounds & Kalev Central Stadium, Tallinn, Estonia (00 372 644 9262 or www.kul.ee/laulupidu2.html); 2-4 July. How much: 500EEK (pounds 21) for both events inc programme.

41

FLEADH

The 10th anniversary of Fleadh is being celebrated with performances by some of the artists who represent the essence of this predominantly Irish affair. Van Morrison, Shane McGowan and the Saw Doctors all make a welcome return, while the Pretenders, Elvis Costello (above) and the Bare Naked Ladies make their debuts here. The third stage will be showcasing the talents of acclaimed stand-up, actor and novelist Ardal O'Hanlon, with turns from Dylan Moran and Tommy Tiernan, among others.

Where & when: Finsbury Park, London N4 (0541-500 044 or 0171-344 0044); 10 July. How much: pounds 30.

42

MELTDOWN 99

Advertised with the slogan "No rain, No mud, No prisoners" - this is an indoor, avant-gardish affair - the seventh South Bank Meltdown festival is directed by Antipodean musician Nick Cave (above), who has included his personal favourites from the worlds of music, film, literature and visual arts. And he's picked some gems, including a performance by Nina Simone, a night of Samuel Beckett with Billie Whitelaw, and the London premiere of Blixa Bargeld's speech performance The Execution of Precious Memories. Where & when: Royal Festival Hall, Queen Elizabeth Hall, Purcell Room, London SE1 (0171-960 4242 or http://www.meltdown.co.uk/99); 17 June to 2 July. How much: pounds 13-pounds 30.

43

FESTIVAL OF ENGLISH FOOD AND WINE

If you've never visited Leeds Castle, May would be a good time to go, as the beautiful 10th-century establishment, set in 500 acres of parkland, is hosting this homage to England's gastronomic heritage. Chef James Martin, from television's Ready Steady Cook, will be sharing recipe ideas, while the country's top producers will offer up their goods for tasting and purchase. Morris dancers and a live jazz band will be jollying things along.

Where & when: Leeds Castle, Maidstone, Kent (01622 880008); 15-16 May. How much: pounds 4.50-pounds 7.30.

44

PRAGUE SPRING

During May and June each year, the churches, palaces and concert halls around Prague resound to the uplifting sounds provided by musicians taking part in a three-week programme of classical music. Founded in 1946 as a postwar tribute to the Czech Philharmonic, the event has hosted almost every major artist of the past half century. This year, guests include Sir Charles Mackerras conducting the Czech Philharmonic, and Josef Suk conducting the chamber orchestra named after his composer grandfather.

Where & when: various venues in Prague, Czech Republic (info: 00 420 2 530293; booking: 00 420 2 2481 4020); 12 May to 3 June. How much: CzK300- CzK3,500 (pounds 5-pounds 61).

45

BOAT FESTIVAL, KYOTO

One of a number of festivals taking place throughout Japan during May, this is a particularly charming event. It begins at 1pm with a procession of people wearing costumes modelled on clothes from the Heian period (794- 1185), walking from Kurumazaki Shrine towards Togetsukyo Bridge over the River Ohi at Arashiyama. At the river, everyone boards decorated boats, and a tea ceremony is performed amid court music and dancing between 2pm and 4pm. Where & when: Kyoto, Japan (00 1 212 757 5640); 16 May.

How much: free.

46

LEEDS REGGAE FESTIVAL

Not only is this one of the few music festivals dedicated to the reggae beat - and a rare chance to see a gaggle of top reggae stars in one place - it's also a showcase for up-and-coming local talent. You'll be able to fuel your dancing with fodder from numerous international food stalls, and peruse a selection of African/Caribbean arts and crafts. Pencilled in as headliner for 1999 is Beenie Man. If you have the stamina, stick around for the town's West Indian Carnival, which takes place the following day.

Where & when: Potternewton Park, Leeds (0113-242 5242); 29 Aug.

How much: free.

47

CHELTENHAM FESTIVAL OF LITERATURE

Perhaps falling a little late in the year to be termed a summer festival, Cheltenham creeps in under cover of its sponsorship by The Independent. The event is also celebrating its 50th anniversary, making it the longest- running literary festival in the world; this has prompted a major retrospective of writing, poetry and drama from the last five decades. Among the 350 authors taking part will be Peter Ustinov, Carole Shields (above), Dava Sobel, Beryl Bainbridge and Clive James.

Where & when: various venues in Cheltenham (01242 227979); 8-24 Oct.

How much: pounds 3-pounds 8.

48

ROYAL NATIONAL EISTEDDFOD OF WALES

A travelling festival that alternates between north and south Wales, the Eisteddfod dates back to the 12th century. What sets it apart from similar events is its cultural bent, with competitions in music, dance and the spoken word taking place. But that's not all: evening entertainment includes concerts, plays and revues, while away from the competition areas, you'll find exhibitions, a youth pavilion, a theatre, and much more. Where & when: Lanbedrgoch, Anglesey (01248 722999); 31 July to 7 Aug.

How much: pounds 53 for the whole week (day competitions); pounds 63 for the whole week (evening concerts).

49

SALZBURG FESTIVAL

To mark its last instalment of the millennium, the 1999 Salzburg Festival will open and close with a world premiere. The first, on 24 July, is the Italian composer Luciano Berio's Cronaca del Luogo, a new work for 45 solo instruments and 45 solo chorus voices. The festival will close with the first performance of a Peace Symphony by the American composer Philip Glass. The opera programme is based around the modern myths of Faust and Don Juan, while English stage director Simon McBurney will debut here with a new production. Where & when: various venues in Salzburg, Austria (info: 0181-994 0066; booking: 0171-376 4020 in London & 00 43 662 804 5579 in Salzburg); 24 July to 29 Aug. How much: pounds 13-pounds 268.

50

SZEGED SUMMER FESTIVAL

Each July and August, tourists in Hungary who have done their research head south for the city of Szeged, home to an impressive open-air theatre: the vast Dome Square, which has been transformed into a stage for the summer festival. Here, they can sit back and enjoy a rich programme of performing arts, which, in 1999, includes a Strauss opera, a performance by the Hungarian State Ensemble, and a rock opera, Attila, the Sword of God.

Where & when: Dome Square, Szeged, Hungary (00 3662 471322); 9 July-22 Aug.

How much: DM64 (pounds 22).

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