Date: second Sunday in May (tri-annually) - the next one will be held in 2015
Level of participation: 3 - more feline fancies than you could imagine
A cat festival might sound rather cute and cuddly, and this one is, but that’s only by recent design. In truth, the Kattenfestival has its roots in a 12th-century tradition that had the city jester throwing live cats from the Lakenhalle’s belfry. Cats, it was believed, personified evil spirits and this ritual, which continued until 1817, was a sure way to be rid of them. Today’s version, which sees toy cats hurled from the belfry, was instituted in the 1930s.
Held annually until 1991, the festival is now staged every third year. On this day, the town literally purrs. Store windows fill with cats, there are cat-shaped chocolates and marzipan and stalls sell all sorts of feline merchandise. The big moment is the Kattenstoet, a parade of giant cats. Following the parade it’s a case of look away now for it’s about to rain toy cats.
Essentials: a fair fondness for cats (or throwing them from towers) is something of a prerequisite.
Local attractions: the fields around Ypres are synonymous with WWI, and the In Flanders Fields Museum is devoted to both the remembrance of war and the promotion of peace. There are organised tours from the town visiting the battlefields.
More info: Ypres Tourism (www.ieper.be)
See other top festivals in May here.
This is an excerpt from Lonely Planet's A Year of Festivals.
This article was first published in December 2010 and was refreshed in April 2013.