Isn’t spring your favorite season? Watchin’ the flowers bloomin’ up from the ground, watchin’ the snow melt down, boy, you may dig winter, boy, but spring is my joy.
One of our favorite performances by the late great Al Jarreau was the artist singing “Joy Spring.” Whatever your favorite season, that song will make you feel alive to the possibilities of springtime.
There are some reasonably kooky and sweet annual festivals around the world to mark the arrival of the season. For example, in Zenica, Bosnia, the Festival of Scrambled Eggs celebrates the egg as a symbol of new life. In Zurich, Sechseläuten is the opportunity to set fire to an enormous snowman (called the Böögg) to banish the winter. South Holland hosts a 12-hour-long parade that travels from Noordwijk to Haarlem; at the Flower Parade of the Bollenstreek every float is constructed of bulb flowers like hyacinths, tulips and daffodils. And in India and Nepal, at the Hindu spring festival of Holi – also known as the “festival of colors” – people of all ages chase relatives and friends with handfuls of colored powder as they herald the beginning of spring.
These are all great fun. If you want to kick it up a notch, though, how should one go about celebrating the season in the most elegant style possible? We queried our far-flung correspondents about their favorite luxurious spring rituals, and they came back with wonderful places to visit as well as glorious events in their own cities that are not to be missed. Here’s our curated Dandelion Chandelier list of some of the most luxurious ways to revel in this flowering season.
Our Paris Bureau Chief has a splendid suggestion: get yourself invited to a “dîner en blanc.” The spring White Party originated in Paris and has since spread to other parts of the globe, including Singapore, New York and London. The Bureau Chief reports “the idea is an outdoor grand ‘picnic’ but so much more. Everyone is dressed in white, and each group of invitees arranges their table – they literally bring the table, the chairs, the crystal, china, and food. It’s in the spirit of the Glyndebourne opera picnics, where the participants are dressed to the nines, sipping champagne in the grass.”
It’s the ultimate insider experience: in Paris, you have to know a table organizer, who then invites his/her friends to participate and bring their assigned accoutrements and food. The exact location of the dinner is kept secret until right before it starts. The participants are instructed to meet at a gathering area, and then they announce where the dinner will be held, and then everyone disperses to set up and dine. In Paris the dinner has been held over the years in the Louvre gardens, the Palais Royale, and various bridges and scenic outdoor venues. It sounds absolutely magical – the Bureau Chief reports “the site of thousands of people outdoors, all in white, with glorious tables in a magnificent space . . . we know its le printemps!”
If you love music, fashion or both, the Paris Bureau Chief also recommends a pilgrimage to the Glyndebourne Opera Festival in East Sussex. Beginning in mid-May, this is a chance to experience an extremely genteel rite of spring (and summer). Set in an English country house, the festival was founded in 1934 by an eccentric aristocrat, John Christie, who was married to an opera singer. The music is serious, and the setting is a dream. Before afternoon performances, attendees – in black tie and formal gowns – gather for an en plein air picnic on the grounds. Bearing lawn furniture and classic wicker picnic hampers filled with strawberries, champagne, and other gourmet bites, people are generally with groups of friends, and the fun commences a couple of hours before the curtain. Groups dine at tables set with crisp white tablecloths and fine china and crystal, next to a meadow with grazing sheep. Afterward, there’s a lot of table-hopping, and a pop-up art gallery and formal gardens to explore.
Stateside, one of the most glamorous events of the spring season in New York is the NY Botanical Garden Conservatory Ball, which will be held this year on June 1, centered on the highly anticipated Dale Chihuly botanical glass exhibit. The annual gala is always a parade of stunning floral evening gowns (sadly, no one seems to notice what the men are wearing), with an elegant dinner and an evening of dancing under a tent.
Another classic New York springtime event that we love is the Women’s Committee of the Central Park Conservancy’s Frederick Law Olmsted Awards Luncheon – aka “the hat lunch.” Held under a tent in the Conservatory Garden at Fifth Avenue and 105th Street, there’s no better way to see the power women out in their finery – gorgeous hats, day dresses and chic shoes in a riot of color, all for a good cause. A few good guys attend every year, too – just be sure to wear something vivid – no shrinking violets allowed!
Back across the pond, the mother of all spring botanical celebrations is a must-attend: the annual RHS Chelsea Flower Show in London draws the financial elite as well as horticultural enthusiasts. Held at the Royal Hospital, this year it runs from May 23-27. World-renowned garden designers, plant specialists, florists and nurseries will display cutting-edge garden designs and stunning floral exhibits – it’s the ideal way to view rare flowers and plants and spot emerging gardening trends. This year’s whimsical highlights will include show gardens reminiscent of Malta and the Silk Road, artisan gardens inspired by Japan and the Spanish Art Nouveau artists, and floral interpretations of an active volcano and a scientific research lab.
In Japan, the blooming of the sakura – the cherry blossoms – is the highly-anticipated sign of the arrival of springtime. Beginning in the south in Kyūshū in mid-March, the sakura zensen moves northward, with the fragile pink and white blooms eventually blanketing the entire country, ending in early/mid-May in Hokkaido. Hanami (cherry blossom viewing) is best celebrated by picnicking under the flowering trees; castles and formal gardens are the ideal locations, as they present timeless images that will transport you back into the dreamy past. Among the most luxurious are Haradani-en Garden in Kyoto; Hirosaki Castle in the Aomori prefecture (constructed in 1611); Osaka Castle Park; Takato Castle Park, Ina, Nagano (the castle was built in 1550); Mount Yoshinoyama, Nara (a UNESCO World Heritage Site); Ueno-kōen, Tokyo (where you’ll find the prestigious Tokyo National Museum); and Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden, Tokyo (considered to be the most beautiful in the city).
Other great springtime destinations? Our Swiss Bureau Chief is an avid traveler with excellent taste, and he recommends the following: “We traveled to Sicily and loved it. Since the island is so far south, the climate is very agreeable and Palermo and Catania are both interesting cities. And there are so many nice places (historic sites, vineyards, museums) to visit on the island.” His wife also recommends Mallorca as a great destination in late spring. You might also consider Morocco at this time of year – the Bureau Chief reports that “a few years ago we traveled to Marrakesh in spring. Many of the old palaces (riads) have been converted into fabulous boutique hotels. Moroccan food is delicious, and there are bars and cafes to sit outside in the evening, especially around the market square (souk) – it gets very lively in the evening.”
Finally, you might want to wake up early and make your way to Oxford, England for May Morning, celebrated each year for over 500 years on May 1. The observance begins as the sun rises, with the 16 members of the Magdalen College Choir turning toward the sun and singing a hymn from the top of Magdalen Tower. Large crowds gather under the tower along the High Street and on Magdalen Bridge. Bells ring out, and festivities including dancing and music follow. Traditionally, there are several all-night formal balls held the previous evening, so many people (especially the students) are in black tie or ball gowns. Dressed to the nines, singing and dancing at dawn: what better way to tap into your inner joy spring?