Cigar smoking is all about shared pleasure. After all, it swept Victorian England and became a national pastime in part because it gave men something to do with their hands while they talked after dinner. And it took off during the so-called "cigar boom" of the 1990s in part because new publications, online forums, cigar clubs, and other social venues allowed cigar smokers to talk about their passion.
So it's no surprise to find cigar-related events all over the social calendar of smokers around the world. In addition to the lavish, expensive Big Smoke conventions put on by Cigar Aficionado magazine - at least two a year, in Las Vegas and New York City - there's the Ybor City festival in Tampa, Florida, free and open to the public. And that's just November. Check out a few other, more-exotic possibilities from all over the globe.
The Dominican Republic is the world's largest source of premium cigars, surpassing even Cuba (from which many of the country's cigar-making families and technologies emigrated during the years after Castro). La Aurora, Davidoff, Arturo Fuente, and La Gloria Cubana, among many others, all operate there, and as of 2007, it has its own yearly cigar festival as well! Taking place in Santiago, the two-day Procigar Festival (the first of which took place March 5-7, 2008) featured cigar factory tours, visits to tobacco fields, chances to hobnob with some of the world's greatest cigar makers, and cigar-and-liquor matchups. Companies such as La Aurora, General Cigar Co., and Tabacalera de Garcia, among others, participated, and the inaugural bow was successful enough to motivate a second - to be held February 16-20, 2009.
While you're there, if you go, you may want to check out some of the other sights offered by this important Latin American cultural capital. The Dominican Republic was the first place permanently settled by Europeans anywhere in either American continent - the oldest cathedrals, universities, and European-made roads can all be found there. Santo Domingo, the country's capital, butts up against its southern coast, offering breathtaking views (the Procigar Festival takes place far further north, in Santiago, but the country is not super-large in total area). Four mountain ranges decorate the country; the Cordillera Central ("Central Mountain Range") approaches Santiago, so visitors to the Procigar Festival could also schedule a day trip to see Pico Duarte, the jewel of the Cordillera Central and the highest peak in the West Indies (over 3000 meters). And, of course, Santiago is itself located in the Cibao valley - between the Cordillera Central and Corillera Septentrional ("Northern Mountain Range"), which run parallel to each other - and it's this rich and fertile area that houses most of the country's farms, including its tobacco farms.
Or you could follow in author James Joyce's footsteps and visit Zurich, Switzerland, where the expatriate Irish modernist polymath-writer completed large sections of his surreal novel Finnegans Wake, and where the Whiskyship sails every November. (What is it with November and cigar events?) This whisky-tasting event, which also offers three hundred premium cigars for the sampling, allows those with sharp noses and tastebuds to enjoy single malt whiskies from all over the world, and to enjoy the companies of folks with similar tastes. The 2008 Whiskyship will be the tenth such event. Switzerland, of course, features all sorts of other attractions - among other things, there's the James Joyce Foundation, but also, you know, mountains and pristine lakes and thousands of years' worth of European scenery - and would be worth a visit regardless.
Another possibility - albeit somewhat closer to home, at least for North American smokers - is the Nebraska Cigar Festival in Lincoln. Taking place in late November (which pits it against the Ybor City Festival and the two CA Big Smokes in drawing the attention of Midwestern cigar fanatics who don't feel like going to Zurich), the one-evening event brings in cigars, munchies and a pair of drink tickets for those willing to shell out the admission fees and deal with early-winter Midwestern cold.
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