Italy - Top 10 Festivals For The Cultured

Posted on April 28, 2014

It seems that every town in Italy has its own festival or saint’s day, with dancing, food, wine and a procession. Whether your taste is for major events or quaint little local gatherings, our picks from the Worldcare Travel Insurance Blog below will inspire you!

Almond Blossom Festival, Agrigento - February

Wander among the blossoming almond trees, enjoying their delicate perfume and immersing yourself in the local history and culture.

La Sagra del Mandorlo is usually held from the 1st until the 10th of February, and celebrates the first almond blossoms of the season as a sign of the beginning of spring.

For 10 days the city celebrates with international folk dancers performing traditional dances in costume for the appreciative crowds. Local restaurants and bars in the area serve delicious almond dishes, a specialty of the season, and there are colourful parades with marching bands everywhere.

There is a sunset procession to the Valle dei Tempii (Valley of the Temples), home to five heritage-listed ancient Greek temples – Concordia, Juno, Jupiter, Hercules, Castor and Pollux. These are some of the best-preserved Greek ruins outside Greece itself, and are particularly beautiful in the golden light of sunset.

Carnevale, Venice - March

Choose a mask and join the revellers for a night of opulence, glamour and mystery.

Otherwise known as Fat Tuesday – (Martedì Grasso in Italian, Mardi Gras in French) Carnevale recreates the 18th century opulence of fine silk and brocade, masked balls, gold coaches and Casanova. It is a time for locals to party before the austerity of Lent, and culminates in Shrove Tuesday, the day of feasting before Ash Wednesday.

Different from wilder Mardi Gras in Rio or New Orleans, Venice Carnevale hosts more than a fortnight of concerts and masked costume balls in theatres, churches and frescoed palaces. The traditional masked balls are attended by the glitterati and those looking for an authentic Carnevale experience.

The maschera, or mask, plays an important role in the festival, and in past times allowed respectable citizens to frolic under the anonymity of disguise, without being judged by polite society.

Race Of The Candles, Gubbio - May

This sensational, exciting, crazy race usually takes places on St Ubaldo’s Day on the 15th of May.

Three teams of young men called ceriaioli (candle-bearers) race each other around the winding, steep, narrow streets of Gubbio, each team holding a gigantic one-tonne decorated wooden candle, to the cheers of the exuberant crowds. The winning team is not the first to the finish, but is rather decided by their skill during the race, which is a source of much lively debate by the spectators! The race culminates with a huge banquet for 700 people including the ceriaioli.

The festival dates back to 1242 and is thought to have originated when, according to the townspeople, St Ubaldo miraculously spared the town from certain defeat by Frederick Barbarossa. It’s a wild day with boisterous celebrations and lots of street fun.

Sagra Della Fragola (Strawberry Festival), Nemi - June

The village of Nemi near Rome is renowned for the sweetness and flavour of its fragoline di bosco (wild strawberries), and every summer it celebrates them and their farmed cousins with this wonderful festival. You can enjoy freshly-picked berries with fresh cream or ice cream, in pancakes, milkshakes and liqueurs – even strawberry pizza!

The town decks itself with flags and strawberry-themed streamers, and there are flowers everywhere, even on the cars. Girls dressed in traditional costumes offer punnets of strawberries to the crowd; this dates back to the legend of Venere, who transformed the blood of her vanquished lover Adonis into strawberries with her tears.

Venice International Film Festival, Venice - August/September

This festival is second only to Cannes in importance for the film industry, and features everything from blockbusters to low-budget indie productions. The prestigious event is attended by screen giants and stars from all countries, as well as talented unknowns chasing distribution deals or new roles.

The festival takes place along the Lido esplanade by the sea. Films from all around the world are screened at the Palazzo del Cinema, movie houses and sometimes open-air piazzas. Tickets are hard to come by so keep checking the website about a week before the festival starts and book quickly.

The Golden Lion (Leone d'Oro) is the highest prize given to a film at the festival and past winners have included Ang Lee’s Brokeback Mountain and Mira Nair’s Monsoon Wedding.

Ferragosto, Everywhere In Italy - The 15th Of August

The entire country shuts down for this day, which marks the height of the Italian holiday season.

In ancient Roman times the gods (particularly the goddess Diana) were honoured with month-long celebrations called Feriae Augusti (Fairs of the Emperor Augustus). Nowadays these celebrations have transformed into a national holiday on the 15th of August, which also coincides with the Feast of the Assumption of Mary, one of the most important days in the Catholic Church calendar.

This holiday for the residents means the large tourist towns are somewhat quiet and empty, as everything is shut. However, if you are in a small coastal or mountain spot, where the locals go, you can join in the celebrations that usually include a procession to the local church, a concert in the piazza and fireworks. Sagre foods (featuring local specialties) are prepared and served to locals and tourists alike, and there is often music and dancing.

Opera In Arena, Verona - June-August

Set in Verona's ancient Roman amphitheatre, a huge 2,000-year-old sports stadium open to the sky, few opera stages in Italy have a more dramatic setting than this.

With its huge stage, dramatic backdrops and seating for some 15,000 people, the opera season in the Arena has become an international institution. A large-scale version of Aïda is staged every year, as it has been since 1913, as well as at least four, sometimes six, additional operatic masterpieces and special performances during the season.

Candles are distributed to the audience and lit after sunset for each performance, creating an aura of magic and drama. You can choose the authentic stone seats and bring your own cushion, or pay a premium for the upholstered ones.

Festino Di Santa Rosalia, Palermo - July

Santa Rosalia, Palermo's patron saint, saved the town from the plague in 1624 and every year Sicilians still give thanks to her with this festival.

There are elaborate celebrations including the procession of an enormous triumphal cart pulled by six horses to the sea. Past carts have replicated an enormous fortress, a gigantic warship and a 17th-century golden, triumphal chariot. Other major events in this ancient festival are a re-enactment of the miracle of Santa Rosalia in the piazza of the Royal Palace, followed by a stunning gioco dei fuochi (fireworks) display by the sea, to the delight of the milling crowds.

Autumn Truffle Fairs - October/November

October is food festival time in Italy, after the harvest and before the chill of winter. It’s a great time to sample local specialties, especially mushrooms, chestnuts, chocolate and truffles.

Some of the biggest truffle festivals are in Piedmont, Tuscany, Umbria, Le Marche and Emilia-Romagna during October and November. During this time you can enjoy many local dishes that feature the rare white truffle, a traditional delicacy of these areas.

Piedmont Fair has a white truffle walk for tourists and a worldwide truffle auction – watch as vendors worldwide try to outbid each other for this sought-after luxury.

If you haven’t tasted truffles before, the San Miniato Truffle Fair in Tuscany is a great place to start, with special dishes featuring this delicacy, food and craft stalls and entertainment.

In Alba, known as the white truffle capital of Italy, you can even join a tour and go on a truffle hunt – an unforgettable experience!

Grape Festival, Merano - October

Three days of local traditions, music, food and wine – this tribute to wine-making has occurred every October in the health spa of Merano since 1886.

A festival highlight is the Sunday pageant that leads through the historic lanes of the city, featuring beautifully-decorated parade floats, brass bands and locals in costume.

The festival also includes open-air music performances, folk dance groups, brass bands and local costume guilds, some coming from the neighbouring region of Trentino and some from as far as Switzerland.

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