Italy’s an almost impossibly vibrant
country given to ebullient expressions of joie de vivre at the best
of times. But, whether it’s a huge international event like
the Venice Carnival or the tiniest village festival, Italy likes nothing
more than to let its hair down for one huge party.
In the run-up to Easter, the whole country shakes
itself down for Carnival Season in February. And celebrations vary
from the solemnity and religious pomp and show of the Festa di Sant’Agata
in Sicily, to the fantastic masked palio-like event of Sartiglia
in Oristano, Sardinia.
Then, to the north of the country, the biggest
of them all gets underway: the Carnevale di Venezia. The Venice
Carnival starts a couple of weeks before Ash Wednesday and comes
to a glorious conclusion on Shrove Tuesday. A wonderfully grand
event that harks back to the decadence of yesteryear, Venice
hostels and hotels overflow with masked revelers and a fair
few onlookers, too!
Over in the small town of Ivrea, their carnival
celebrations take on a stranger (but no less ancient) form in the
Battle of the Oranges. Every year, the town divides itself up into
teams, gets dressed up in Medieval garb, and then a big orange fight
And from the ridiculous to the sublime…
April brings with it more religious events in the shape of the devotional
displays of the Rito dei Battienti in Nocera Tirinese, and, in Florence
the religious fireworks display of Lo Scoppio del Carro on Easter
With the coming of summer, May is given over to
naturally-inspired events across the length and breadth of the country.
Early May sees Cocullo’s Festival of Snakes, an age-old festival
whereby the townsfolk cover the statue of their Patron Saint, San
Domenico Abate, with live snakes.
Another event with an animal theme is Florence’s
Festa del Grillo. Taking place over the first three Sundays of the
month, it’s a slightly odd celebration of the humble cricket!
Gastronomic events, meanwhile, include International Wine Day (on
the last Sunday of the month) and Alba’s sensational truffle
festival (throughout late April and early May).
Joyous June and July
Few countries in the world share Italy’s
near religious devotion to football, and this could hardly be more
evident than in the historical celebration of the beautiful game
that is the Calcio Storico Fiorentino on 24th June. On a (slightly)
more cultural level, June also sees the start of the opera season
in Verona and the Amalfi Coast Opera Festival in Positano.
Coming hot on the heels of the cultural
outpourings of June, July kicks off with another of Italy’s
showcase events: the Palio in Siena. Taking place on the 2nd July,
the bareback medieval costumed charge around the campo is undoubtedly
one of the world’s most famous horseraces.
Sizzling Summer Events
At the height of summer, August is probably the
highpoint of the Italian calendar. On the 15th, the Ferragosto,
is a National Holiday, and sees widespread festivities across the
country. Then the next day, on the 16th, there’s Siena’s
second Palio – just in case you missed the first!
Over in Venice the sweltering month of August
is spent in feverish preparation for one of the highlights of the
international cinema calendar: the Venice Film Festival. The world’s
oldest film festival, it sees cinema’s aristocracy come to
town to see who’ll scoop the prestigious Golden Lion Award.
And the pace doesn’t slack off in the city
for a second as August rolls into September: The first Sunday of
the month sees yet another Medieval-themed event hit Venice’s
Grand Canal in the gondola race of La Regatta di Venezia.
Down to the south, on September 19th (and
again in May and December) the sultry city of Naples celebrates
the Festa di San Gennaro, whereby the decapitated Saint’s
blood ‘liquefies’ to the amazement of the hordes of
onlookers. Throughout the month, meanwhile, right across the country
various celebration of the wine harvest – La Vendemmia –
As late summer turns into golden
autumn, the first week of October heralds the start of the best known
wine festival in the town of Marino (not far from Rome): the Sagra
del Vino. Similarly delicious goings-on take place in Perugia on the
third and fourth weekends of the month with the Eurochocolate Festival.
November is the start of the olive oil
harvesting season in Italy, and, as with the grape harvest, there
are countless fantastic local festivals.
Then, of course, the year winds up with
Christmas, and various fantastic nativity scenes like the ‘Bethlehem
in the Grotto’ display of Stiffe, L’Aquila. Much like
the country as a whole, it’s an intimate, strangely affecting
and yet larger than life affair.