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Seven reasons autumn is the best time to visit Italy

It's never a bad time for an Italian holiday, but autumn is when the country really comes into its own.

Seven reasons autumn is the best time to visit Italy
Beautiful sunsets and empty streets: That's autumnn in Rome. Photo: Moyan Brenn/Flickr

Here are seven reasons why we think this is the best time of year to visit.

1. The colours


Autumn by Lake Como. Photo: rglinsky/Depositphotos

Whether it’s the autumn sunshine illuminating reddish city buildings, the changing hues of leaves in the countryside, or glistening reflections in one of the country’s many amazing lakes, autumn is surely the most beautiful time to spend in Italy.

Instagrammers rejoice: no filter needed here!

2. Streets to yourself

Get to see Castel Sant’Angelo without the hordes.. Photo: pio3/Depositphotos

Italy is a popular choice for summer holidays, so between May and September the city centres swell with tourists. This means it’s harder to find a quiet table at restaurants; hotels, airlines and train companies hike their prices; and queues for the most famous tourist attractions can reach ridiculous lengths.

With autumn finally here you can breathe a sigh of relief and enjoy having the streets to yourself.

You’ll also get a more ‘authentic’ sense of Italy, as most Italians leave the cities during the summer months – meaning many local businesses and eateries close down during peak season too.

3. Food festivals

Autumn is the best time to visit your local market. 

Autumn means harvest time, and in Italy that means plenty of regional festivals celebrating the local dishes. It’s a perfect time to explore nearby towns, with many of them hosting a sagra (food festival) to celebrate – and eat! – their truffles, chestnuts, pasta sauce, figs and mushrooms.

Look out for the white truffle festival on October weekends in Alba, Piedmont; the aubergine sagra in Savona; and the limoncello festival in Massa Lubrense. For travellers with a sweet tooth, time your visit to coincide with the massive Eurochocolate fair in Perugia in mid-October or Cremona’s nougat fest. Those are just a few of the options, so make sure to check out what’s happening near you.

READ ALSO: The delicious Italian foods with stomach-turning names

Even if you can’t make it to a local sagra, the variety of fresh vegetables available at local markets, and the smell of chestnuts as sellers roast them on the streets, make Italian autumn a foodie paradise. Many restaurants will serve seasonal specials, so make sure to ask your waiter what they recommend.

4. Wine time

The Italian wine harvest. Photo: tepic/Depositphotos

After all that food, you’ll need something to wash it down – and luckily it’s the wine season, with harvesting taking place in each of Italy’s 20 regions. If you can’t make it out to the vineyards, you can visit any one of the many towns and villages that host grape festivals (Sagra dell’uva), and taste world-class Italian wines.

Olive harvesting takes place around the same time, so if you prefer you can also experience the first stage of another Italian speciality: extra virgin olive oil.

5. Breathing space at the beaches

Sperlonga beach near Rome – in November. Photo: Catherine Edwards/The Local

The combination of tourists going home and locals deciding it’s far too cold for beach weather makes autumn an ideal time for a coastal excursion.

No longer will you have to battle for a sunbed or a spot to place your towel, or deal with hiked-up prices for deckchair rental and gelato. You may even find you get the beach to yourself.

6. Autumn weather

Speaking of which, Italian autumn is altogether a much more pleasant season for those who find Italy’s sweltering summers tough to bear.

After months where anything other than taking a long siesta and eating ice cream in piazzas seems far too taxing, the cooler – but usually still sunny – autumn means you can finally go on long walks, sightseeing afternoons and explore all that Italy has to offer without having to stop for a drink of water in a shaded area every few minutes.

READ ALSO: Ten great autumn escapes in Italy

7. Culture overload

Theatres are generally closed in Italy over summer, but the cooler months see theatre and opera seasons kick off again, so even on rainy days you won’t get bored.

High-profile events taking place over autumn include the Rome Film Festival and Montecatini Opera Festival in central Italy, while Bologna’s Jazz Festival is well worth a trip to the north of the country.

A version of this article was first published in September 2016.

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DISCOVER ITALY

Why some of Italy’s food festivals are ‘fake’ – and how to pick the best ones

Italy's countless sagre, or food fairs, are an autumn highlight. But how do you find the best events - and avoid the more commercial ones? Reporter Silvia Marchetti explains.

Why some of Italy’s food festivals are 'fake' - and how to pick the best ones

Italy’s renowned food fairs are one of the most exciting events during autumn and winter, particularly the coldest months when we’re looking for culinary weekend distractions. 

For the uninitiated, sagre are key gourmand exhibitions mixing local food, premium products, cheeses and olive oil – all the ‘excellences’ of the area – but lately I find some are just, well, fake. 

READ ALSO: The best Italian food festivals to visit in October

Instead of selling traditional indigenous delicacies, vendors sell a little bit of everything which they think appeals to foreigners and city people desperate for a rural break. 

Last weekend I went to the sagra at Osteria Nuova, near Passo Corese in Lazio, and found mozzarella from Naples and limoncello from Amalfi: now what do those have to do with the Rieti countryside?

It was sad and disappointing. Even though it takes place in an area which is famous at this time of the year for exquisite porcini mushrooms and chestnuts there was not even one single vendor selling these. Instead, there was codfish from Venice and porchetta from the Castelli Romani.

Up until a few years ago the Osteria Nuova food fair was very genuine and appealing: it was actually a real farmers’ market where animals were sold: not just rabbits and hens but cows, horses and donkeys. It was a vibrant event. 

Now the cages that once kept the animals are empty. And people just go there to stuff themselves with huge sandwiches and hotdogs. It’s always hell finding a parking spot because the fair is very close to Rome, luring day trippers on a ‘scampagnata’.

Photo by Tobias SCHWARZ / AFP

My advice is to avoid visiting food fairs which are too close to big cities and towns, but pick offbeat villages or unknown rural spots where the sagre are small and with local producers selling authentic, ‘indigenous’ products. Choosing the remote hillsides, where traditions tend to survive, is of course better than the touristy areas. 

READ ALSO: Seven reasons autumn is the best time to visit Italy

Also, it’s best if the food fair is not too heavily sponsored or advertised in national newspapers. The best thing to do is search online for all food fairs in the area you plan to visit during the weekend or even during the week, and ask friends and locals as word of mouth can often be more reliable. 

Among the authentic sagre I would recommend the porcini mushroom food fair in San Martino al Cimino in the pristine hills of the Tuscia countryside in Lazio, where the woods are dotted with porcini. 

At the fair not only bags of huge porcini are sold but you can also buy a lunch ticket and taste various mushroom dishes sitting down at wooden tables. Last time I was served a delicious potato and porcini soup which inspired me to replicate (successfully) the recipe at home. 

However, the best thing is to search for the weird and unknown – food fairs with funny names and showcasing products that sound and look really bizarre. So forget about the usual truffles, mozzarella, limoncello, ham and pasta-filled events. I suggest opting for quirky food festivals in never-heard-of-before villages where the culinary adventure comes with a cultural jolt. 

Photo by MARCO BERTORELLO / AFP

When I hear about something amazingly off-the-wall and tasty, with a particular story or legend behind it, my curiosity and taste buds tingle.

Last weekend I was surfing the web and came across the Ciammellocco festival in the tiny hamlet of Cretone, Lazio, which immediately aroused my curiosity. 

READ ALSO: 14 reasons why Lazio should be your next Italian holiday destination

As I had never heard of it before, I jumped in the car the following day and ventured out to an isolated woody area with a few small dwellings, where one single bakery makes this huge, funny-sounding, highly-nutritious sweet-salty doughnut with fennel seeds which has been around since at least the middle ages. Housewives used to make it for their husbands as a substitute for lunch when they went off working in the fields. 

Even though I have tasted similar ciambelle in my life none come close to ciammellocco, crunchy and tender at the same time, made with eggs but light.

Next I heard about the Sagra della Papera in Carassai, Marche region, offering succulent duck meat dishes with pappardelle pasta and roasted duck breasts, and given duck isn’t something you’d normally find in Italian restaurants, it makes the cut for authentic food events. 

Vegetarians can’t miss the Festival degli Orapi in the village of Picinisco north of Naples where guests are treated to platefuls of a unique, delicious spinach variety which is made exquisite by the fact that it grows beneath goat poo, a natural fertilizer. Locals actually roam the countryside with a knife to scrape away the poo and extract the orapi.

In Pedagaggi, Sicily, local housewives organize the Sagra della mostarda di fichi d’india, with gourmet dishes made from exotic-looking prickly pear mustards. 

READ ALSO: ‘La scampagnata’: What it is and how to do it the Italian way

Other curious sagre include the Festa del Gorgonzola set in the town of Gorgonzola in Lombardy which is the real birthplace of Italy’s iconic blue cheese. Huge pentoloni of steaming pots of gorgonzola in the middle of the piazza lure pungent cheese addicts. 

Also Diamante’s festival del peperoncino in Calabria is a must stop for lovers of strong, authentic hot dishes spiced up with chili peppers (there’s even a peperoncini eating marathon).

Real sagre tend to showcase one premium native product rather than a myriad with overlapping origins.

The more ‘local’ you dive into the deepest, remote corners of Italy full of tradition and folklore, the more genuine the sagra and the more satisfying the gastronomical experience.

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