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CULTURE

The best events and festivals in Italy in 2022

With the obvious caveat that much depends on the health situation and Covid-related rules in place, Italy has an outstanding variety of events on offer in 2022 for tourists and residents alike.

Boats move down the grand canal in Venice as part of the carnevale festivities.
Venice's carnival, held every February-March, is one of the highlights of Italy's cultural calendar. Marco Bertorello/AFP

Italy has an incredibly rich cultural calendar – one of the many factors that routinely make it one of the most visited countries in the world.

Here’s an overview of some of the top events coming up around the country, so you can start planning your year.

February

  • The Feast of Sant’Agata, Catania (February 3rd – 5th)

This three-day long festival in Catania, Sicily involves processions, firework displays, and some… unusual-looking desserts.

According to lore, Sant’Agata was a young girl from a noble family who found herself the object of desire of a governor. Legend has it that she cut off her breasts and ultimately martyred herself to escape his advances.

Alongside some raucous celebrations, those who attend will find cassatelle or minne di Sant’Agata – ricotta-filled sponges designed to look like the saint’s amputated bosoms.

  • Carnevale (February 12th – March 1st)

February in Italy is carnival season, and the most famous carnival is of course in held in Venice.

Participants can ride a gondola down the Grand Canal to attend the Grand Masquerade Ball at Palazzo Pisani Moretta and stuff themselves with fried treats like frittelle Veneziane.

Tickets for various events are available here.

READ ALSO: 13 of the best photos from this year’s Venice carnival

Masked revellers pose for a photo during Venice's carnival celebrations.
Masked revellers pose for a photo during Venice’s carnival celebrations. Photo: Marco Bertorello/AFP
  • Carnevale di Viareggio (February 12th – March 5th)

While it might not be as well known internationally, Viareggio’s carnival has nothing to envy to Venice’s festivities.

Every year this small town on the Tuscan coast sees masked participants carry hundreds of papier-mâché floats along the seafront to music and dancing.

Because of the event’s popularity, tickets must be bought in advance here.

  • Honorable mention: Ivrea’s ‘Battle of the Oranges’

Sadly, the health situation has led this year’s organisers to cancel Ivrea’s Battle of the Oranges, a three-day event in which attendees pummel each other with oranges to commemorate a popular uprising against a tyrannical ruler. 

Look out for it in future years, as it’s a highlight of Italy’s cultural calendar.

READ ALSO: IN PHOTOS: Italy’s annual orange fight

March

  • Rome Marathon (March 27th)

If you fancy panting your way around one of the world’s most scenic marathon routes, sign up now for the Rome Marathon.

This annual event takes runners along the river Tiber and past numerous historic Roman and Medieval sites. It starts and ends at the Colosseum, which means you’ll be able to celebrate with a spritz in the fashionable nearby Monti district.

April

  • Scoppio del Carro, Florence (April 17th, 2022 – Easter Sunday)

All Italy will of course be celebrating Easter Sunday, but only Florence does so by setting off explosions from a cart.

Every year, Italy’s Renaissance capital puts on a midday fireworks display in the Piazza del Duomo. A wooden wagon several hundred years is pulled into the square by garlanded oxen, surrounded a procession of people dressed as Roman soldiers or in 15th century garb.

Onlookers admire Florence's theatrical Easter celebrations.
Onlookers admire Florence’s theatrical Easter celebrations. Photo by Vincenzo PINTO / AFP

The cart comes to a rest outside the cathedral, where a service is given; afterwards, as Gloria in excelsis Deo is being sung, Florence’s cardinal lights a fuse on a model dove which then speeds down a cable through the church and onto the cart outside, setting off firecrackers and pinwheels and generating long smoke plumes.

  • Annual festival of classical theatre, Syracuse (May – July, dates tbc)

Built by ancient Greeks, the amphitheatre of Syracuse is returned to its original purpose once a year when it hosts its annual festival of classical theatre.

Dates haven’t yet been announced, but Italy’s National Institute of Ancient Drama, which runs the festival, has said the 2022 season will open with Agamemnon by Aeschylus and Oedipus Rex by Sophocles. 

May

  • Serie A finals (May 22, 2022)

Italian football fans will be fixed to their TV screens (or if they’re lucky, their stadium seats) on May 22nd, which is when Italy’s finest football teams in the countries Serie A play the final matches that decide who gets the scudetto.

June

  • Infiorata, nationwide

June sees towns and villages across Italy burst into colour with what’s known as the infiorata, or flowering, as piazzas are decorated with mosaics made from flower petals.

The tradition started with the Vatican in the 17th century, and every year Rome’s patron saint’s day of June 29th sees the walkway that leads from St Peter’s Square down to Via della Conciliazione and the River Tiber carpeted in a spectacular patchwork of flowers.

Other places especially well known for their June flower displays are Spello (June 18th-19th), Genzano (dates tbc) and Noto, which actually puts on its infiorata a little earlier than the rest of the country (May 13th-15th).

Infiorata flower displays leading up to the Vatican in Rome.
Infiorata flower displays leading up to the Vatican in Rome. Vincenzo Pinto/AFP
  • Verona Opera Festival (June 17th – September 4th)

June is also the month when Verona’s annual opera festival, which lasts until September, starts to get underway.

Fans of opera are in for an experience unlike any other, as performances are held in the city’s Roman amphitheatre. This year’s festival will feature Carmen, Aida, Nabucco, La Traviata, and Turandot; as well as three dance galas.

READ ALSO: Travel: Why Verona should be the next Italian city you visit

July 

  • Umbria Jazz Festival, Perugia (July 8th – 17th)

The annual Umbria jazz festival in Perugia is another highlight for any music-lover’s calendar.

Since 1973, when the festival first began, the city has played host to the likes of Chet Baker, James Brown, Tony Bennett, Elton John, Alicia Keys, Van Morrison, and Prince. The event sees Perugia’s piazzas, streets, concert halls and churches filled with musicians playing up a storm.

August

  • Palio di Siena (July 2nd and August 16th)

Dating back centuries, the Palio di Siena is a twice-annual festival that sees Siena’s various districts compete in a bareback horse race.

READ ALSO: IN PICTURES: The Siena Palio, Italy’s historic horse race

The Palio di Provenzano is the first race held on July 2nd in honour of the Madonna of Provenzano, while the Palio held on 16 August is named Palio dell’Assunta, in honour of the Assumption of Mary.

The events see representatives from different districts or ‘contrade’ compete to win the race, and there’s fierce rivalry. Each contrada is named for an animal or symbol and has its own colours, as well its historic allies and rivals among the other contrade.

IN PICTURES: The Siena Palio, Italy's historic horse race
Riders compete in Siena’s historic palio. Photo: Claudio Giovannini/AFP

September

  • Venice regatta (September 4th) and film festival (August 31st-September 10th)

If you want to rub shoulders with the stars in Italy, there’s no better time and place than Venice in early September.

Founded in 1932, the Venice film festival is the oldest in the world. It forms part of the Venice Biennale art exhibition, which dates all the way back to 1893 and features art, architecture, dance, music, theatre, and cinema from around the world.

If you’re in town for the film festival, you’ll be lucky enough to witness Venice’s historic regatta boat race. The race is open to anyone, but you don’t need to participate to enjoy the spectacle, which includes a procession of reenactors in period costume going down the Grand Canal on special bissone rowing boats.

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

  • Feast of San Gennaro (September 19th)

If you’ve been waiting to witness a miracle, look no further than Naples’ Feast of San Gennaro.

Three times a year – September 19th, December 16th, and the first Sunday in May – the faithful gather to witness a ceremony in which the city’s archbishop holds up a vial of its patron saint’s congealed blood and watch as it liquefies.

It’s the September 19th event, however, that really counts: that’s when Naples celebrates its patron saint, and it kicks off three days of festivities.

October

  • International White Truffle Festival, Alba (October 9th – December 5th)

Gourmands from around the world flock to this annual festival in Alba, Piedmont to sample rare white truffles from the nearby Langhe, Roero and Monferrato woods.

While truffles are the main event, visitors to the fair will also have access to art exhibitions, concerts, theatre performances, farmers markets, and historic and cultural events including parades and a donkey race; and as a bonus, Alba is home to some of the best wine in Italy.

READ ALSO: Hunting gastronomic gold in Italy’s truffle country

December

  • Presepi, nationwide

Italy’s Christmas markets are nothing to be sniffed at, but where the country really shines is in its presepe nativity scenes.

In the southern Italian city of Matera, known for its ancient cave houses and magical landscape, a ‘live presepe’ with actors attracts tourists from around the world.

The town of Manarola in the tourist hotspot of Cinque Terre puts on the world’s largest nativity display, featuring 150 statues illuminated with over 15,000 lights, while the Vatican always sets up an impressive scene that contains everything except for baby Jesus (it’s tradition for the Pope to place him in his manger on Christmas Eve).

READ ALSO: Ten Christmas nativity scenes you’ll only see in Italy

The Manarola nativity scene in Italy’s Cinque Terre.
The Manarola nativity scene in Italy’s Cinque Terre. Photo: Marco Bertorello / AFP

The port town Cesenatico, Emilia-Romagna has a ‘floating nativity’ composed of around 50 life-size statues throughout December, and in Naples you’ll want to head to Via San Gregorio Armeno, the city’s “Christmas Alley”, for a glimpse into the workshops that turn out many of the crib figures displayed all over Italy.

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LIVING IN ITALY

‘Cows raided my garden’: Readers share their craziest stories about life in Italy

From surprise connections to rampaging cows, here are some of our readers' favourite 'only in Italy' moments.

‘Cows raided my garden’: Readers share their craziest stories about life in Italy

Whether you’ve been to Italy once on holiday or have lived here most of your life, you’re bound to have a colourful story or two to tell about your time in the bel paese.

Over the years, The Local’s members have shared with us all sorts of accounts of their experiences of life in Italy – from capers at the Post Office to striking up a friendship with a 97-year-old stranger.

We recently put out a call for your favourite ‘only in Italy’ stories, from the unexpected to the special to the bizarre, and you didn’t disappoint.

Here’s what you had to say.

Surprise connections and hair-raising traffic

With the Italian diaspora scattered all over the world, it’s not uncommon for second, third, or even fourth generation descendants of Italian emigrants to pay a visit to their ancestors’ home town and bump into someone who remembers their family.

That’s exactly what happened to American Gloria Di Pietro when she went on holiday to Italy: “I was in an alimentari in Civitaretenga & started talking to a woman there about my grandfather who was born in Civita. She invited me to her home to meet her mother and grandmother.”

READ ALSO: Ten Italian lifestyle habits to adopt immediately

“When I told her mother who my grandfather was she ran into another room and came out with a photo album. It turns out that her great uncle married my grandfather’s sister, my great aunt & the album was full of photos of my family in Massachusetts!”

As you might expect, some readers’ most lasting impressions of Italy centre on the country’s distinctive driving culture.

Peter MacDonald, ‘a Scot in Garfagnana’, says he once observed “someone reversing round a roundabout because they missed the exit”.

And Judy Tong, who hails from Hong Kong and lives in Palermo, says she’s shocked to regularly see entire families crammed on to a single Vespa:

“A child standing between the handlebar and the saddle, papa sits at the front part of the saddle driving, while mamma sits at the rear end, in between them like the ham of a sandwich is another child or baby… none wears a helmet.”

Vespa scooters aren't just style statements: they can transport entire families.
Vespa scooters aren’t just style statements: they can transport entire families.

Bovine antics and musical ambushes

If Italy’s roads can make your jaw drop, don’t make the mistake of thinking that sticking to the countryside will keep you from witnessing – or even getting roped into – some comic escapades, as one reader recounts:

“Staying at the in-laws’ house, we popped back on our last evening to check if the rubbish and furniture had been collected by the council and found our elderly neighbour (Jackie) flapping her arms, pointing and shouting “mucca, mucca!’

“Apparently our lovingly-tended space had had three enormous cows in it all afternoon.

“Now long-gone, they had swaggered down the road, found our newly opened garden gate and wandered in, upending the table and chairs as they went, snapping off branches, knocking over my newly planted flower pot and merrily eating all the apples! There were hoof marks in the grass, cow pats everywhere and most of our fruit had been eaten… Anyone need any manure for their roses??”

Meanwhile, in a reminder that Italy’s underpopulated hill towns are often less moribund than they might first appear, one Canadian in Abruzzo recalls having a nap in a sleepy, remote mountain hamlet “when suddenly, seemingly out of nowhere, a 20-person band passed by playing music, right under my second-floor window.”

READ ALSO: ‘Five ways a decade of living in Italy has changed me’

On a different note, at least one foreign resident has noticed the special relationship many Italians have with their pets.

“Only in Italy do dogs eat linguine con vongole and eggplant parmigiana for lunch,” says an American whose partner’s Pugliese parents insist it would be unkind not to feed their dogs the same meals as the human members of the family. The vongole (clam) shells are “painstakingly removed dalla nonna“, he clarifies.

Slip-ups, scams, and saints

Italy’s bureaucracy is infamous, so it’s unsurprising that at least one person’s ‘only in Italy’ moment concerns a brush with the tax authorities.

Eric Hompe, an American who lives in Piedmont, says he recently went to his local tax office to have his property taxes assessed, which involved “the obligatory chit-chat about acquaintances in our small town.”

“No sooner had I left the bank when my phone rang. It was the tax office: they had tracked my cell number down through the mutual acquaintance we had chit-chatted about earlier, and were calling to inform me that they had made a mistake – I actually didn’t owe any property tax at all for that year!

“I quickly returned to the bank and waited anxiously for my number to be called, hoping I was in time to cancel the transfer I had previously made. Fortunately, I was! This misadventure cost me an entire morning, and when I think about it I still shake my head in disbelief.”

READ ALSO: ‘Nanna’s gone for a quickie’: Readers reveal their funniest Italian language gaffes

You can expect to spend plenty of time on (sometimes unnecessary) bureaucracy at the town hall if you move to Italy.
You can expect to spend plenty of time on (sometimes unnecessary) bureaucracy at the town hall if you move to Italy. Photo by ANDREAS SOLARO / AFP

Some anecdotes illustrate a darker side to life in Italy.

Writes one Rome-based respondent: “When we first moved in to our apartment, the real estate agent – who worked for one of the largest, most well-known agencies in Italy! – told us to pay our deposit and first month’s rent into his wife’s personal bank account because that’s what he had agreed with the landlord.”

“This seemed unlikely, so we called the landlord, who had no idea what we were talking about; when we called the agent back to say what we had learned, he simply said ‘OK’, and hung up the phone.

“He remained our real estate agent for the next seven years that we lived in the flat and no one ever acknowledged the attempted fraud.”

READ ALSO: 13 essential articles you’ll need when moving to Italy

“Here’s one – my ex-landlord messaged me today saying there’s an outstanding bill from Fastweb for €30 sent to the apartment in my name,” writes another Rome resident who recently moved away from Italy. “I never signed a contract with Fastweb…”

But if you need to be on your guard against the odd Italian truffa, there’s also the warm, generous side to the country, as Mia Nielsen in Paris fondly recalls: “A doctor working in Chiusi backed up on the motorway to rescue me, my husband and little baby when our rental car broke down on our way to Rome airport one summer about 10 years ago. He was on his way to Napoli where his family lived.”

“Instead of dropping us at the nearest petrol station, he drove us to the airport just in time for us to catch our flight back to Paris. We did not get his name and he refused to take any money for helping us. We will never forget his kindness.”

Have you had any ‘only in Italy’ experiences of your own? We’d love to hear about them in the comments section below.

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