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DISCOVER ITALY

Six of the coolest places to go in Italy to avoid a heatwave

If you're not a fan of the heat, here are six places in Italy you can go to stay cool this summer.

Dolomites, Italy
Mountain resorts on the Dolomites are among the best locations for those looking to get away from the summer heat. Photo by Miguel MEDINA / AFP

Italy is admired all over the world for the uncontaminated beauty of its beaches and the crystal-clear water of its seas. Unsurprising, its many seaside resorts attract millions of foreign visitors every summer. 

But while the country is surely heaven on earth for hot weather lovers, is there a place for those who are less keen on basking in the scorching sun of the Italian estate? Well, take it from an Italian born and bred: there’s a place for just about anybody in Italy.

The unparalleled diversity of the country’s landscape means that those preferring temperatures in the low 20s over the 30s (and sometimes 40s) of the summer heat have a plethora of cool-weather havens to choose from.

Here are just six of the destinations that you should consider when planning your escape from the heat.

Vigo di Fassa, Trentino Alto-Adige

Summer in the Dolomites is generally fairly cool but there’s a place in Trentino Alto-Adige where temperatures are particularly brisker than elsewhere. Located around 40km east of Bolzano and sat at an elevation of 1,382m, Vigo di Fassa enjoys temperatures which are significantly lower than in the surrounding comuni (municipalities). Suffice to say that in August, the hottest month of the year, daily averages are usually below 20C.

But, Vigo di Fassa is not just your average mountain location offering reprieve from the summer heat. It is also one of the most picturesque villages in the entire country and it happens to be just a stone’s throw away from popular attractions such as Lake Carezza, the Ciampedìe plateau and Sass Pordoi, a rock summit commonly known as ‘terrazza delle Dolomiti’ (Dolomites’ terrace).

In short, this is the perfect place for nature lovers and hiking enthusiasts.

Sappada, Friuli-Venezia Giulia

Sappada is an enchanting mountain resort on the Carnic Alps, just south of the border with Austria. Located at the foot of the imposing Mount Peralba, the village offers visitors some truly breathtaking views of the surrounding Dolomite massifs as well as a magnificent natural landscape comprising extensive green pastures, thick coniferous forests and an array of alpine lakes.

Besides being a natural paradise for outdoors enthusiasts, the town is also brimming with folklore and local traditions, with a number of events and festivities occurring over the course of the summer.

Yet again, as in the case of the afore-mentioned locations, the town’s elevation (1,250m above sea level) keeps the temperatures relatively cool over the course of the summer, with the local thermometer rising above 22C only on very few occasions.

Castelluccio di Norcia, Umbria

From the heights of the Dolomites we move down across the country and stop on the Umbrian Apennines, which are home to Castelluccio di Norcia. Reaching an elevation of 1,452m above sea level, Castelluccio (literally, ‘little castle’ in Italian), is one of the coolest towns in Umbria, with temperatures hovering around 21C throughout the summer.

Besides being an unparalleled oasis of peace and tranquillity, the Umbrian town offers a variety of hiking trails to several renowned attractions, including Grotta della Sibilla (Sibyl’s Cave) and Lake Pilate.

Finally, it is advisable to visit Castelluccio between the end of May and mid-July, when the fields surrounding the town are coloured by red lentil flowers.

READ ALSO: TRAVEL: Why now’s the best time to discover Italy’s secret lakes and mountains

Vallombrosa, Tuscany

The Vallombrosa forest has long been one of the best-kept secrets of Florence residents. When the heat becomes unbearable in the city – and it often does over the summer – the locals retreat to a 1,270-hectare reserve about 30km southeast of the region’s capital.

Why? Vallombrosa is a cool and shady natural haven where the beauty of uncontaminated forest land merges with majestic man-made creations such as the Benedictine Abbey of Vallombrosa and the Castle of Sammezzano. 

The forest is also filled with trails that are granted to give hikers the time of their lives. One of them, the Setteponti trail, will even take you as far south as Arezzo!

Pescasseroli, Abruzzo

Nestled at the heart of Abruzzo’s National Park on the Marsicani Mountains, Pescasseroli is one of the most scenic small towns in Italy. With its array of traditional houses, churches and artisan shops, the burg’s centro storico is a sight for sore eyes. 

In line with the above-mentioned locations, Pescasseroli also enjoys relatively cool summers as its elevation (1,167m above sea level) rarely allows temperatures to exceed 26C, even in August. So, regardless of when you choose to visit, it’s always a good time to saddle up and discover the natural wonders the surrounding national park has to offer. 

Oh, by the way, scattered across Pescasseroli are also a number of taverns, where you’ll be able to treat yourself to the scrumptious local cuisine.

READ ALSO: How to choose a camping holiday in Italy: A guide for the uninitiated

Ulassai, Sardinia

Yes, it is indeed true. Even Sardinia, which is globally known for the beauty of its beaches and seaside resorts, has something to offer to cool weather lovers. Sat at 775m above sea level, Ulassai (province of Nuoro) is one of the ‘fresher’ spots in the island, offering an alluring way out of the summer heat domineering pretty much elsewhere. 

The village is perched atop a huge limestone massif known as Bruncu Matzeu and allows visitors to enjoy stunning views of Sardinia’s eastern coast and the Tyrrhenian Sea extending beyond it. Ulassai also offers a number of natural attractions, including the imposing Lequarci Falls and the Su Marmuri Cave. In short, this is the perfect spot for those who love nature and local history.

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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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