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DISCOVER ITALY

Seven things to do in Italy in summer 2022

Italian summers bring no shortage of fascinating local events. Here’s some inspiration if you’re planning to travel to or within Italy in the coming weeks.

Corteo Storico, Palio di Siena
The spectacular historical parade preceding the Palio di Siena is just one of the events you can catch in Italy this summer. Photo by Alberto PIZZOLI / AFP

July

Sagra della pecora, Monterosi (Lazio) – July 15th-17th

The annual Sagra della Pecora (Sheep Festival), one of Lazio’s most beloved summer events, celebrates the centuries-old culinary customs of the region’s northern rural areas, the so-called ‘Tuscia’.

This year, for its 11th edition, the festival will move from its usual location, Fabrica di Roma, to the village of Monterosi, around 40 kilometres south of Viterbo. 

But the new location will not affect the festival’s winning formula. Once again, the scrumptious meat-based delicacies of Lazio’s farmland cuisine will fill the bellies of all those in attendance while local bands take turns in performing treasured folk songs. 

They say the mutton dumplings (gnocchi al castrato) are to die for…You’re welcome to go and judge for yourself.

For further details or updates about the festival, please check out the organisers’ Facebook page.

Festa del Redentore, Venice (Veneto) – July 16th

As usual, the most anticipated event of the Venetian summer will take place on the third Saturday of July, falling on July 16th this year.

For those unfamiliar with the event’s history, the Festa del Redentore (Feast of the Redeemer) commemorates the end of the plague that, between 1575 and 1576, decimated Venice’s population, killing as many as 46,000 residents.

A number of events take place on the weekdays preceding the feast itself, including the construction of a floating walkway connecting Venice to the nearby Giudecca island.

However, most of the action unfolds over the weekend. Residents kick off celebrations in the early afternoon of Saturday and only take a break around 11.30pm, when everyone stops to gaze at the traditional 40-minute fireworks display held over the lagoon’s waters.

After the fireworks show, parties carry on through the rest of the night, finishing in the early hours of Sunday.

As Venice residents will tell you, every year thousands of people from all over the world storm to the city to partake in the Redentore celebrations. If you’re looking to join in, plan your weekend to a tee to avoid missing out on any of the scheduled events. 

Also, watching the fireworks from Venice’s waterfront or on a private boat is free for all, though booking may be required for some areas of the city.

Festa del Redentore, Venice

The Feast of the Redeemer is the most anticipated event of Venice’s summer, attracting thousands of international visitors every year. Photo by Marco Chilese via Unsplash.

Stragusto, Trapani (Sicily) – July 27th-31st 

Stragusto is a five-day annual event celebrating the unique flavours of Mediterranean street food.

As usual, the festival, which has now reached its 14th edition, will be held in Trapani, on Sicily’s west coast. According to tradition, food stalls will be set up in the city’s ancient fish market, a vibrant gathering place exuding local history and age-old culinary traditions.

As in previous editions, the festival will offer visitors the opportunity to feast on the toothsome staples of Sicilian street food – arancini, panelle, sfincione and so on – as well as specialties from other parts of the peninsula.

Unlike in previous instalments, this year’s festival will also feature a wine-tasting area, where the lucky attendees will be able to sample the local vino while watching the setting sun sink into the Mediterranean sea.

For details about the festivals’ scheduled events, please check out the dedicated Facebook page.

August

Ferragosto, throughout Italy – August 15th

Ferragosto is by far the biggest summer holiday in the bel paese, unofficially marking the peak of the Italian vacation season. 

Currently celebrated on August 15th, the day in which, according to the Catholic Church, the Virgin Mary ascended to Heaven, the holiday’s origins actually precede the advent of Catholicism. 

In fact, Ferragosto is named after the Feriae Augusti, the festivals introduced by Roman emperor Augustus in 18 BC to celebrate the harvest and give farmers a much-deserved period of repose after the hard labour of the previous weeks.

Nowadays, the holiday, which is rigorously observed all over the country, is for the most part a mixture of religious events (special church services, processions, etc.) and other celebrations, with most major cities offering an array of cultural and/or live music events, and fireworks displays. 

The Italian sun is usually scorching hot in August, especially so in the centre and south of the country. So, if you’re planning to spend Ferragosto in Italy, be sure to take a good-sized tub of sunscreen with you or, if you really can’t stand the heat, head to one of Italy’s coolest locations instead.  

READ ALSO: Everything you need to know about Ferragosto, Italy’s national summer holiday

Palio dell’Assunta, Siena (Tuscany) – August 16th

The Palio di Siena is one of the most popular horse races in the world and Tuscany’s most anticipated summer event.

The race, first held in 1633, takes place twice a year on July 2nd and August 16th. The July palio is called Palio di Provenzano, whereas the August one is known as Palio dell’Assunta as a homage to the Assumption of Mary, celebrated by the Catholic Church on August 15th. 

Both events are held in the magnificent Piazza del Campo, a shell-shaped mediaeval square where ten jockeys and their randomly assigned horses compete for the glory of their city district (contrada).

Contrary to what some may think, the palio isn’t just a horse race. Rather, it’s a vibrant cultural occurrence celebrating the age-old rivalry between Siena’s 17 contrade.

A number of events take place in the three days preceding the race, including several trial runs and the momentous tratta (draw), where each competing contrada is assigned a horse.

Finally, on the day of the palio, a spectacular historical parade made up of nearly 700 participants enchants the public just before the start of the race.

Palio dell'Assunta, Siena

Held annually on August 16th, the Palio dell’Assunta is a horse race imbued with local history and age-old city rivalries. Photo by Filippo MONTEFORTE / AFP

Festa di Sant’Alessandro, Ischia (Campania) – August 26th

Every year, on August 26th, the picturesque village of Saint Alexander, on the northern coast of Ischia, celebrates its patron saint with a distinctive historical costume parade.

Hundreds of participants, dressed in striking Greek, Roman or mediaeval costumes, take to the streets of one of Italy’s most dazzling islands, marching from the iconic Aragonese Castle to the small Church of Saint Alexander, right by the main harbour. 

Once the traditional mass at the aforementioned church draws to a close, the village residents kick off celebrations, with all the lucky attendees having a chance to sample the specialties of the island’s cuisine and listen to the local folk music.

Parties generally go on until the late evening. 

READ ALSO: Life in Italy in 2022: 10 things to add to your bucket list

Notte della Taranta, Melpignano (Puglia) – August 27th    

The Notte della Taranta (Night of the Taranta) is one of Italy’s biggest live music festivals and, without a shadow of a doubt, the most awaited event of the Apulian summer. 

As suggested by its name, the event celebrates the taranta, a set of upbeat traditional folk dances which are thought to have originated in the Salento peninsula at some point during the 17th century.

The festival, currently in its 25th edition, will be held on August 27th in Melpignano, a small town 30 kilometres south of Lecce. 

This year, Italian composer and producer Dario Faini, commonly known by his stage name, Dardust, will conduct the local orchestra, delighting those in attendance with a modern reinterpretation of Puglia’s traditional folk music.

A number of eminent national and international artists are also expected to feature in the show, though the identity of said artists hasn’t been revealed yet. 

In line with its popular spirit, the Notte della Taranta is a free event and is open to all. As ever, the best way to receive updates about the festival is through its dedicated Facebook page.

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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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