There’s nothing quite like immersing yourself in a cultural festival during your vacation in Italy. From ancient cultural traditions, to contemporary musical festivals, Italy offers up a rich tapestry of in-the-moment experiences all summer long. All you have to do show up.
Here are five of our favourite Italian festivals to experience this summer.
San Giovanni Feast Day
Head to Florence on June 24th to celebrate the San Giovanni Feast Day, which celebrates the city’s patron saint. One of the most popular festivals in Tuscany, get ready for parades, sports, candlelit boats, and of course food and wine.
During the afternoon you’ll find one of the festival’s most popular activities — Calcio Storico Fiorentino. This is traditional Florentine football, a far more full-contact version of the sport than you may be used to seeing. This medieval sport is a blend of soccer, rugby and wrestling, and is played in traditional historical garb. The battle comes down to four historic Florentine neighbourhoods — represented by the Blues, the Whites, the Reds, and the Greens.
If full-contact sports isn’t your thing, San Giovanni Feast Day also involves a lot of eating, music, and drinking. After an afternoon of roughhousing, wander to the Arno River. There you’ll find fireworks, and flotilla of rowboats competing in a candle-lit race.
Umbria Jazz Festival
Head to Perugia for ten full days of celebrating jazz — both local and international. The Umbria Jazz Festival has been going since 1973, and features pop and rock performances as well as classic jazz. In the past, legends such as Dizzy Gillespie and Chet Baker have played on these stages. You’ll be able to see many free shows, though typically big names in some of the larger venues will require a ticket purchase. These aren’t just run-of-the-mill performance venues; many of the top concerts take place in historic sites such as the Basilica di San Pietro, Teatro Pavone and the Arena Santa Giuliana.
July through September
Not only the place where Romeo met Juliet, Verona is also home to one of the world’s most celebrated opera festivals. When it comes to events in Italy, this is a real showstopper since performances are held in Verona’s ancient Roman amphitheatre, which has stood the test of time for thousands of years. Walk into history by seeing a performance in a space where people have been taking in spectacles since the days of ancient Rome.
Palio di Siena
You may have caught a glimpse of Italy’s most famous horse race in the opening credits of James Bond’s Quantum of Solace. Going strong since 1644, Siena gets overcome with passion for the race that takes over the Piazza del Campo. Siena is divided into 17 contrade (districts), ten of which are chosen each year to be represented in the race. Each of the competing contrades will have a horse and jockey in each race, places decided by lottery. It wouldn’t be an Italian festival without food. Prepare your palate for large open-air suppers the night before the race.
Chiusi della Verna, Arezzo
When it comes to food festivals in Italy, the possibilities are endless. We’re going to take you off-the-beaten track to the town of Chiusi della Verna. While exploring gorgeous Arezzo, you may want to sample one of the foods that can only be found in a handful of places in the world — truffles. What better place to experience this delectable mushroom than in the hills where it’s found? At this festival, you’ll find truffles incorporated into a stunning array of dishes — from all types of pasta, to main courses and appetizers. Match your decadent dinner with an inspired regional cocktail, then stroll through the Tuscan countryside before returning home for a well-earned night’s rest.
A festival for every taste, every season
With so many festivals to choose from Italy is truly an embarrassment of riches. If you’re on the hunt for delicious regional and local fare, keep an eye out for the magic word sagra. This denotes a smaller local celebration where you can sample some of the best food Italy has to offer.