A party for all seasons: Five off-the-beaten-path festivals in Italy

Lina Branter | 17/04/2019
The medieval parade in Alba.
Relish in the drama of the parade after the donkey race for the opening ceremony.

Italy is a wild and wonderful country with rich, varied and passionate history. It should come as no surprise: if you go beyond the usual wine festivals and carnivals, you can take in some truly remarkable cultural events in Italy. Here are just a handful of off-beaten-path Italian festivals to experience during your visit to Italy.

1.     Battle of the Oranges (Carnival of Ivrea)

When: Late February to early March

Where: Ivrea, Piedmont

Known as Italy’s largest food fight, legend has it that the annual Battle of the Oranges (officially known as the Carnival of Ivrea) commemorates the defeat of a 12th century tyrant, who tried to exercise his “droit du seigneur” on the newly married Miller’s daughter. The Miller’s daughter was not having it, and allegedly decapitated him, after which the townsfolk stormed the palace and burned it to the ground.

In keeping with its violent origins, the Battle of the Oranges divides the townsfolk into nine teams, who proceed to hurl oranges at each other for three days. The orange battle ends on Shrove Tuesday, when participants stage a solemn funeral.

2.     Polifonic Music Festival

When: Late July

Where: Monopoli-Itria Valley, Apulia

Whereas the Battle of the Oranges has its origins in the 12th century, the Polifonic Music Festival is one of the newer music festivals in Italy. Tucked among the olive groves in a grand, old historic venue, the festival features experimental and electronic dance music from some of the world’s top acts and DJs. The festival takes place over three days, featuring three stages interspersed with yoga classes, chill areas, art exhibits and of course, stunning scenery. Get in on the ground floor of Polifonic and say you were there when it first began!

3.     Notte Della Taranta

When: Late August

Where: Salento, Apulia, Southern Region of Puglia

Still got your dance on? Stick around the south of Italy for the Notte Della Taranta, a summer festival that brings together dancers and musicians in homage to the pizzica taranta, a frenetic medieval folk dance, said to have been part of a healing ritual for the bite of a tarantula. 

However, some say the whole tarantula bite thing was a cover for women who needed an outlet to vent their frustration against oppression. Musicians and dancers tour around the region of Salento in August performing the dance and winding up with one big concert in Late August in Melpignano.

4.     International Alba White Truffle Fair

When: October- November

Where: Alba, Piedmont

Straight from the region that gave the world the slow food movement and the miracle of hazelnut chocolate comes this two-month celebration of the tuber magnatum, the white truffle — or more poetically, the truffle of the white Madonna. 

Held every Saturday and Sunday in October and November, the festival’s main event is the truffle market, where the little fungi sells for prices that will make your hair curl. But this festival so much more, featuring live cooking shows, wine tasting, plus wine and food pairing experiences. For a special treat attend on the first Sunday in October — you will be able to witness a medieval re-enactment of a donkey race involving all of Alba’s nine boroughs, followed by a parade where each of the boroughs performs a historical, medieval scene. Learn some medieval history and buy yourself a certified white truffle.

5. Festa del Cornuto

When: November 11

Where: Rocca Canterano

Head to the province of Rome in November to witness one of Italy’s weirder events. Held on Saint Martin’s day, the festival of the Horns celebrates all the cuckolds of the world. Witness men dressed in white robes and horns (which symbolize a cuckold — a man whose partner has betrayed him) parade down the street while onlookers mock them. Then the king of the horns arrives on a throne carried by his fellow cuckolds, carrying a flask of wine and reciting a poem about the woes of married life. 

Very Dionysian in character, the parade is accompanied by amazing wine and food specialties from the region, including its famous barbecued chestnuts, lamb skewers, and sandwiches filled with sausage and chicory.

A festival for every village, every season

As you can imagine, these festivals are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to Italy’s myriad celebrations. If you’re planning a trip to Italy, take some time to learn about the events that may be happening right next door to the towns you plan on visiting. Local festivals are one of the most rewarding ways to dive into the Italy’s rich and diverse history and cultures.