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Italian Festivals to Look Forward to in May

Launeddas Players

Besides the beautiful weather and excellent attractions, Italy livens up in May with an array of spring festivals from different towns in different parts of the country. Here you’ll find festivals in honor of the flowers newly abloom, festivals dedicated to the amazing wine that is only produced within the season, and other affairs that celebrate various spring rituals all over the country. Here’s a list of what to look out for in illustrious Italy this May.

We open with Labor Day on the 1st, which is recognized as a public holiday. Expect to see parades and parties, despite the closure of several businesses and establishments. There will be massive crowds heading straight for the coast and other popular tourist attractions, as locals as well as visitors all try to take advantage of the day off. Come prepared, and be ready to get down.

Also on May 1st is the Sagra di Sant Efisio, a very important holiday in the island of Sardinia. The festivities start with a wildly colorful processions starting from the town of Cagliari, ending at the Romanesque church of Saint Efisio on the beach at Nora. Oxcarts are decorated and horsemen are tasked with accompanying the patron saint’s statue in the parade, followed by excellent food and dancing – remember, no Italian party is complete without stomping your feet!

Starting near the end of April to the 12th of May is the Ring Race and Procession in the town of Narni in the Umbria region. In this festival, you can expect several reenactments of 14th century contests, parties, and street parades.

Also in early May is the Calendimaggio, again celebrated in Umbria in the town of Assisi. It is a vibrant event that is reminiscent of Medieval and Renaissance celebrations: two ancient medieval wards called the Parte di Sopra and Parte di Sotto engage in a contest in which one tries to outdo the other in the form of theatrical shows and concerts, songs and dances, processions, and even sports like archery, crossbows, and flag-waving.

The Snake Handlers’ Procession is commonly held during the first Thursday of May in the Abruzzo region, in a town called Cocullo. The town’s patron saint is Saint Dominic, and annually a procession is held. As the name suggests, live serpents are involved: specifically, the statue of the patron is covered with them and is carried all throughout the town. Not for the weak of heart!

Vegetatian Risotto

The first Sunday of May is when the Risotto Festival is held in the town of Sessame in Piedmont. The luscious rice dish hails back to the 13th century and has remained a consistent favorite in both high-end and rustic cooking. It’s bound to be a delicious adventure, so bring your empty stomach and an adventurous palate.

On May 8th, you may want to see Sposalizio dell’Albero, also known as The Wedding of the Trees. This event is held in the town of Vetralla in the norther Lazio region. The celebration centers around Vetralla’s sovereignty over the forests of Italy and its aim to continue the right of every citizen to a cubic meter of firewood every year. A couple of oak trees are ‘married’ and decorated with garlands and flowers offered by the locals. On this day, many new trees are planted and everyone enjoys a free lunch. If you’re the type who loves to commune with nature, or adores Mother Earth, this is the festival for you.

Did you know that Italy has its own version of the Tour de France? It’s called Giro d’Italia, and it happens around early May and lasts for most of the month. Just like Tour de France, the race takes place in the scenic Italian countryside. Be sure to catch a leg and get in on the sports action.

Two festivals are celebrated on the second Sunday of May: the fish festival of Saint Fortunato and the polenta festival. The first takes place in the picturesque fishing village of Camogli, south of the Genoa region; there is usually a spectacular fireworks display and bonfire competition on the preceding Saturday, followed by a free meal of fried fish on the day itself. Meanwhile, the polenta festival is celebrated in the town of Avigliana in Piedmont. It is generally celebrated in the main square.

On May 14th the shores of Lake Bolsena in Marta come alive as the festival called La Barabbata begins. Men wear costumes representing old trades and carry their tools, while white buffalo pull carts and floats carrying the fruit of these trades.

The Night of Museums festival is usually held in mid-May. On this day, many museums in Italy remain open until late and eschew admission fees, as well as hold special events. It’s a perfect opportunity to soak in some art and culture on a shoestring budget.

Speaking of enjoying the country on a budget, aim to visit when Cantine Aperte starts. This is a festival celebrating food and wine throughout Italy, and cantinas open their doors to guests and hold special events for connoiseurs or even those just looking to learn more about wine culture. If you have a particular preference for smooth Chianti wine, you may opt to try the Chianti Wine Festival, held in the last Sunday of May and the first Sunday of June, in the Chianti wine region in breathtaking Tuscany.

Combat, Roman chariot in a fight of gladiators, bloody circus

Real history buffs will certainly find something to get excited about during the last weekend of May: Il Palio di Ferrara and the Roman Fest both happen during this weekend. The Il Palio di Ferrara is a historic horse race that began in 1279 and features a variety of medieval activities and events, from flag throwing competitions to parades. People dress up in Renaissance era costumes on the Saturday night preceding the race and trek towards the castle. Roman Fest offers the experience of a genuine ancient Roman festival in the town of Alesandria in Piedmont. There will be staged gladiator combat, chariot races, and plenty of drinking and partying.

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By Priscila Siano (266 Posts)

Priscila Siano is the Marketing Director of Tour Italy Now, an online tour operator specializing in Italy travel. She's a respected expert on making dream Italy vacations a reality for clients.

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