21 Italian Festivals to See Before You Die

Festa della Sensa, Venice | © BasPhoto/Shutterstock

Italians love to come together and celebrate. Over the centuries, Italy’s festivals have become famous the world over for their scale and eccentricity. Whether you’re a food lover, fan of sport or just up for some silliness, you’ll want to experience these festivals on your travels.

Fair of Sant’Orso, Aosta Valley, January

Every year on January 30 and 31, hundreds of craftspeople from across the Aosta Valley gather to show and sell their work on the streets of Aosta town centre. The craftsmanship is amazing with sculptures and inlays in wood; soapstone, wrought iron and leather working; and weaving of drap (a traditional woollen fabric), lace and wicker, to name but a few. Aosta itself is very picturesque and perfect for a midwinter getaway.

Carnevale, Venice, February

From January 27 to February 13, the floating city of Venice is transformed into an extravagant masked ball. The festival, which is believed to have originated in the 12th century, celebrates the anticipation of Lent (a time when Christians abstain from revelry and eating meat). While the opulent masquerade balls require invitations with steep ticket prices, the candlelit parade of boats, concerts and street performances are free and open to the public.

Battle of the Oranges, Ivrea, February

This famous ‘battle’ reenacts a 12th-century skirmish with citrus fruit in what is one of Europe’s biggest food fights. Participants either run through the streets or hurl oranges from one of the ‘battle buses’ which patrol Ivrea. Each year in the days leading up to Fat Tuesday, the townspeople of Ivrea divide into nine squads and spend the next three days having Italy’s biggest food fight. Great for anyone low on vitamin C!

Masked people protected with traditional helmets throwing oranges during the traditional Carnival parade of Oranges Battle, Ivrea | © illpax/Shutterstock

Carnevale, Viareggio, February

Every February, the people of Northern Italy go a little crazy. They head to the seaside town of Viareggio in their thousands to unleash their inner jester and bring some light to the dark and dreary winter months. The highlight of this 150-year-old celebration is undoubtedly the giant parade of papier-mâché floats, some several stories high, that weave their way through the streets playing music.

Scoppio del Carro, Florence, April

On Easter Sunday, the people of Florence gather outside Il Duomo to watch the Scoppio del Carro (Explosion of the Cart). This centuries-old tradition culminates in a specially rigged model dove setting off an incredible fireworks display outside the cathedral. An elaborate wagon, built in 1622, is pulled by a pair of oxen decorated in garlands through the streets of Florence to the square between the baptistry and cathedral on which the fireworks are kept and fired.BOOK THE TRAVEL YOU’VE MISSED

Marriage of the Sea, Venice, May

The last weekend of May is a time of great festivity in Venice, as the city celebrates its nautical prowess with a huge procession of row boats from St Mark’s to the Port of St Nicoló. Thousands line the waterways to watch the drama unfold and catch one of the races that see small teams compete in river sprints. Festa della Sensa culminates at the church of St Nicolò and a market is held in the nearby square.

Festa Della Sensa | © BasPhoto/Shutterstock

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Wedding of the Trees, Accettura, May

The Maggio di Accettura is a unique combination of paganism and religion, belief and superstition, excessive partying, hard work, and traditional craftsmanship. During the celebration, the maggio, a tall old oak, and the cima, a holly tree, are cut from the surrounding forests to be transported back into town where they are ‘married’, symbolising fertility and the union of the town.

La Corsa dei Ceri, Gubbio, May

The people of Gubbio commemorate their patron saints by carrying three giant candles through the town. The people dress in one of three colours (yellow for St Ubaldo, blue for St Giorgio and black for St Antonio) and carry five-metre-tall candles. In the afternoon the people of Gubbio ‘race’ the candles and, although overtaking is not allowed, participants often go full pelt between the slopes and narrow descents of the town.

Snake Handlers’ Procession, Cocullo, May

Each year for centuries local snake catchers (serpari) have competed to see who can snare the most serpents. The bizarre festival celebrates St Dominic, who locals believe fends off attacks from wolves, bears and ailments. The snakes, which can measure over two metres long, are draped over a wooden statue of St Dominic and paraded through the streets. Whoever catches the most is considered a hero for many years to come.

Statue of St. Dominic covered in snakes | © lifeinabruzzo

Game of the Bridge, Pisa, June

The Game of the Bridge takes place annually on the last Sunday of June. The town’s men are split into two teams, Mezzogiorno (south of the Arno river) and Tramontana (north of the river), who compete by pushing a huge metal cart across the Ponte di Mezzo bridge. Each team of 20 is trying to push the other back across the bridge. There are six ‘battles’ in total, with the team that wins the most crowned victorious for that year. The whole town turns out to spectate and the atmosphere is amazing.

Calcio Storico, Florence, June

This incredibly violent tournament is an early form of football dating back to the 16th century. Teams of 27 players compete to try to get a ball to each other’s end but, unlike football, opposing players can tackle using punches, kicks and elbows. The official rules were written in 1580 by Count Giovanni de Bardi and even today cannon fire still signals the start of the match. The winning team is also still presented with a Chianina cow, one of the oldest breeds of cow in existence.

Infiorata, June

The Infiorata sees towns across Italy decorated with beautiful petal mosaics, some several hundred metres long. The festival originated in the Vatican in 1625, but soon spread throughout Italy. Today, you can experience one of the biggest Infiorata in the Sicilian town of Noto during the third weekend of May. Most other celebrations are held in early June, including in Pienza, Orvieto, Potenzoni di Briatico, Brugnato and across Emilia Romagna.

The famous floral decorations made to Corpus Christi in Cusano Mutri, Campania, Italy | © Francesca Sciarra/Shutterstock

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