There is something special about fall in Italy – temperatures are dropping; tourist crowds are thinning; the countryside comes alive with the colors of autumnal foliage; and mouth-watering seasonal produce hits the local markets. Best of all, this is when myriad towns and villages all over the country celebrate various Italian food festivals – ‘sagre’ dedicated to a patron saint, a historical event, or regional food or drink. These are a great way to experience regional culture, taste traditional specialties, and mix with the locals, often in off-the-beaten-path areas and with fewer tourists.
Here are 8 Italian food festivals worth checking out this fall.
Celebrate the famous Chianti red wine in Tuscany!
Every year, from Thursday to Sunday on the second week of September, the Chianti Classico Wine Festival (Rassegna del Chianti Classico) is held in the square of the town of Greve in Chianti, an hour’s drive south of Florence. You just buy an empty glass upon arrival and can then sample up to 10 of the wines offered directly from the producers, as well as local delicacies at the numerous booths. Of course, there is also live music, dance, and local handicrafts.
Take a day-trip from Rome for the chestnuts, and much more…
Just an hour’s drive north of bustling Rome, residents of Soriano nel Cimino hold an annual Chestnut Festival (Sagra della Castagne) on the first and second weekends of October. Yes, you will find chestnuts roasting in every piazza in this unspoilt hilltop town, but this event is about more than that. There are historical reenactments; a contest for the best costumed medieval banquet; demonstrations of jousting, archery, swordsmanship, falconry, and flag-throwing; medieval games and of course, plenty of seasonal food and local wine.
An Italian food festival entirely devoted to Mortadella?!
With a protected status ensuring that no preservatives and artificial colors or flavors are used during its production, the real Mortadella is as far from the American bologna (aka “baloney”) as you can get. Held in October in Bologna’s central Piazza Maggiore square, the MortadellaBo festival includes tastings, demonstrations, and competitions dedicated to the popular and versatile cold cut.
Jump over to Friuli for the food and white wine!
From 18 – 21 October, the 20th edition of the Ein Prosit is scheduled to take place in a 16th-century Venetian palace (Palazzo Veneziano) in Malborghetto in the region of Friuli Venezia Giulia in Italy’s north-eastern corner between Austria and Slovenia. This Italian food festival will include a tasting exhibition where visitors can sample regional products; tasting tours on which local chefs and restaurateurs present their dishes paired with Friuli Venezia Giulia wines; guided wine tastings; and workshops celebrating the region’s culinary and wine-making traditions.
Visit Piedmont for (not only) the truffles!
In fall, there are several Italian food festivals and fairs marking the truffle season, but the International White Truffle Fair in the town of Alba is the largest and best-known. Near the borders with France and Switzerland, the Piedmont region is the birthplace of the Slow Food movement and a foodie destination in its own right. Held from 6 October to 25 November, the Truffle Fair is heavenly combination of flavors, aromas, and colors, and a great place to taste and purchase not only truffles and various truffle products, but also other local goods like cheese, salami, pasta, chocolate, and wine. Oh, and let’s not forget the donkey race and medieval parade!
A fountain of free wine, anyone???
Another perfect outing from Rome (less than an hour’s drive south-east), the town of Marino was where in antiquity wealthy Romans built luxurious summer villas to escape the heat. Every first weekend of October, a Grape Festival (‘Sagra dell’uva’) draws thousands of visitors to celebrate local wine and the victory in a historic 16th-century battle. The main attraction is one of the town’s fountains which, for an hour, spills wine instead of water. Make sure you get to the right fountain on time and be prepared to elbow your way through the crowd of thirsty locals…or simply buy a cup of wine and some local food from one of the many vendors.
Head to Sicily for the ice-cream!
Ice cream is a serious business in Italy and even more so in Sicily. From 27 – 30 September, Palermo will once again celebrate artisan ice cream with the annual Sherbeth Festival, now in its 10th edition. In the historic city center which gets transformed into an open-air Gelato Village, 50 ice-cream virtuosos from all over the world will present their handmade creations along with tastings, workshops for aspiring gelato makers, presentations, and live music to complement this unique Italian food festival.
And why not also stop in Perugia for some chocolate?
For 9 days every fall (this year from 19 – 28 October), the medieval architecture of historic Perugia – the capital of Umbria, becomes the setting for Eurochocolate – Italy’s largest chocolate festival. Perugina, Lindt, Caffarel, and many other chocolate manufacturers fill the city’s cobblestone streets and piazzas with chocolate creations in every form imaginable – chocolate hearts, chocolate fish, chocolate kebabs, chocolate bricks, hot chocolate, chocolate pastas, and chocolate liquors to name just a few, and organize workshops open to visitors.
Italian food festivals offer the perfect combination of picturesque settings, traditional food, and festive fun. They are not just a great chance to taste some of the different regions’ most delicious seasonal cuisine, but also to delve into local culture and eat and drink elbow-to-elbow with locals. And autumn is the time to go…
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Get more useful travel tips: This is how to escape the crowds in Italy this summer!