One of the enjoyable things about traveling to Italy is the festivals, or sagre as they are called in Italian. The variety of things celebrated through festivals is astounding. If you wanted to, you could plan a trip around the different festivals that take place all year long. We, on the other hand, enjoy the surprise of hearing the music or drumbeat announcing something unique going on, or turning a corner and suddenly coming upon a parade, or series of booths, or flag-adorned streets, or people in period costumes.
We were in Venice one time inside the Academia looking at a huge Titian painting when all of a sudden we heard heavenly voices. Despite the imposing and impressive nature of the painting we were drawn to locate the voices. Not finding it inside we went out, turned a corner and there was a group of a cappella singers filling the air with beautiful sound. As it turned out there was a music festival in Venice. For the three days we were there we ran into musicians of all stripes all over the city. We heard a chorus sitting outside at dinner, ran into a piano player in a small piazza, found a string quartet at the entry to our bed and breakfast.
Then there is the flower festival held in Spello we stumbled into. Here the competition was to see who could create the most beautiful flower arrangement outside your house or business. So the streets were lined with flowers. The culmination is streets painted with flower petals. Neighborhoods compete developing intricate and beautiful pictures on paper that they then translate onto the streets using multi-colored petals.
Our first visit to Siena happened to be during their famous Palio, the wild bare backed horse race held around their incomparable shell shaped piazza. During our stay we visited the thirteen contradas, or neighborhoods, each of which had flag and banner lined streets. Each contrada had its own band that paraded through the streets playing in period costume. We watched them bless their horses right inside the neighborhood churches. And then the race itself was a wild, fun, spectacle.
In Orvieto we have frequently been surprised by festivals. We know of the big ones such as Corpus Domini and Palombella, and have witnessed both, which are incredible in their costumes and pageantry. But we have been surprised by a medieval peasant parade, and the Madonna brought out once a year from one of the little churches to bless the neighborhood, or the medieval archery contest that had stations all over the city where archers competed. All have been such fun to follow and watch and enjoy. We know of, but have not attended, the Umbrian jazz festival taking place between Christmas and New Years in Orvieto. Our fellow Slow Travel Tour operators, Anne and Kirk Woodyard of Music and Market Tours lead trips to this special event.
The nice thing about slow travel is you can take time to enjoy these surprises. When not on a tight schedule, but slowly taking in whatever you find wherever you are, you can truly join in the fun and taste a slice of Italian life.
We would love to hear of festivals you have enjoyed. Tell us about those you’ve visited by leaving us a reply!
Kristi and Bill Steiner began leading “learning vacations” to Orvieto, Italy in 2003. Through Adventures in Italy they provide a cultural immersion experience. Many trips include the pursuit of some kind of creative work that complements and reinforces exploration of Italy’s culture. Relationships built over the years enable Kristi and Bill to provide experiences that a typical visitor to Orvieto never gets.
Learn more about Kristi and Bill’s trips. Stay abreast of Adventures in Italy developments, and follow Bill’s musings about travel and Italy on his blog Make Haste Slowly. View Bill’s photos of Italy, Orvieto, and other memorable places at steinerstudiophotos.com, and follow him on Instagram.
Slow Travel Tours is an affiliation of small-group tour operators who offer personalized trips in Italy, France and other European countries.