In autumn, many Italian towns and cities organize special events to celebrate the different harvests, new wines and seasonal products. The pandemic, of course, put these popular sagras, festas, fieras and mostra mercatos on hold, but they started to return last year, and 2022 has a lot to offer. Frequently taking place in magnificent medieval settings, they usually last from a few days to several weeks and offer programs filled with tastings, markets and exhibitions; some also schedule lectures, competitions, concerts, street music and parades with participants in historical costume. Here’s a sampling of places to go to experience a range of culinary feasts this fall.
Bardolino (Lake Garda, Veneto)
In Bardolino, you can enjoy two traveler favourites: excellent wine at the source and an exquisite waterside setting. In early autumn, there’s another reason to visit the Bardolino Wine Festival (September 29-October 3) which toasts the annual harvest and raises a glass to local wines grown in vineyards spanning the eastern shores of Lake Garda. Over five days, the festival offers the chance to try a selection of offerings from the region, such as the classic Bardolino, Superiore (with a bit more alcohol content), Chiaretto rosé and Chiaretto Spumante. For more tastings, you can also wind your way along the lake and into the countryside following Bardolino’s Strada del Vino.
On the last weekend of October (this year the 29th and 30th), the medieval past becomes present in Montalcino, renowned for its famous red wine, Brunello di Montalcino, when the town hosts the Sagra del Tordo (or Feast of la thrush), a celebration that pays tribute to ancient sporting and hunting customs. (In autumn, the area is on the path of migrating birds like thrushes.) There’s a lot of pageantry – residents show up in medieval costume for a special parade and the archery competition between neighborhoods ( quartieri) is fiercely contested. Events featuring local dishes made with fall ingredients are also on the cards. (Whenever you’re in the village, try the local pasta pinci – Montalcino’s term for pici – and ribollita, a bread soup.) Of course, the Brunello flows during the festival.
San Quirico d’Orcia (Tuscany)
Famous for some of the most fascinating views of the surrounding countryside in Italy, San Quirico D’Orcia has plenty to offer the culinary tourist all year round, but in early December there are two dates worth noting. The Olive Oil Festival is held to coincide with December 8, a religious holiday, and marks the arrival of freshly pressed oil from local producers. During the festival there are usually talks and cooking demonstrations, a number of which take place in the 17th century Palazzo Chigi Zondadari. Throughout the village during the fiesta, you’ll have plenty of opportunities to sample the new oil, usually served on just-baked bread like bruschetta.
After two years of ageing, the popular local wine, Orcia Reserve, is released on December 1st. The Orcia wine route, which runs through the town (the full route goes from Pienza to Buonconvento and ends at Abbadia San Salvatore), is home to many wineries producing Orcia DOC reds, made mainly with Sangiovese grapes, and DOC whites, produced with Trebbiano and Malvasia grapes.
TRUFFLE TOWNS AND VILLAGES
The Alba International White Truffle Fair (October 8-December 4, 2022) is world famous for celebrating the Tuber Magnatum Pico, but there are also other white truffle festivals in Italy to discover. The pristine medieval town of Gubbio, about a 50-minute drive from Perugia, is known not only for its decorative ceramics, Roman ruins and Fontana dei Matti (Fountain of Fools), but also for its annual truffle fair, the Mostra Mercato del Tartufo. Bianco, this year, from October 29 to November 1. Food stalls showcasing regional specialties, cooking demonstrations and meetings with renowned chefs have been included in previous programs.
Pietralunga, a 30 to 40 minute drive from Gubbio, is also known for its white truffles and white potatoes. The annual festival therefore commemorates the two on the second weekend of October (this year October 8-9). Restaurants offer special menus, truffle hunts are usually scheduled (more than ten percent of residents are qualified to hunt), and a variety of themed events, as well as jazz concerts, take place during the festivities.
San Miniato (Tuscany)
The Tuscan town of San Miniato near Pisa presents its very own truffle show, which runs for three consecutive weekends, this year starting in November 12-13. In San Miniato, head towards the Piazza della Repubblica to admire the immensity of the frescoed buildings that make up the Seminary Palace. This hill city is also a great artistic destination, where you will find works by Luca della robbia, Donatello, Filippo Lippme and Verrocchio.
CELEBRATE THE BEAUTY OF AUTUMN
Città della Pieve (Umbria)
Saffron is grown in different regions of Italy, including Città della Pieve in Umbria, which has been producing it since the 13th century. Zafferiamo, a celebration of many things saffron, takes place October 22-24 and highlights the spice’s versatility. As it was also used as a dye or colorant for paint, the festival program includes workshops and demonstrations showing the application of saffron for fabrics and art, as well as its role in cooking. Restaurants offer special dishes made with saffron; even gelaterias are doing their part by offering saffron ice cream.
Designated one of the most beautiful villages in Italy (I Borghi più Belli d’Italia), Montone, about 40 kilometers from Perugia, celebrates autumn harvests and seasonal delicacies with the Festa del Bosco (Festival of the Forest). Taking place from October 29 to November 1 in the historic center of the village, the festival presents autumnal products such as mushrooms, chestnuts and truffles with tastings, special restaurant menus and discussions, which in the past have dealt with topics such as the culinary history of the region’s forest products. . Local crafts including embroidery, ceramics and wood products are also showcased during the festival.