What's On in Italy This May 2016

Tue, 05/03/2016 - 04:51

John Bensalhia looks at some of the May magic coming your way in Italy with some super events and festivals...

May is a time of diversity. Whether it's mixed weather (the sun's out one moment and then it's showers all the way) or of course, festivals and events, May offers that bit of something for everyone.

So what have we got? Some events that are steeped in tradition, some that will whet your appetite, a bit of sport, and also a music festival that will please any classical music aficionados.

May magic? Abracadabra! 

PACK THE PALIO | PALIO DI FERRARA, Emilia Romagna, Throughout May 2016

This is an event that can be traced all the way back to 1279. Although the Palio itself traditionally occurs over the last weekend of May, the month itself offers a number of enjoyable and memorable events for everyone to enjoy.

In fact, this year's event begins on the Friday of the 6th May at the Cathedral where a special blessing of the Palii takes place. The bishop will give his blessing to the palii – or the prizes for the victors of the four races. The following Sunday, young 'uns can take part in their very own flag waving games.

Further flag action can be found on 14th and 15th May with the Old Games of the Este Flags. This colourful and eye-catching event recalls the days of Este rule, and provides plenty of acrobatics, music and showmanship.

One of the most notable happenings this month comes on Saturday 21st May with the historical procession between Corso Ercole I d'Este and Este Castle. More than 1000 people dress up in Renaissance costumes to make their way to the torch-lit castle. In the square, the participants enrol in the contests and also take a solemn oath. 

The Palio itself commences on 4pm, Sunday 29th May – a tradition that traces all the way back to 1471 when Borso d'Este was crowned the first Duke of Ferrara. There will be four races in total for boys, girls, donkeys and horses. Continuing the tradition begun all those years ago, Palio di Ferrara is an unmissable occasion packed with excitement and atmosphere. More info here

TASTE GELATO GREATNESS | GELATO FESTIVAL, Various places in Italy, Throughout May 2016

Hungry for Gelato? Then the Gelato Festival is on the road this year to celebrate the best of its kind.

By the time you read this article, the Festival will have visited Parma where it leaves on 1st May. From there, this month, it's off next to Rome (5th to 15th May), Naples (19th to 22nd May) and Turin (26th to 29th May). 

The Festival unites top chefs and big name ice cream makers to instruct visitors on the history, traditions and secrets of Gelato. The festival is now in its sixth year (also taking in Europe as well) and boasts a number of awesome facilities including three food trucks, a tasting area, a workshop and an events area.

There is also competition to find the finest ice cream makers in the field. Flair. Taste. Innovation. Just three of the important ingredients required to make good Gelato, and if you're looking for the best refreshment food in Italy, then you won't go wrong with this magnificent touring festival. More info here


All throughout May, Florence will be hosting its bumper classical music festival. Boasting a series of concert performances, operas and ballet dances, this is the one to see if you're a classical music buff.

This year's goodies include the Beethoven to Fortepiano Concerto (performed by the likes of Anthony Romaniuk and Ludovica Vincenti), a performance of The Magic Mirror, a version of Johannes Brahms' Das Schicksalslied (Song of Destiny) and performances of some Mozart works too (Requiem in D minor K. 626 and Symphony in G major K. 318).

So sit back, relax and enjoy some fine versions of some timeless classical pieces. More info.


One of the events to kick off the month is the Feast of St Efiso. This much loved festival is in Cagliari, Sardinia and pays homage to its patron saint.

Sagra di San Efisio traditionally takes place over the first few days of May with the main focal point, the procession, occurring between Cagliari and the Church of San Efisio. The procession takes the statue of the saint on its journey along with a parade of horsemen and distinctly decorated ox carts.

This is an event that really goes to town with a bright and bold carnival ambience. As the streets come to life to witness the parade of the saint's statue, spectators can also enjoy a selection of entertainment. Performers, musicians and riders all come together to make this event go with a swing, and the accompanying pilgrims also recall the past with their traditional outfits. More info

WHAT A RACQUET | ITALIAN OPEN TENNIS, Rome, 2nd - 15th May 2016

Anyone for tennis? Well Rome is getting ready to serve up another feats of tennis with the annual Internazionali BNL d'Italia – or the Italian Open at the Stadio Olimpico tennis courts.

While the world renowned Italian tennis championship started in 1930, in fact, it began in Milan at the Tennis Club Milano, moving to Rome five years later. However, this was temporarily short-lived, as there was no contest between 1936 and 1949, but by 1950 it was up and running again. 

The yearly tennis event is one of the most important in this sport's diary. It's said that many of the most important tennis players use the Italian Open as a 'warm-up' for the later French Open tournament. It's a must for any tennis fans who can witness the worldwide talents come together on the clay courts to play some superb rounds of the game. 

Game, set and match! More info here


One of the most celebrated festivals to recall the medieval and Renaissance eras, the Assisi-based Calendimaggio will span four days in early May.

Calendimaggio di Assisi is an interesting one in that the festival takes on the form of a competition. This pits the two ancient factions of Sotto and Sopra against each other as they do battle in a series of fields. Dancing. Theatre. Processions. Which side claims victory? Over the four days, the two sides bring their best to each sector before judgement is passed in the verdict on the final day of the event. 

In addition to the events, you can also enjoy a number of special events that are draped in that old time tradition. Occasions such as the Crowning of Lady Spring, and the Blessing of the Banners ceremony run in conjunction with parades, displays, shows and workshops – leaving visitors with a real feel for the period, and maybe even a twinge of nostalgia for a simpler time. More info here

UNION OF THE SNAKE | FESTA DEI SERPARI, Cocullo, Abruzzo, c. 5th May 2016

Maybe not an event for those who have an aversion to snakes – but if you don't mind our hissing friends, then you'll be rewarded with an impressive festival to witness.

Performed as tribute to the town's patron saint, St Dominic, the procession of the snake handlers is held every year on the first Thursday of the May. St Dominic is said to have been the protector from snake bites, and with that in mind, a statue of the saint is taken in a procession and is flanked by a collection of snakes (harmless, don't worry!) as it makes its way through the route.

The snakes on display include Cervoni and Biscie (which can be located on the local mountains). The route takes the procession through the Cucullo streets and spectators can actually pet the snakes if they are so inclined. Whether you are a snake fan or whether you are looking to conquer your fears, this procession makes for an interesting and vivid day out. More info


Marking the marriage between Venice and the sea, Festa Della Sensa is a big calendar event in Venice for the month of May.

Dating back to around the year 1000, Festa della Sensa came about as Venice blossomed as a notable naval presence in the Mediterranean Sea. The Doge of Venice would signify the 'marriage' of Venice and the sea by throwing a gold ring into the depths below. 

Little has changed over the years, although today, it's the Mayor who gets to do the honours – only with a laurel wreath substituted for the golden ring. It's an impressive spectacle, beginning with a morning procession from St Mark's to the Lido and from there continues on a northern route along the shore to reach its destination of San Nicolò.

Once the ceremony is completed, the festivities continue with fantastic events such as a large scale fair and also an impressive boat regatta. You don't have to be a fan of the sea to enjoy this ceremony, as it provides a sense of occasion for all ages from children to grandparents!

FIND THE PLAICE TO BE | SAGRA DEL PESCE, Camogli, Liguria, c. 6th - 8th May 2016

A real catch of an event, Sagra Del Pesce is a superb fish festival that pays homage to the patron saint of the local village's fishermen, Saint Fortunato. 

The fish and the pan are initially blessed and the real fun begins on the Sunday (traditionally the second Sunday of the month). Roughly three tons of oily fish are prepared and then placed in a huge iron frying pan. And we're talking huge – it weighs 20 pounds and is about 3.80 m in diameter. It's enough to hold around 30,000 portions of fish to be cooked for guests to enjoy.

Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons

It's also a good show that provides ample spectacle for visitors. A procession in honour of the Saint takes place at the weekend in which bands and musicians accompany the Holy Ark and Cristi Genoese brotherhoods on their way.

A fireworks show brings the procession to a vivid close, and there are also plenty of music and entertainment displays, as well as a good selection of craft markets and stalls showcasing the best talents that Liguria has to offer. More info can be found here

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