What's On in Italy - May 2014

Wed, 04/30/2014 - 06:41

Spring hots up with a slew of events and festivals taking place this May. John Bensalhia looks at some of the most notable.

If April showed signs of warming up, then May is the month in which the heat rises further. Not just in the temperature, but in the amount of outdoor events held in Italian towns and cities. With clearer skies and warmer weather, the stage is set for some memorable events and festivals, some of which are new, some of which are steeped in tradition...


Honouring the patron saint of Cagliari, St Efisio, the traditional Feast of St Efisio spans four days, taking place on the first four days of the month this year.

In keeping with many events and festivals this month, the Feast looks back to the Middle Ages in entertainment and spectacle. The four-day procession will go from Cagliari to the Church of St Efisio, accompanied by many forms of entertainment.

Contributing to the carnival atmosphere are parades, traditional riding contests, street performances and music. The statue of the saint will be accompanied by horsemen and dressed ox carts, promising a memorable sight.

It's an event that attracts all sorts of visitors, including locals, tourists and also pilgrims who come to the city in traditional Middle Ages clothing. It's an event that kicks off the month in colourful and fun style, paying true tribute to the patron saint.

RISOTTO FESTIVAL (SAGRA DEL RISOTTO) - May 4, Sessame (Langhe-Monferrato, province of Asti, Piedmont)

While pasta may be one of the most common foods that spring to mind when discussing traditional Italian cuisine, risotto is another popular dish to savour.

Sagra del Risotto, the Risotto Festival celebrates this tasty dish in style. It's traditionally held on the first Sunday in May each year in Piedmont, a tradition that dates back to the 13th century. There will be plenty of risotto dishes to sample, but if your taste buds are hankering for something else, then there will be a selection of other seasonal dishes on offer too.

To add to the occasion, the Risotto Festival will also include market stalls and music performances, adding a bit of occasion to a dish that will continue to endure forever more.


Divided we stand, united we ball. The annual medieval celebration returns this May in Assisi. Calendimaggio offers a bit of healthy competition between the divided Upper and Lower districts of Assisi. It's a tradition that appropriately dates back to the Middle Ages, when the people of Umbria would traditionally mark the Spring season during the second weekend of May.

This three-day festival sees the two districts battle it out to see who are the victors in a variety of tournaments and games such as the tug of war, crossbow shooting and racing, not to mention a battle of the voices in a singing contest.

It's a festival that has a highly distinctive feel to it, with its roots in the medieval and Renaissance eras. The celebrations mark these times with medieval workshops, music and show. Continuing this theme are the parades which tell stories in their own right through memorable show-pieces. Dancing, theatre and special effects combine to entertain the crowds.

The crowds can also witness many traditional events such as processions, the Blessing of the Banners ceremony, the Delivery of the Keys and can also find out who will be crowned Lady Spring. Altogether, it's a welcome step back into simpler times, and even though there's competition to be had, Calendimaggio is still an event that brings everyone together.

WEDDING OF THE TREES - May 8, Vetralla (Viterbo, Lazio)

Spring sees the environment in full bloom. The trees are covered in blossom and bright leaves. The flowers are flourishing. The birds can be heard chirping in the trees. So what better way to pay tribute to Mother Nature than a special event?

Wedding of the Trees dates back to 1432, and celebrates the beautiful environment in its own special way. Held annually in Vetralla on 8th May, this event sees a symbolic marriage between two oak trees that are dressed in flowers and veils – representing the protection and care of the local forests. To add to the momentum, there are extra sights and attractions including band music, flags and horsemen who give bouquets of Spring flowers. There is also a free picnic for visitors. Nothing says Spring like the environment in all its blooming glory, and the Wedding of the Trees event is the perfect way to mark this.

GIRO D'ITALIA - May 9-June 1, Various

As one of the main three-week bicycle races in the Pro Tour Race year, Giro D'Italia is a tournament that cycling fans can never ignore.

The annual bicycle race tournament returns this month. Now over 100 years old (the first tournament took place in 1909), Giro D'Italia sticks with tradition by beginning the event in another country. This year, the race will kick off in Northern Ireland, in the regions of Belfast and Dublin on 9th May. From Northern Ireland, the tournament will come back to Italy, taking in routes such as Viggiano, Barolo and Modena. The prestigious race will last all month before coming to an end on 1st June. A must for all cycling fans!

FISH FESTIVAL OF ST. FORTUNATO – May 10-11, Camogli (Liguria)

Something fishy's happening in Camogli this May as the annual fish festival returns. In honour of St Fortunato, the patron saint of fishermen, this festival dates back to 1952, and sees the traditional distribution of free fried fish on the second Sunday of May.

To herald this tradition, the day before sees the anticipation build up as two huge bonfire towers are set alight on opposing sides of the local beach. The festival is a spirited, lively occasion and also includes a fireworks display.

LA BARABBATA - May 14, Marta (Viterbo, Lazio)

Spring time can be linked with traditional fertility celebrations, and one such international example is La Barabbata. It's said to be linked to Roman fertility goddess, Cerere, and is a festival that again provides much entertainment and colour.

The centrepiece of this festival is the procession in which men dress up in costumes relating to traditional trades such as shepherds and fishermen. There are no women in this parade – traditionally, they watch and sometimes throw flowers into the parading crowd. The food, drink and wine of these trades are pulled through by white buffalo and/or oxen, who bring floats bearing fruits, cheeses, fish and wines. 

It's a celebration that encompasses both Spring and traditions that have been passed on through the ages, and this year's looks set to be another memorable one.


It's said to be the oldest Italian folk event. Taking place on 15th May, Festival of the Ceri (Festa dei Ceri) traditionally marks the passing of Bishop Ubaldo Baldassini in 1160. A procession takes place to honour the eve of the day of mourning, and included in this procession are the Ceri, the three wooden structures that are later raised in the local Square. 

The Saints Procession begins at 9.00am this year, followed by a parade at 10.00am and then the raising of the Ceri at 11.30am. The procession continues in the afternoon in addition to a traditional race and other ongoing celebrations.

FESTA DELLA SENSA - May 31-June 1, Venice

The Venetian Republic will be celebrating at the end of this month with the traditional Festa Della Sensa, a celebration of the Ascension of Christ. 

It is also said that the festival celebrates two other vital Republic milestones. The rescue of the Dalmatians by Doge Pietro Orsedo II in May 1000 and also the signing of the peace treaty in Venice to stop the conflict between the Papacy and the Empire in 1177. 

Festa Della Sensa has its roots very much in tradition, and includes events such as the Wedding with the Sea, which features the throwing of the symbolic ring into the water. In addition to this, there are Venetian style rowing races and markets, bringing extra flourishes to this special annual occasion.