There are approximately 58,698,302 food festivals per year across the entirety of the country. Obviously, that was a bit of an exaggeration. But there truly are countless festivals happening across the country. If you look hard enough, you could probably attend a different sagra every weekend in Italy, although it would require a lot of travel time and visiting a lot of small towns. Every regional dish, seasonal harvest time, and type of wine is celebrated somewhere in Italy at some point during the year. Some of these sagre (festivals, particularly those celebrating a food item) take place in small towns and are lesser known on the global scale. Some, like the following, are larger festivals that draw a wider crowd.
Battle of the Oranges – Ivrea, Piedmont
Yes, you read that correctly. One of the most popular food festivals is far more than just food stands serving tortellini. There is a wide-spread food fight! Legend has it that a young miller’s daughter named Violetta, after a rich Marquis tried to enforce the so-called “Right of the Lord” on her wedding night, decapitated the Marquis and ignited a rebellion against the nobility. This citrusy food fight is in celebration of her and the revolt she started. It is organized with nine teams: those that represent the townspeople and those that represent the tyrannous Marquis and his nobility. The teams of peasants take their stance on the ground while throwing oranges up at the team of nobility up on carts and carriages.
This is a festival that takes place for three days during carnivale (the Italian version of Mardi Gras) and ends specifically on Shrove Tuesday. Because it is carnivale, you can be sure that a wide variety of special treats are available from food stands. Here, you can enjoy specialties from Piedmont like fagioli grassi (a hearty stew featuring beans, sausage, and by-products of pig), capunet (stuffed cabbage rolls), salam d’la duja (a traditional salami preserved in lard), and toma cheese.
TASTE – Florence, Tuscany
To taste a little bit of all of Italy, come to Florence for the TASTE Florence Food Festival. This 3-day festival celebrates the cuisine of the country; more than 500 companies and organizations provide a special treat for the festival. There are breads, oils, cakes, meats, cheese, liquors, vinaigrettes, and the list goes on!
The festival takes place indoors, inside an old fort called Fortezza da Basso. Now it is used as a large conference hall. At TASTE, you can take the time to taste Italian food, learn about the cuisine and cooking practice, and even purchase some of the cooking supplies you need to whip up your own Italian dishes.
Sciacchetrail – Cinque Terre, Liguria
The Cinque Terre are known for their vibrant colors, steep cliff sides, and crystal-clear waters. But the five villages are also home to a fantastic race. Sciacchetrail is a 47km foot race that leads participants through vineyards and hillsides and all five villages of the Cinque Terre. The Cinque Terre National Park exalts the trail as the perfect place to discover the soul of the Cinque Terre. The trail leads from one village, Monterosso, all the way down the coast and cliffs to the southern-most village Riomaggiore, and right back up again to Monterosso.
After the race (or during for those who choose not to participate in the race itself), visitors can sample local wines from the region, pesto, and fresh seafood. There is also live music and a lot a healthy spirit of competition and adventure.
Vinitaly – Verona, Veneto
Have you ever seen that movie on Netflix, Love in the Villa? Remember that festival Tom Hopper’s character came for? It’s a real festival. And it happens in Verona, Italy. It is a wine fair for wine professionals: producers, sellers, importers, connoisseurs, and stakeholders. The festival lasts for four days and is perfect for wine lovers from all across the globe. The goal is to give people that work with wine to have the opportunity to social network and discover some of the next up-and-comers in the world of wine.
ProsciutTiamo Ham Festival – Saint-Marcel, Valle d’Aosta
The greatest festival to celebrate prosciutto is held in Saint-Marcel of Valle d’Aosta. The name is a play on words for prosciutto and ti amo which means “ham” and “I love you”, respectively. But prosciutto, in this case, doesn’t mean just any ham. It refers to prosciutto crudo, which is an Italian delicacy from cured ham. The ham festival is typically held for three days during the month of June. Besides tasting prosciutto, there is also music, parties, and other delicious goods from the northern Valle d’Aosta region.
Pizza Village – Naples, Campania
Pizza is the heart and soul of the Italian people – especially of the people from Napoli. So of course it makes sense that a major pizza festival is held in Naples, the birthplace of the best pizza! It is also held in four other locations, but the city in which pizza was perfected is the prime location for attending this festival – if you have the choice. Pizza Village is a festival for celebrating all styles of pizza, not just pizza napoletana. Freestyle, wood-fired, gluten-y, and gluten free pizza are all center stage during this week- long pizza festival. At this event, you can enjoy pizza tastings, pizza tales, pizza-making classes, and also a “world masterclass”. And as if this festival couldn’t get any better, it is all located right on lungomare caracciolo – the street following the shore of the sea! Enjoy samplings of fresh-made pizzas with a fantastic seaside view.
Alba International White Truffle Fair – Alba, Piedmont
Near Turin and Genoa, the white truffle is celebrated for all its glory. In fact, this is the largest food fair for truffles. Visitors to this festival can learn a lot about truffles and truffle hunting – first hand! There is a hunt simulation that includes a real truffle-sniffing dog. Yes, truffles are a special type of mushroom that grown unseen under the ground; so to hunt and gather these tasty fungi, hunters require the help of a dog’s keen nose to sniff out the distinct smell of the truffle underground.
While learning about truffles, there is also a lot to learn and taste as it pertains to piemontese wine, and other food dishes from the local hills. Along the way, you can take cooking classes, watch a cooking show, attend workshops, eat delicious local food, and learn some of the folklore and histories of Alba and the surrounding hillsides.
Nero Norcia – Norcia, Umbria
On the other end of the color spectrum is the black truffle. In the Umbrian city of Norcia, a festival is held to celebrate the nero di Norcia (the black truffle). While celebrating, participants can enjoy cooking shows, visit the trade show, talks about economy, and of course taste lots of food! Alongside the celebrated black truffle, you can find prosciutto, bread, wine, salami, lentils, legumes, and cheeses – all from the Norcia area. For additional fun and festivities, the event also hosts art exhibits, theatre shows, and costumed parades!
EuroChocolate – Perugia, Umbria
An International Chocolate Exhibition is held every year in Perugia. As one of the largest chocolate festivals in Europe, you can expect a wide variety of chocolatey offerings. The event draws as many as 1,000,000 visitors each year. EuroChocolate is nine straight days of cocoa deliciousness, spread out across the many piazzas in the city. Here you can find major chocolate companies advertising their goods like Lindt and Perugia (the company that makes the famous Italian Baci). The many sponsors and contributors to the festival offer chocolate-covered bananas, chocolate-flavored liquors, standard chocolate bars, and even imaginatively creative chocolate kebabs!
November Porc – Parma, Emilia-Romagna
Throughout the month of November, the city of Parma fills with tourists and special visitors. This is November Porc, the festival to celebrate all things pig. The four weeks of the month are broken down even further into themes. Festival organizers invite food stands and restaurants to fill visitor’s stomachs with pork. There is pork shoulder, culatello (a type of salami), and classic parmesan-reggiano.
Beyond these amazing food festivals, there are two other times of year that are perfect in every city around the country for experiencing food stalls and tasting special delicacies: Carnivale and Natale. Carnivale is the Italian equivalent of Mardi Gras, which is celebrated at the end of Lent (the days leading up to Easter); natale means “Christmas”. During these two times of the year, every region of Italy lights up with holiday spirit and cooks up some delicious dishes (and amazing kitchen smells). For these two important time periods, it doesn’t matter where in Italy you are. Every village and city will be celebrating the season with special traditional foods that are sure to please.