Tuscan Way has been treating guests, for almost two decades, to a variety of Sagre Folk Festivals — local celebrations, usually honoring a particular food. These festivals are part of the itineraries that are included with their four- and seven-day hands-on cooking vacations, starting in May and concluding in November. Tuscan villages, never allowing a year to pass without multiple celebrations, honor everything from truffles to thrush, olive oil to wine.
Guests staying at the end of April will head off to Montalcino, known for one of the world’s great wines, Il Brunello di Montalcino, and its May 1 folk festival, La Corsa dei Ciuchi — donkey races. As young men race donkeys along a country road outside the village, mocking the horse race “Il Palio” that takes place in nearby Siena, traditional country cooking — ravioli with meat sauce, chicken cacciatore and acqua cotta (a bread and vegetable soup) — accompanied by local wines, is in plentiful supply.
Strawberry lovers join the Sagra della Fragola in the quaint village of Marsigliana, celebrating the harvest of this ancient Roman berry with local foods, evening music and dance, in late May.
At the height of the wine harvest, the charming hill town of Scansano holds one of the most important and popular Tuscan sagra, Festa dell´Uva, in late September. This celebration is to honoring the wine, Morellino di Scansano. Local vintners open their private cellars for tours and purchases, all the village restaurants are open, barbecuing meats and sausages, and wine glasses are never empty. Another important Tuscan product is its olive oil. During the second week of November, guests join villagers at the Festa dell´Olio in Batignano di Grosseto to see how the olives are cold-pressed to make the oil and share in the traditional first tasting of the piquant new oil on oven-grilled bruschetta. Fresh olive oil is also available for purchase.
Three sagre are held in October: Sagra del Galletto, (young rooster), is the re-enactment of 14th-century festivals honoring the lords of Montalcino; Festa della Castagna (chestnuts), shows off the many ways this “wooden bread of the poor” can be prepared — pasta, bread, polenta, torts and sweets; and Montalcino’s Sagra del Tordo (thrush), taking place within the walls of the town’s ancient fortress, includes medieval pageantry, archery tournaments and the grilling of thrush and other game birds.
Tuscan Way immerses its guests in the foods and culture of southern Tuscany, combining cooking, dining, shopping and touring. We teach “La Cucina Povera”, the simple and flavorful style of southern Tuscan dishes during the cooking classes, set in large kitchens, with a relaxed, informal style, a glass of local wine always within arm’s reach, and small groups (maximum of eight guests). We also leads excursions to nearby villages, through local markets, restaurants and vineyards.
Festivals of the Seasons
These are approximate dates – please contact us for more information and exact dates.
April 26 – 30
Mostra Mercato dell’Artigianato, Anghiari
Anghiari Upper Tiber Artisans Market (Mostra Mercato dell’Artigianato) Enjoy demonstrations from local artisans as they create their unique crafts and shop for a wide range of hand-made traditional goods from the area.
May 7 – 9
Assisi Calendimaggio is a three day costume festival in which the upper and lower sectors of Assisi compete against one another in various ancient games along with a choir competition. Enjoy day and evening costume processions and other entertainment throughout the weekend.
Balestro del Girifalco, Massa Marittima
Held in Piazza Signorelli, the competition known as the Giostra dell’Archidado commemorates the wedding of Francesco Casali, Lord of Cortona, and the noblewoman Antonia Salimbeni of Sienna, which took place in 1397. Every year, a procession of 300 or more people wearing wonderful mediaeval costumes as well as many riders on their horses parade through Cortona’s historic centre. The crossbowmen from Cortona’s five quarters, “quintieri”, compete for a golden arrow.
June 16 – 23
Luminara, Regatta and Battle of the Bridge – Pisa
On the night of June 16, the Luminara begins the festivities to honor Saint Ranieri, the patron saint of Pisa, the following day. Over 70,000 candles light up the palaces along the Arno river, with a fireworks display afterwards. The next day four boats representing the most ancient districts of the city compete in the Regatta of Saint Ranieri along the Arno River, heritage of the past glory of Pisa as an ancient maritime republic.
Gioco sul Ponte, Pisa
Pisa reenacts the Battle of the Bridge, a medieval “push of war” contest which takes place on the central bridge in Pisa. The six teams from the two banks challenge each other to push a 70 ton cart on a 50 meter rail over the opponent’s line. The contest is preceded by a huge procession through the city with citizens wearing period costumes.
Calcio Storico Fiorentino – Florence
Fabulous fireworks along the Arno conclude Florence’s celebrations to St. John the Baptist, the city’s patron saint. The festivities begin with a parade with citizens wearing historical costume. The procession starts at the Church of Santa Maria Novella and ends at the Church of Santa Croce, where the Calcio Storico is then played in the dirt-covered square in front of the church. The game is a combination of soccer, rugby, and wrestling, all while wearing 16th century costumes. The four teams represent the four traditional neighborhoods of the city: Santa Croce (blue), Santo Spirito (white), Santa Maria Novella (red), and San Giovanni (green). The prize is a whole Chianina calf.
Giostra del Saracino – Arezzo
Arezzo’s Piazza Grande is the setting of the Giostra del Saracino, or Saracen Tournament. This tournament has its origins in the early 16th century and in its present form, commemorates Christian efforts to hold back the tide of Islam in the 14th century. Beginning with a lively and colorful procession preceding the event, eight costumed knights charge towards a wooden representation of the Saracen, aiming to hit the Saracen’s shield with lances. The target swivels and can actually hit back! Each pair of knights represents one of Arezzo’s four rival districts and their supporters each occupy a side of the piazza. The winner receives a golden lance.
June 20 – 21
Ferie delle Messi, Giostra dei Bastoni, San Gimignano
San Gimignano Ferie delle Messi and the Giostra dei Bastoni, the Knights of Santa Fina re-enact the old “Feriae Messium.” These days were once celebrated by the entire population as a festivity that preceded the harvest, and it is now a two-day mediaeval-style festival with costumed knights on horseback, jousts, parades, acrobats, fireworks, musicians, art and crafts market and plenty of good eats.
Palio di Siena – Siena
The Palio horse race is a colorful, bareback horse race round the dirt-packed Piazza del Campo, Siena’s main square. The contrade (traditional neighborhoods) compete for the palio, or banner dedicated to the Virgin Mary. The square is filled with costumed pageantry before the race, and massive feasts are set up on long outdoor tables that can stretch for blocks on the medieval side streets.
July 4 -5
Festa Medievale, Monteriggioni
Monteriggioni Festa Medievale (Mediaeval Festival) takes place on the first weekend of July. This is one of the best costume festivals in Italy with local and also professional performers, music, demonstrations of mediaeval trades, food stands filling the piazza inside the fortified town of Monteriggioni.
July 16 -19
Italy Wave Love Festival
Livorno, located on the Tuscan coast hosts the Italy Wave Love Festival with concerts like The Chemical Brothers and The Verve in their unique appearance in Italy. There will be more than 100 acts that compose the program of Italy Wave Festival 2009. The Main Stage where the headliners will perform will be in the Football Stadium, Elettrowave and other activities will take place in the Old Fortress by the seaport, the area of Rotonda d’Ardenza, a terrace next to the sea, will host the music and all cultural events in the fields of literature, theatre, comics, surf and poetry.
Giostra dell’Orso – Pistoia
Twelve knights reenact Giostra dell’Orso, a medieval jousting tournament after a magnificent procession held on the 25th of July to honor St. James, the patron saint of the city. The knights’ goal is to hit two stylized bears with their lances to the sound of drum rolls and fanfares. The bear (orso) is the heraldic animal of Pistoia and the Giostra is the highlight of the towns’s “Luglio Pistoiese” festival.
Tuscan Sun Festival
This festival will feature a full spectrum of artistic programming and Italian pleasures, from art exhibits to culinary delights, literary discussions to beauty treatments at Tuscany’s most luxurious spas. Relax and enjoy cultural experiences including private receptions with featured artists, contemporary art exhibits and new collections of Cortona’s Etruscan and Renaissance treasures developed specifically for the event, and a day-long wine festival sponsored by the Cortona Nourish body and spirit in the natural healing waters of ancient Roman baths, relax in a yoga class with Lucia Dalbon and enjoy a program of massage and beauty treatments at Fonteverde, Tuscany’s premier spa. Visitors can also savor the tastes and traditions of the Tuscan countryside with Cortona’s leading chefs. The culinary program will culminate in a gala dinner on a private estate.
Siena – The Palio
This event is a bareback horse race in several areas of the city culminating with completion in the main square in honor of the Virgin Mary. There are 17 different areas of Siena (contrade), ten of which compete in the race. Winning is all important and coming in second is considered a disgrace. Money and old allegiances are bought into play to bring about all sorts of jostling and maneuvering come the main event. The parades, costumes, flags and the race itself require early arrival – the main race is held at around 7.30 in the evening.
Bravio delle Botti – Montepulciano
The Bravio delle Botti, a barrel rolling race between the eight Contradas (divisions) of Montepulciano competing for a Palio, a painted cloth banner. The barrels are rolled up about 1800 meters along the main street of the town of Montepulciano to end in the Piazza Grande. Costume processions precede the competition and a street banquet follows.
Late August/Early September
Vinaria Wine Festival
Held in the small town of Montecarlo near Lucca, this annual wine fair/festival grows larger with each passing year. Local growers and winemakers present their wines with abundant opportunities for tasting, along with local produce, hand crafts, presentation and exhibitions – this is an event has something for everyone.
September 5 – 6
The Astiludium derives from the Medieval Latin hasta (flag) and ludus (game, festivities). The modern name Astiludio is used today to denote the reenactment of the ancient traditional performance of flag games. This choreographed competition is considered both a reenactment of an ancient town festival and an occasion for camaraderie between the flag wavers of Volterra and the other Italian towns who boast similar traditions. At precisely 3:15 pm all of the bells of the numerous city neighborhoods ring in unison beginning the four processions from four different city gates towards the main square to begin the tournament.
Giostra del Saracino – Arezzo
Arezzo’s Piazza Grande is the setting of the Giostra del Saracino, or Saracen Tournament. This tournament has its origins in the early 16th century and in its present form, commemorates Christian efforts to hold back the tide of Islam in the 14th century. Enjoy a colorful procession preceding the event in which eight costumed knights charge towards a wooden representation of the Saracen, aiming to hit the Saracen’s shield with lances. Each pair of knights represents one of Arezzo’s four rival districts and their supporters each occupy a side of the piazza. The winner receives a golden lance.
Display of the Virgin’s Girdle – Prato
Prato is the location of the Virgin Mary’s girdle. Kept under heavy security in Duomo, it is only taken out five times a year amid rich religious tradition accompanied with medieval drum rolls for the pleasure of the crowds who mass on the piazza. For the remainder of the year the girdle rests at the beautiful “Pulpit of the Sacred Girdle” off the facade’s right corner. The story of how the girdle arrived in Prato is detailed in the chapel immediately to the left of the entrance in Agnolo Gaddi’s fresco cycle of “The Legend of the Holy Girdle (1392-95)”.
Palio della Balestra – Sansepolcro
This festival is the rematch of the crossbowmen of Gubbio for the Palio della Balestra, a crossbow contest between the men of of Gubbio and Sansepolcro. The competitors dress in medieval costume and use the crossbows of the period.
September Into October
Throughout Tuscany it is time for harvesting the grapes. These last few weeks are crucial – too much rain and a years work can rot on the vine, and the balance is a tricky one – if the weather is good then it is tempting to wait until well into October to get the extra sun. Most picking is still done by hand, with only a few of the large estates in Chianti using machines to pick. It is very much all hands to the deck once the decision has been made and it is the tradition to have a communal feast once the grapes are in.
October 24 – 25
International Comics Fair
Artists, collectors and exhibitors from all over the world perform and entertain with comic performances, games, simulations. Hotel rooms are reserved early for this popular event – some book a year in advance for this event.
Large areas in the north of Tuscany is the area where Chestnuts (Castagna) grow in the forests. October in the woods is the time to collect them. You can purchase special pans for roasting the chestnut for sale everywhere but if you don’t have access to an open fire you can find hot-chestnut sellers in most towns leading up to Christmas.
October is the right time to look for and gather funghi, and most importantly porcini. These prized mushrooms and their locations are carefully kept secrets because of their popularity in many Tuscan recipes. However, there are many varieties of mushrooms to collect, but the wonderfully rich and pungent porcini are the prize, and it is these that you’ll see for sale by the side of the road, particularly in the Garfagnana region of northern Tuscany.
October – January
From November and sometimes through January the olive harvests take place. The vast majority of olives are still picked by hand – nets are placed beneath the trees and the olives are knocked down by hitting the branches and by hand. The olives are then taken off to the nearest communal mill (frantoio) where they will be crushed to form a paste, spread out on circular hessian mats which are stacked one on top of the other to form an enormous stack of pancakes. This tower of mats and olives is then slowly pressed and the oil obtained is briefly put through a centrifuge to emerge green, fresh and slightly prickly to the taste. Wonderful stuff – no heat, no chemicals, no refining – they only do that when they’re exporting it!
The Tradition Of The Presepi or Nativity Scene
This local ritual is both a source of great local pride as well as a source of great national income. This tradition began in Italy and the value of the figurines, statuary and dressing that are exported each year is considerable. Many churches and most communities will have a presepio on show, often with life-size figures and with an incredible amount of detail and creativity exhibited.
Dec 5 – 13
The Florence Biennale is an international contemporary art exhibition held every two years in Florence. This 7th edition takes place in the historic Fortezza da Basso and hosts artists from all over the world. For this reason, in 2001 The United Nations recognized the Florence Biennale as an official partner in the program “Dialogue Among Nations”. In these difficult times for humanity, Kofi Annan expresses, “Art opens new doors for learning, understanding, and peace among people and nations”. The Biennale is run by Arte Studio, whose first contemporary art exhibition occurred in 1986, brothers Pasquale and Piero Celona, of Arte Studio, serve as President and General Manager of the Biennale. In 2007 there were 840 artists from 76 countries, and over 17,000 visitors.