One of Italy’s most sacred seasonal events has to be the sagra, a festival organised by the local community to showcase regional and seasonal food. A sagra is a place where you’ll eat abundantly and learn the secrets of local customs and cuisine. Italian sagre are supported by local producers selling their own homegrown goods, but there are also tastings, competitions, demonstrations and celebratory menus to enjoy. Don’t be misled, it’s not just about the food: ancient sagre have their roots in rural festivals that mostly take place to honour a successful harvest.
Throughout October and November Italy offers an abundance of food and wine festivals that feature throughout the towns, cities and villages across the land, from thigh to toe.
Here is Envy Italy’s handpicked selection of foodie festivals taking place this season …
La Sagra dell’Uva, Marino, Lazio
3–6 October 2019
The sagra in Marino is famous worldwide for its hedonistic centrepiece where wine (not water) runs through the town’s central fountain. Launched in 1924, today the sagra – is held annually in a town overlooking Lago Albano, 15 miles south of Rome. Stalls sell specialities including porchetta and ciambella al mosto (a ring-shaped cake with raisins). Grapevines are strung across the narrow streets, and statues are adorned with bunches of grapes which are draped lavishly around the town. The highlight takes place on Sunday, when a costumed procession re-enacts the 1571 Battle of Lepanto – and this is when the fountains flow with wine. Bring an empty jug and some terracotta mugs and simply fill up and share. This festival is incredibly popular and as the fountain provides, the merrymaking can become a little too medieval at times for some!
Fiera del Tartufo Bianco, Sant’Agata Feltria, Emilia-Romagna
Every Sunday in October 2019
The most well-known of Italy’s truffle festivals is the International White Truffle Fair in Alba. However, the medieval hilltop town of Sant’Agata Feltria, which rests where the regions of Tuscany, Emilia-Romagna, Le Marche and Umbria intersect, is home to a truffle-themed sagra as rustic as it is fun. Stands serve fragrant dishes such as truffle-infused cheese fondue, truffled veal and gnocchi with truffle, while other local vendors cheerfully tout their wares all of which are laced with the heady perfume of Italian truffles.
Bitto in Centro, Morbegno, Lombardy
12–13 October 2019
The petite town of Morbegno, situated close to the border of Switzerland, 70 miles north-east of Milan, is hailed for its delicious cheeses. Bitto is very much at the heart of this festival. This soft and sweet cheese when young gets sharper as it matures. Made from the milk of the cows that graze on the Alpine pastures, Bitto was awarded a protected (DoP) status 20 years ago. Look for the authentic cheese melted over pizzoccheri, buckwheat pasta, as well as local producers selling ingredients such as the medicinal Alpine-herb Amaro liquor or wild organic honey.
Fiera Nazionale del Marrone, Cuneo, Piedmont
18–20 October 2019
Now in its 21st year, this festival in Cuneo, 60 miles south of Turin, has become one of Italy’s most popular, with over 300,000 visitors each year. The star of the show is the utterly delectable marrone – the chestnut’s more desirable, sweeter relative (also the one used for marrons glacés) – which have been nurtured in the area since the Middle Ages. This large-scale festival is Italy’s foremost, but it’s not just marrone you’ll find here: hundreds of other vendors also sell local olive oils, cheeses, wine and the mouth-watering cuneesi al rhum, a local speciality of rum-infused dark chocolate.
Sagra delle Castagne, Soriano nel Cimino, Lazio
First and second weekend in October 2019
Of course, you’ll find men dressed in medieval outfits and chestnuts roasting in every piazza in this unspoilt hilltop town only one hour’s drive north of Rome. But, this sagra is really quite special: it’s also when Soriano’s four districts battle over which one best transforms the town to another bygone era. In the Convivium Secretum, for example, costumed locals serve traditional delicacies such as capon fricassee and white-rabbit pastry in a quest for the most authentic historic banquet. There are also jousts, archery and – in a dramatic finale – all of the locals dressed in medieval costume walk together through the streets in a grand parade.
Sagra del Tordo, Montalcino
26–27 October 2019
The Sagra del Tordo (Feast of the Thrush) festival takes place on the last weekend of October with drums, trumpets, costume parades taking place on the Saturday, followed by a day-long feast in Montalcino Castle on Sunday. It offers a range of local food (including roast thrush), plus excellent local wines. During the morning, there is a costume parade, and celebratory lunches are held in the four quarters of Montalcino – Pianello, Travaglio, Ruga and Borghetto. Similar feasts are held in the evening. A limited number of tickets are available for these feasts – so book in advance.
Bacco nelle Gnostre, Noci, Puglia
9–10 November 2019
Hosted in a cute, whitewashed town halfway between Bari and Taranto, this festival celebrates the Pugliese community and its sense of spirit. Here residents prepare food in their own kitchens, then share it with visitors in the town’s atmospheric gnostre (courtyards). Sample a hearty dish of orecchiette or grilled octopus and wash it down with a large glass of vino novello, primitivo or negramaro. Soak up the atmosphere while enjoying the music and laughter. The constant beat of tarantella (folk music with dancing) can be heard throughout the town and the whole event has a joyous feel where visitors are welcomed like family.