What’s on in Italy in May – Part 1
As the weather in Europe continues to flip flop between snow and sunshine it’s hard to believe it’s May already! And I hope you’re ready, because May is packed with art, regattas, medieval processions and all manner of foodie and family fun! In fact there is soooo much going on that I’ve decided to split this post in two so it doesn’t go too long!! Part 2 is also now available as a separate post here. In the meantime, pack your suitcase, grab your passport and let’s dive in to see what’s on in Italy in May!! Andiamo, let’s go!
19th March – 24th July – From Kandinsky to Pollock art exhibition, Palazzo Strozzi, Florence
If you love contemporary art, get yourselves down to Palazzo Strozzi in the centre of Florence for the first of two spectacular art exhibitions for 2016. First up is the From Kandinsky to Pollock show from the Peggy Guggenheim Gallery in Venice with pieces by personal favourite Mark Rothko, Jackson Pollock, Man Ray, Roy Lichtennstein and Willem de Kooning to name just a few!
The second exhibition kicks off from September 22nd through to January 22nd 2017 showcasing some of the most influential contemporary artists at work including Chinese master Ai Weiwei. Make sure you make a note in your diary for later in the year!
21st April – 8th May 2016 – La Corsa all’Anello, Narni, Umbria
La Corsa all’Anello or Race of the Ring is an historical re-enactment taking place in the medieval town of Narni, southern Umbria from the last week of April to the second Sunday in May, the day of the race. The festival dates back to 1371 and is based on medieval celebrations of St Giovenale, the patron saint of Narni. The climax of the celebrations involve a horseback race between the town’s 3 ancient districts or terzieri to capture a silver ring. But the fortnight also includes jousting, costumed parades, horse racing, music medieval cooking and an artisanal market all building up to the race of the ring on the final Sunday, 8th May 2016. Get ready to party into the wee small hours with the winning district!
1st May – La Festa dei Lavoratori, International Workers Day
May in Italy kicks off with the Festa dei Lavoratori, or Labour Day, celebrating workers who fought for equal working practices and rights both in Italy and around the world. Celebrations usually include trade union marches and open-air events so look out for events throughout the country.
Note : When the festa falls on a weekday it’s a public holiday so government and financial offices are closed.
1st May – I Serpari di Cocullo, The Snake Handlers’ Procession in Cocullo, Abruzzo
Warning : If you don’t like snakes, this is not the festival for you!
Held on the 1st May each year (previously the first Thursday of the month), the festivities see a statue of the town’s patron, St Dominic, processed through the streets of Cocullo in Abruzzo. But the twist is that this statue is covered in a writhing, wriggling nest of serpents collected from the surrounding countryside by locals in the run up to the parade. The ancient parade climbs up through the town, ending with a huge banquet and fireworks to close the evening. More info (in Italian) here.
1st May – Venice Music Project baroque opera season opens
The first time you hear soprano Liesl Odenweller hit the high notes of a baroque opera piece by Vivaldi or Haendel it sends tingles down your spine! And the exquisite baroque musicians of the resident orchestra will transport you back to Venice’s heyday. Its no wonder the New York Times puts the Venice Music Project at number 3 of what not to miss if you’re in Venice! Here’s the new season’s calendar.
Sunday 1st May – La Sagra del Risotto, The Risotto Festival in Sessame, Piedmont
Risotto is a popular first course rice dish in Italy, especially in the northern regions of Veneto, Piedmont and Lombardy. And the Sessame festival has been celebrating the dish on the first Sunday of May since the 13th century. If you are in the area, expect plenty of deliciously creamy risotto together with other seasonal dishes, a street market and lots of entertainment! Note : Sessame is approximately 44 miles from Turin but without a train link, requires a car to get there.
Sunday 1st May – Free entry to over 300 Italian state museums, galleries and gardens
On the first Sunday of EVERY month over 300 Italian state museums open their doors for free! The national scheme includes some of the largest museums including the Uffizi Gallery in Florence and the Colosseum in Rome. So before you travel always check which museums, galleries, gardens and monuments participate in your destination – it’s a fabulous way to explore more of Italy’s cultural heritage for free!
1st – 4th May – The Sagra di Sant’Efisio or Feast of St Efisio, Cagliari, Sardinia
The Sagra di San Efisio or Feast of St Efisio is the most important in Sardinia, the longest and one of the oldest processions in Italy and the largest in the Mediterranean. Celebrated every year since 1657, the 1st May festival commemorates the city of Cagliari’s escape from the clutches of the deadly plague. It is said that the people of Cagliari prayed to St Efisio to help them defeat the plague that had gripped the island since 1652 and almost halved the city’s population. Finally, in desperation, the Council of Cagliari made a pledge to St Efisio, a Christian martyr from the 4th century AD, that if he stopped the plague, the city would hold a procession to his honour every year from then onwards. And so, each year the city takes to the streets, processing a statue of the saint over 65km during 4 days of festivities. It’s a colourful, spectacular sight, not to be missed. More info can be found on the Cagliari Tourist Board website here.
2nd – 15th May 2016 – Internazionali BNL d’italia Tennis Open, Rome
As Spring warms up, the tennis courts begin to fill and the Internazionali BNL tennis tournament kicks off in the Foro Italico in Rome. The prestigious clay court event is considered second only to the French open and consequently attracts world champion star players including Britain’s Andy Murray, America’s Williams sisters and Switzerland’s Roger Federer.
4th, 5th, 6th & 7th May 2016 – Calendimaggio in Assisi, Umbria
Assissi’s Calendimaggio festival can trace its roots back to some of the earliest pagan traditions of celebrating spring. The ancient Romans appropriated festivities and they were further transformed in the Middle Ages becoming the Kalende di Maggio celebrated from the first Wednesday of May each year.
Rival revellers from the Parte de Sopra and Parte de Sotto, or upper and lower areas of the city, sing and dance through the streets rejoicing the return of spring. And on the last day of celebrations the Calendimaggio jury awards the “Palio” to the parte that has best interpreted the tradition. It’s a spectacular costumed celebration with singing, dancing, theatre shows, processions, flag-waving and much much more.
5th May – Cooking lessons with Nonna Violante in Bellaria Igea Marina
Italy is heaven for foodies. But if you’ve ever wanted to know how to make some of the delicious regional dishes, now is your chance as culinary queen Nonna Violante is offering cookery lessons every Thursday in May. Classes are set on the beautiful Adriatic Coast, in the fabulous family resort of Bellaria Igea Marina, and home to Nonna Violante and her family. Learn how to make passatelli, piadina flat bread and much much more! Details of how to book are here in English. Delizioso!!
6th – 29th May 2016 – Giro D’Italia Cycle Race & Festival
If you’re not familiar with the Giro D’Italia cycle race – literally the Tour of Italy – just think of the toughest, grittiest, most exhausting cycle race ever and double it! It makes the Tour de France look like a nice little Sunday afternoon jaunt as riders conquer some of the most difficult mountain climbs and endurance time trials over 21 days of racing. Catch a glimpse of the cyclists or check out the cycling village as they kick off in Holland. Or pick up the trail in Italy from day 4 as the racers cycle down through the peninsula and back to the finish in Turin. More information on the stages are available on the official website here.
7th – 8th May 2016 – Anteprima Vini della Costa Toscana Wine festival, Real Collegio di Lucca
For the Anteprima Vini della Costa Toscana, over 80 wine producers come together to present some of the best wines from the Tuscan coast. Events include wine tastings, show cooking and demonstrations from the vineyards of Grosseto, Lucca, Livorno, Massa Carrara, Maremma and many more. So if you like wine, this is the place to be! Cin CIn!
7th & 8th May – Sposalizio dell’Albero, The Wedding of the Trees, Vetralla, Lazio
The wedding of the trees festival is an annual celebration of spring and fertility. It dates back centuries to 1432 and includes a symbolic wedding between two giant oak trees, dressed with veils and garlands of flowers. This is one of the oldest green festivals connecting the people with the care and protection of the land and culminates with the granting of one cubic meter of firewood for each citizen. Visitors can enjoy a free picnic and music.
7th & 8th May 2016 – The Fish festival of Saint Fortunato, Camogli, Genoa
St Fortunato, the patron saint of fishermen, is celebrated on the second Sunday of May in the beautiful coastal port of Camogli, on the Italian Riviera. Think Portofino before the tourists arrived! Celebrations date back to the Second World War when the wives of local fishermen offered fresh fish up to the Madonna to give thanks for protecting their husbands.
Today festivities kick off on Saturday evening with a huge fireworks display around 10pm before a bonfire competition in which two enormous wooden structures are set alight on the beach. The flames reach 6 stories into the sky making a spectacular sight. But the main event is on the Sunday when fresh fish is fried in the world’s largest frying pan in the main square and given out to visitors for free. It’s well worth a visit!
8th May 2016 – Festa della Sensa, Venice
Forty days after Easter Venice celebrates the Festa della Sensa with a colourful water parade from St Mark’s over to the Lido island for a uniquely Venetian ritual. The ceremony commemorates not only the ascension of Christ but also Venice’s relationship with the sea. Over the centuries water brought trade and naval dominance making the city rich. And so the morning’s boat parade culminates with Venice marrying the sea by throwing a gold ring into the lagoon near the church of San Niccoló. The day’s celebrations close with boat races in the afternoon; it’s a distinctly Venetian day and one not to be missed.
8th May – Wings for Life run, Milan
After 2 years in Verona, the Wings for Life World Run is moving to Milan in 2016 for this unique event to fund research into spinal cord injury. The race is run simultaneously in 34 cities around the world so everyone is running at the same time whether they’re in Milan, Melbourne or Guadalajara, Mexico. Each race is basically a massive game of “tiggy you’re it” or chase as competitors try to outrun catcher cars that set off 30 minutes after the start.
Runners in Milan will set off from Piazza Castello and the winners are the last man and woman standing. And depending on how fast they are they’ll have run 5km, 10km or even further before they’re caught! It’s a great idea and great fun whether you run a mile or a marathon!
8th May 2016 – Mother’s Day
Sons and daughters around the world will be celebrating their Mums this weekend with International Mother’s Day or Mothering Sunday. Around 54 countries including the United States of America, Italy and New Zealand will pay tribute to the special women in our lives and the miracle of motherhood with flowers, presents and treats. It’s a relatively new idea in Italy, having been initiated in Assisi in 1957 but quickly gained traction and is now a recognised national holiday on the second Sunday in May.
8th, 9th & 10th May 2016 – Antique market in Campo San Maurizio, Venice
If you like a spot of vintage or antique shopping check out this lovely little antique market in the Campo San Maurizio close to St Mark’s in Venice. You’ll find everything to satisfy a vintage heart with Murano glass from the 1950s, old beads and buttons, silverware, paintings, jewellery and more. The market takes place half a dozen times each year so check the calendar to see if its on when you’re visiting Venice.
12th – 15th May 2016 – Infiorata di Noto, flower festival in Noto, Sicily
As the Spring flowers bloom, Noto in Sicily blossoms with spectacular multi-coloured petal art displays. The event started around 40 years ago and today the city is enveloped in fantastic floral displays on the third weekend in May. From balconies to windowsills and all the way up the steps of the Via Corrado Nicolaci, flowers adorn the city. But rather than the traditional flower show, the displays are made from just the petals, creating soft mosaics on the pavement and down the staircase. It’s one of the most beautiful events on Sicily’s calendar and a sight to behold! But it only lasts 2 days so you’ll need to be quick!
13th – 15th May 2016 – Verona Legend vintage cars exhibition at the Verona Fiera
From 13th to the 15th May the Verona Fiera exhibition centre will be hosting a vintage car roadshow. From Tesla to Aston Martin, Porsche to Jaguar this is a great opportunity to celebrate 60 years of the Giulietta Spider and 80 of the Jaguar! Directions and more info here.
15th May – Cars and coffee super car and vintage car enthusiasts club meet, Montepulciano
If you actually own a super car – and let’s face it, who doesn’t (magari, if only!!!) – Cars and Coffee is the event you want as its Italy’s largest network of enthusiasts, owners and collectors. Dream cars including sports, super and vintage marks converge from all over Italy, and the world, for a 3 day meet starting in Turin, a quick espresso and a bit of a spin around the roads of Italy. Normally it is a private chance for owners to get together and compare glamorous motors (the meet actually starts from 13th May) but the event is also open to the public on the final day, Sunday 15th May 2016.
So if you like cars, get yourselves down to the Cantine Avignonesi, 4 Via Colonica in Montepulciano (in the district of Siena) from 12.30pm on Sunday 15th where the cars will be on public display. Be prepared to drool over some of the most sought after cars in the world! If you actually want to join in on the entire event, you need to sign yourself and your car up here!
13th – 15th May 2016 – 6th edition of the Festival del Verde e del Paesaggio, Rome
This 3-day flower festival dedicated to designer gardening and horticulture takes place in the roof gardens of Rome’s Auditorium Parco della Musica. You’ll find terrace displays, landscape installations and gardening themed workshops together with kids play, competitions and readings.
13th & 14th May 2016 – Venice Canoe & Dragon Boat Festival, Venice
The weekend of the 13th, 14th and 15th is definitely a must-see if you are at all interested in rowing, dragon boats, kayaks or just being out on the water! Keep your eyes peeled on Friday 13th for the opening ceremony parade of around 20 dragon boats down the Grand Canal. Racing begins on Saturday (times etc are still to be confirmed so keep your eyes on the website!) with 2 heats before the 200 metre long final, all hosted on the Grand Canal.
Sunday 15th May – Venice’s Vogalonga rowing regatta
Every year Venice holds the Vogalonga, literally meaning long row, from St Mark’s, round Murano in the lagoon, down the Cannaregio canal and back to St Mark’s. It’s an exhausting 30km long so you need to be in reasonably good shape to take part. But this is a regatta with a difference as its not a race, anyone can enter as long as their water craft – whether canoe, kayak, gondola, dragon boat or water bike – is man-powered. It’s a fabulous day for all the family as thousands of locals and visitors line the route to cheer the boats and crews on. Make sure you bag your vantage point early! More info on the route etc here in English
15th May – Festa Dei Ceri, Festival Of The Ceri, Gubbio, Umbria
Every year on the 15th May Gubbio in Umbria erupts with one of the regions most exciting events of the season. Young and old “Eugubini” citizens gather in the main square, dressed in their neighbourhood’s, or “ceraioli”, colours and carrying ceri or massive wooden sculptures, flags and banners of the saints. The ceri weigh between 300 – 400kg are run, yes RUN, up through the streets by 10 men apiece, to the Basilica of St Ubaldo on the summit of Mount Ingino overlooking the city. There’s no winner of the Festa dei Ceri, the test is just to complete the run, keeping the ceri as upright as possible which takes enormous strength and skill. If you want to see the ceri make sure to get there early to bag a good spot and get ready to be carried along with the crowds! Flat shoes are recommended!! Enjoy!
15th May – Rose petal mass at the Pantheon, Rome
The Pantheon in Rome is a breath taking building. Built in 125 AD by the ancient Romans, it’s glorious concrete vault is still the largest unreinforced dome in the world; bigger even than St Paul’s in London and St Peter’s in Rome. On Sunday 15th the Pantheon will hold a mass for the feast of the Pentecost. The mass will be followed by a poignant rose petal ceremony that will see hundreds of thousands of petals fluttering down from the oculus hole in the roof symbolising the Holy Spirit’s descent to earth. It is a very popular event so if you want to attend, you need to be inside the Pantheon by 9.30am, ready for the mass’s start at 10.30am.
All month – Piera della Francesca exhibition in Museo di San Domenico, Forlì, Emilia-Romagna
Forlì is famous for it’s world-class art exhibitions. One of this year’s main attractions is a retrospective of Piero della Francesco, a talented Renaissance painter, nicknamed the “king of painting.” He was a contemporary of Michelangelo and Da Vinci but his work is only now getting the recognition it deserves. His paintings are often extremely symbolic, offering many important messages if you know how to read them.
The exhibition opened on 13th February and runs to 26 June 2016. For more information check out the official exhibition website here
What’s On In Italy in May – to be continued…….!
As you can see, with over twenty events in just the first two weeks of May, Italy is a busy place this month!!! So whether you like flowers or fish, medieval mayhem or rowing, there is something to keep you and the family entertained! Leave me a comment with your favourites or if you know of any events that I’ve missed. In the meantime part 2 of the calendar will follow very shortly with more celebrations and festivities. So don’t forget to subscribe via email or join us on Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest or Instagram so you don’t miss out on everything Italian from DreamDiscoverItalia. Buon viaggio, happy travels!