In autumn, many Italian villages and towns host special happenings to celebrate various harvests, new wine releases and seasonal produce. The pandemic, of course, put these popular sagras, festas, fieras and mostra mercatos on hold, but they started to return last year, and 2022 has plenty on offer. Frequently taking place in beautiful medieval settings, they typically run from a couple of days to several weeks, and have programs filled with tastings, markets and exhibitions; some also schedule lectures, competitions, concerts, street music and parades with participants in historic costume. Here’s a sampling of where to go to experience a range of culinary fêtes this fall.
Bardolino (Lake Garda, Veneto)
In Bardolino you can enjoy two traveler favorites—great wine at the source and an exquisite waterfront setting. In early autumn there’s another reason to visit—the Bardolino Wine Festival (September 29—October 3) which toasts the annual harvest and raises a glass to local wines cultivated in vineyards spanning out from the eastern shores of Lake Garda. For five days, the festival presents opportunities to try a selection of the area’s offerings, like classic Bardolino, the Superiore (with slightly more alcoholic content), the rosé-like Chiaretto and Chiaretto Spumante. For more tastings, you can also make your way along the lake and into the countryside following Bardolino’s Strada del Vino.
On the last weekend in October (this year the 29th and 30th), the medieval past becomes the present in Montalcino, renowned for its famous red wine, Brunello di Montalcino, when the town hosts the Sagra del Tordo (or Thrush Festival), a fête that salutes long-ago sporting and hunting customs. (In fall the area is on the pathway for migratory birds like thrushes.) There’s pageantry aplenty—residents turn out in medieval garb for a special parade and the archery competition between neighborhoods (quartieri) is fiercely contested. Events highlighting local dishes using fall ingredients are also in the mix. (Any time you’re in the village try the local pinci pasta—Montalcino’s term for pici—and ribollita, a bread soup.) Of course, the Brunello flows during the festival.
San Quirico D’Orcia (Tuscany)
Famous for its views of the surrounding countryside, among the most mesmerizing in Italy, San Quirico D’Orcia has much to offer the culinary tourist year-round, but in early December there are two dates to note. The olive oil festival takes place to coincide with December 8, a religious holiday, and marks the arrival of freshly pressed oil from local producers. During the festival there are typically lectures and cooking demonstrations, a number of which are held at the 17th-century Palazzo Chigi Zondadari, Throughout the village during the festa, you’ll have plenty of opportunities to sample the new oil, usually served on just-baked bread as bruschetta.
After aging two years, the prized local wine, Orcia Reserve, is released on December 1. The Orcia Wine Trail, threading through the town (the full route is from Pienza to Buonconvento and ends in Abbadia San Salvatore), is home to numerous wineries producing Orcia DOC reds, made primarily with Sangiovese grapes, and DOC whites, produced with Trebbiano and Malvasia grapes.
TRUFFLE VILLAGES AND TOWNS
Alba’s International White Truffle Fair (October 8-December 4, 2022) is world renowned for celebrating the Tuber Magnatum Pico, but there are other white truffle festivals in Italy to check out too. The pristine medieval town, Gubbio, about a 50-minute drive from Perugia, is known not only for its decorative ceramics, Roman ruins and Fontana dei Matti (the madmen’s fountain), but also for its annual truffle fair, the Mostra Mercato del Tartufo Bianco, this year held October 29-November 1. Food stalls showcasing area specialties, cooking demonstrations and meet-ups with prominent chefs have been included in previous programs.
Pietralunga, a 30-to-40 minute drive from Gubbio, is also known for white truffles—and white potatoes—so the annual festival commemorates both on the second weekend in October (this year October 8-9). Restaurants offer special menus, truffle hunts are typically scheduled (more than ten percent of residents are qualified to hunt), and a variety of themed events, along with jazz concerts, take place during the festivities.
San Miniato (Tuscany)
The Tuscan town of San Miniato near Pisa presents its own truffle show, running for three consecutive weekends, this year starting November 12-13. While in San Miniato head to the Piazza della Repubblica to admire the sweeping expanse of the frescoed buildings that make up the Palazzo del Seminario. This hilltop town is also a great art destination, where you’ll find work by Luca della Robbia, Donatello, Filippo Lippi and Verrocchio.
CELEBRATING FALL’S BOUNTY
Città della Pieve (Umbria)
Saffron is cultivated in different parts of Italy, among them Città della Pieve in Umbria, which has been producing it since the 13th century. Zafferiamo, a celebration of many things saffron, runs October 22-24, and highlights the spice’s versatility. As it was also used as a dye or colorant for painting, the festival program includes workshops and demonstrations showing saffron’s application for fabrics and art, along with its role in the kitchen. Restaurants offer special saffron-based dishes; even gelaterias do their part presenting saffron-flavored ice cream.
Designated one of Italy’s most beautiful villages (I Borghi più Belli d’Italia), Montone, about 40 kilometers from Perugia, celebrates fall harvests and seasonal delicacies with the Festa del Bosco (Forest Festival). Taking place October 29-November 1 in the village’s historical center, the festa showcases autumnal produce like mushrooms, chestnuts and truffles with samplings, special restaurant menus and discussions, which in the past have dealt with such topics as the culinary history of area woodland produce. Local artisanal crafts including embroidery, ceramics and wood products are also displayed during the festival.