Activities in small Towns I
Summer Evenings in Small Towns in Italy
Take an evening stroll down the street in a small town in Italy in summer. You may find yourself in a piazza with a live band playing ballroom dance to a group of whirling villagers, or perhaps a jazz marching band parading to a free reception hosted by a real estate company. Who knew that summer evenings in small Italian towns could be this much fun?
Many who come to visit Italy spend their summer vacations in the big cities – Roma, Firenze, Venezia – on the spectacular Amalfi coast or the islands of Sicily and Sardinia. The big cities, such as Roma, have organized series of concerts, theatre, and dances in the evening, many of them free or inexpensive. Finding them depends on the city. In Roma, you simply purchase a copy of Roma C’e’, a small weekly magazine listing the theatre, dancing and other events, and select your evening’s entertainment.
There is literally so much to see in the large Italian cities that it’s difficult to imagine that there is a recent blossoming of a similar sort of evening entertainment going on in the small towns of Italy.
But in these small Italian towns, particularly those in resort areas, inhabitants enjoy a wide range of summer evening entertainment choices including: festivals (both food and religious), music of all kinds, dance, theatre & opera, exhibits, markets and games.
Not surprisingly, food festivals, often called “fiere” or “sagre”, are the rage in a country that loves to eat. The food is generally excellent (I still dream of a certain torta di ricotta), prices are very reasonable, and the only obstacles to be surmounted are the crowds and lines.
To reduce the chances of disappointment, be sure to reserve a table where possible. Where tables are first come first served (which is the norm), come armed with a large dose of patience: some festivals are well-organized, others less so. In time, however, you will arrive at the head of the first, second, third and possibly more, lines and get your food! Waiting is part of the game and the local delicacies are the reward for playing.
Around the Lake of Bolsena, for instance, there are numerous festivals, including:
Fiera del Vino di Montefiascone:
Montefiascone is renowned for its famous white wine, Est! Est! Est! and the town celebrates the wine during a two-week festival in August. Montefiascone held its 51st Fiera in 2009, so the tradition is longstanding. Dinners are organized in a Cantinone and include a range of local specialties. The menu for the 3rd of August, for example, included bruschette primavera, tajatelle alla puttanesca, saltimbocca alla romana, spiedini di maiale alla brace, fagioli in salsa verde and torta di ricotta. All offered at an extremely reasonable price.
Other nights there are music and dance events. In 2008, Montesfiascone cleaned the main fountain in a square, chased away the pigeons, and filled the fountain with wine, grapes and scantily clad dancers, who stamped and tossed grapes and danced in the fountain – very much in pole dance style – to the music of U2 and other appropriate music. Spectators could sample the wine, for free, luckily from separate barrels rather from the fountain, but some gentlemen in the audience preferred their wine direct from the fountain.
Tango in a small town
Sagra della Patata di Grotte di Castro: Not far from Montefiascone, the town of Grotte di Castro in mid August holds a Potato Festival. The town is famous for its potatoes which grow well in the volcanic soil. On the menu of the Sagra is a wide variety of potato dishes, including gnocchi with ragu’, al pesto and alla fantasia, many different potato side dishes and even a doughnut made from potatoes.
The Biggest Polenta in Italy at Cellere: You do not always get precisely what you expect at these food festivals but that’s part of the charm. In 2008, we were invited by a friend who lives in Cellere to eat the longest sausage in Italy, which reportedly was to reach from one end of the town through to the other. When we arrived in Cellere there was no sign of a large sausage but we found the residents instead in the midst of cooking the biggest polenta in Italy. The dish was made of 80 kg of flour and 30 kg of semolina, boiled in 4 “quintali” of water and served with 80 kilograms of sausage in sauce.
Sagra delle Pappardelle al Cinghiale (Egg noodles with Wild Boar Sauce) at Torre Alfina: Italy is still home to the wild boar, although I have been successful only once in more than 20 years of trips to Italy of seeing them alive. Luckily Italian hunters are more fortunate, and provide hill towns such as Torre Alfina with the meat for this special pasta which is excellent.
Torre Alfina is worth the visit even without the pasta festival (or indeed a Blues Festival they hold in the summer as well) as it is is dominated by a magnificant castle. This castle is actually for sale as of the writing of this article in summer 2009. For a mere 10 million Euros (and some change), you too can purchase it from the Italian state which is auctioning it off as a result of a long-standing tax-related battle with its owner.
If the sum exceeds your budget, you can console yourself by buying a gelato at the local Torre Alfina gelateria whose popularity -- based on an unscientific eye count of seated patrons on Aug 18, 2009 -- exceeds that of Tre Scalini at the Piazza Navona or Giolitti’s in Rome.