Sagre – Italian Thanksgiving
So before summer you lost a bit of weight for your swimming costume but come autumn and the sagra season, you will have a hard time not putting it all back on with interest. Sagre celebrate the harvest of the enormous variety of produce grown in central Italy. The local pro loco (church committee) organise menus based on the celebrated product at “populare” prices – on average pasta courses are 6 Euro and meat and fish courses are 12 Euro. The whole town gets involved and the tables in the taverns are waited on by local youngsters. A couple of my favourites are the Sagra del Fungo Porcino (wild mushroom) in Oriolo Romano on 9, 10 and 11 and 16, 17 and 18 September and the Sagra delle Castagne, held in the first, second and third weekends of October in Soriano Nel Cimino, which is also in the province of Viterbo.
Sagre sometimes go hand in hand with the town palio, especially in the Province of Viterbo where medieval traditions are more keenly safeguarded. A palio, need not be a horse race as in the world famous Siena palio, but can be any demonstration of sporting prowess that was/is useful for the town’s defence or economy. The town of Orte, which is easily reachable by train, has a wonderful archery palio held as part of a wider medieval celebration in the first two weeks of September. The show includes flag throwing displays and costume parades.
The Palio – flags, costumes and food
If pageantry and eating are your thing then other towns that offer wonderful real Italy experiences are Leonessa, Orvieto and Montepulciano. The former is famous for its horse palio in June and potato sagra in October. Potatoes has a double meaning in Italian so be careful about expressing you love for them, if you make it on 8 - 9 October this year. The other two, which are in Umbria and Tuscany respectively, are world famous for quality wine and oil. I just spent last weekend of August in Montepulciano enjoying the Bravìo delle Botti (Barrel Race Palio). Having seen and heard it person, I now fully understand why Forum 1 has such an Italian character. The Bravìo delle Botti is a sort of “Formula Barrel” that started in the seventeenth century. Each Contrada (neighbourhood) of Montepulciano has a team of two athletes to complete the very demanding task of pushing an 80 kg / 175 lb barrel uphill, sometimes on a 15° incline, for 1.7 km / 1 mile. I was knocked out just walking up to Piazza Grande.