Ah, deliziosa Italia: foodie capital of the world, where good food and good conversation is a daily ritual. As the summer sun scorches the land, the fast-ripening crops and perfectly plump fruits herald in the harvest season — when Italy really comes alive. Here’s our handpicked guide to the juiciest food & wine festivals.
Chianti Classico Wine Festival, Chianti 8-9 September
What to expect: Anyone with even the mildest interest in wine will know of Chianti. The Chianti Classico is created primarily from Sangiovese grapes, and the flavour is dry and delicious. Try some for yourself at Greve’s wine festival, where you’re invited to buy a glass and taste up to 8 wines of your choosing from the various stands.
Where to stay: Try Castello di Tornano, around 30km down the road, which is surrounded by world-renowned wine estates and offers incredible food and drink that’s nearly all produced on the estate. Enrol in a cookery class with ‘Mamma Anna’ or visit the hotel’s wine cellar for tastings of Chianti Classico.
Festa Te Lu Mieru – Wine Festival, Lecce
31 August – 2 September
What to expect: If you’re looking for something more under-the-radar, the tiny town of Carpignano Salentino, in the province of Lecce, hosts a wonderfully traditional festival in early September that celebrates the local wine (lu mieru). Not only will you enjoy plenty of tastings, you’ll be treated to performances of traditional folk dances, such as pizzica or taranta, as well as live music and a whole host of delicacies.
Where to stay: Furnirussi Tenuta, a stylish 5-star farm hotel set on a fig plantation is just 5 minutes’ drive from Carpignano Salentino. The hotel’s restaurant is one of the best in the region (the food a modern take on Salentine flavours), and the 2.5km path around the plantation makes for a great countryside walk.
Alba White Truffle Fair, Piedmont 6 October – 25 November
What to expect: Running for 6 weeks from October to November, this mammoth fair is the grand finale on Piedmont’s food and wine calendar. The intoxicating aroma of fresh truffle will awaken your senses as you enter into the huge hall packed with stalls selling white truffles in all shapes and sizes. There are cookery demonstrations, talks from expert truffle hunters, tasting sessions, plus folklore shows.
Where to stay: La Villa Hotel: a restored 17th-century palace in the heart of Piedmont’s wine country. You’ll be welcomed with a glass of Prosecco, and will dine on seasonal dishes paired with Piedmontese wines. From September to November the hotel also runs regular ‘truffle hunts’, which include a truffle dinner, as well as cookery classes.
The Ottobrata harvest festival, Sicily
What to expect: Each Sunday in October, the little town of Zafferana, on the slopes of Etna, hosts a harvest festival. It’s been taking place since the ‘70s, and each weekend is dedicated to different produce: honey, apples, mushrooms, chestnuts or wine. Local cookery schools prepare meals for guests, and there’s live entertainment along the town’s main street.
Where to stay: Just around the corner, there’s a gorgeous eco-retreat set among vineyards, orchards and olive trees. Monaci delle Terre Nere is run by a sommelier that is passionate about organic agriculture and sustainable living. You’ll be treated to delicious home-grown food at the hotel, and will be invited to pick your own herbs from the garden to have them turned into freshly-made tea.
Bardolino Grape and Wine Festival, Veneto 4-8 October
What to expect: Let’s face it, the Veneto region has pretty much got it all: romantic cities, dazzling lakes, soaring mountains, incredible wines. One of its most popular wines is Bardolino, a red wine produced from a blend of 4 grapes (Rondinella, Molinara, Corvina Veronese and Negrara). The actual town of Bardolino, located on the eastern shore of Lake Garda, celebrates with an annual Festa Dell’Uva. This 5-day extravaganza features tastings, food fairs, music and dancing, and culminates with a spectacular firework display.
Where to stay: Pianaura Suites, a hilltop B&B surrounded by the Valpolicella 3 valleys. Oenophiles will be in heaven; many of the finest vineyards are within a 10-minute drive of the hotel, plus you get complimentary carafes of local wine in your room. Chin-chin to that!
Mushroom and Chestnut Festival, Siena 8, 14 & 15 October
What to expect: If you’ve never heard of little Vivo d’Orcia, then you’re in for a treat. In mid-October the neighbourhoods in this quaint Tuscan village compete to build stools and tables out of tree trunks, then sit down together for a mushroom-based feast. It’s a bizarre tradition, but one that marks the culmination of its annual mushroom festival. The event also features a nature walk in which you’ll learn about the local porcini variety, plus a whole host of food stalls offering mushroom dishes, roasted chestnuts and mulled wine.
Where to stay: Cool, Tuscan farmhouse La Bandita is just 30km from Vivo d’Orcia. This rural hideaway is cast up on the hill above the Val d’Orcia, where the views are astounding and the only neighbours are roaming sheep. It offers convivial-style dining with other guests, and the meals are designed around fresh local produce. Wine lovers can delight in the fact that southern Tuscany’s wine capitals, Montalcino and Montepulciano, are both nearby.