Tuscany – the name conjures up rolling hills and long tables laden with fresh produce and bottles of wine in abundance. And no time of year is more abundant than fall. After the heat of the summer has passed the region comes alive with harvests—from the grapes that will go on to become delicious ruby-red Chianti to the mushrooms, chestnuts, and truffles that flavor Tuscan cuisine.
A traveler lucky enough to visit at this time of year will encounter many festivals celebrating the different harvests, a rare chance to taste the best of Italy straight from the soil. And although fall may be the most fruitful season, there are gastronomic festivals in Italy every month of the year. We’ve chosen some of our favorites below, but the list is by no means exhaustive, and many great discoveries can be had by simply wandering through towns and villages on weekends.
Montefioralle Frittelle Festival, March
The weekend before St Joseph’s Day (March 19), this celebration, held in the picturesque walled village of Montefioralle, in the heart of Chianti, is dedicated to delicious local fried rice cakes known as Frittelle. The tasty snacks are made from a mixture of rice, milk, orange peel, egg yolks, sugar and a splash of Strega Liquor, although the exact recipe is a closely guarded secret. The rice balls are cooked in a huge pan of oil—measuring 2 meters across—in the town’s main piazza and should be enjoyed with a glass of wine or vin santo (fortified “holy wine”). Performances by local musicians and a festival atmosphere keep the town buzzing all weekend long.
Open Wine Cellars, May
On the last Sunday in May, more than 60 Tuscan wine cellars open their doors to the public for tastings and tours, known as Cantina Aperta. It’s a fantastic opportunity to learn more about the traditional winemaking processes of the region, and also to visit famous wineries and smaller producers that might not usually be open to the public. And if that’s not enough to tempt your taste buds, many wineries also produce olive oil, honey, cheese, or salami, so there are usually a variety of tasty tidbits on offer alongside the wines. You’ll need a car to make the most of the weekend as the wineries are spread out across the province.
Strozzapreti Festival, Roccastrada, July
An hour southwest of Siena, on the way to the coast, you’ll find the villages of Sticciano Scalo and Roccastrada, which come to life for two weekends in July for the annual Sagra degli Strozzapreti—a festival dedicated to Strozzapreti—a type of rolled pasta made from simply flour and water. Held every year since 1994, the event celebrates the culinary heritage of the area, the Maremma Grossetana. The pasta is traditionally rolled by the women of the town and is served with a variety of homemade sauces as well as other typical produce from the Maremma. Make it your mission to taste as many as possible, then vote for your favorite. 2018 marks the 24th edition of this fun foodie fest.
Hazelnut Festival, Panzano in Chianti, August
For a foodie celebration with a truly local feel, head to the Festa del Nocciolo, or Hazelnut Festival, held in the beautiful hilltop village of Panzano in Chianti. Trestle tables take over the streets for this feast held on August 14, the night before the main summer holiday of Ferragosto, when Italians across the country head to the beach. Local families and tourists sit side by side at this sagre to enjoy Tuscan food flavored with hazelnuts, all washed down with local wine of course. Panzano is located on the scenic “Via Chiantigiana” which connects Florence and Siena and winds through the rolling green hills of wine country.
San Miniato White Truffle Festival, November
Fall is the season when Tuscany’s most precious exports are in the spotlight: truffles. Held over the last three weekends in November, La Sagra del Tartufo Bianco (White Truffle Festival) sees top chefs and foodies from across the world descend on the small Medieval town of San Miniato west of Florence to buy the delicacy, which can cost up to $4,000 per kilo. Life here revolves around the rare fungus—there’s even a statue in the town center dedicated to the largest truffle ever found, which weighed in at an incredible two kilos. 2018’s is the 48th edition of the fair, which has grown into one of the most important truffle markets in the world. If procuring your own truffle is not part of the plan, stick to tasting the truly delicious dishes prepared by members of the San Miniato truffle association, accompanied by a glass of sparkling wine.
Crastatone Chestnut Festival, October
There are several sagres dedicated to the humble chestnut held in the Monte Amiata region, but Crastatone, held in the charming walled town of Piancastagnaio the weekend before November 1, is one of the oldest. The chestnut has been held in high esteem here since the 14th century and was once a staple of the winter diet of local families. The festival is a celebration of all the flavors of fall – earthy roast chestnuts served every way you can imagine, along with sweet polenta, fruit jams and more. The town’s inhabitants pack the streets, dancing and singing local folk songs and nearby wine cellars open their doors to the public to get everyone in the party mood.
Olive Oil Festival, San Quirico d’Orcia
Hardly even a village, San Quirico d’Orcia transforms every December on the Feast of Immaculate Conception (Dec 8) from sleepy hamlet to bustling center of all things Olive Oil. For four days, every activity here is dedicated to celebrating the delicious golden liquid. You can take part in guided tastings, sign up for a guided walk through the region’s olive groves, and even enjoy an olive oil massage. In the evenings, musical performances in the churches and squares across the town add to the celebratory atmosphere.
The year of foodie festivals in Italy ends with a fun twist—a panforte throwing contest. The tasty Christmas cake with from citrus peel, nuts, and spices has been made in and around Siena since Medieval times—and the Torneo Gioco del Panforte has been an annual fixture in the town of Pienza for almost as long. Taking place from Dec 26-30, the game is simple: Participants have to toss the small (wrapped) cake onto a table 15 feet away. If the cake reaches the far edge of the table without falling off, the team scores one point, and the first team to six points wins. Tourists are welcome to try their hand at the game so stop and have a go if you’re in the area.