The Umbrian town of Norcia sits at the foot of the Monte Sibillini in the Valnerina River Valley. It’s about 45 minutes east of the famous music festival town Spoleto and near the Umbrian border with the Lazio and Le Marche regions. An ancient settlement, Norcia has found traces of human occupation from the Neolithic Age (approximately 10,000 BC – 2,000 BC). It’s a great base for hiking mountains and walking through the beautiful natural scenery of the Santa Scolastica plain.
A Black Truffle
Egg with Shaved Truffle
Tagliattelle al Tartufo
Piazza San Benedetto has been the center of the town since the middle ages and includes the historic Palazzo Communale (14th century) and church of San Benedetto (Middle Ages). It serves as the base of operations for the 53rd Nero Norcia celebration of winter black truffles that began this morning and continues this weekend and next. Aside from the usual festival treats of food stands, music and children’s activities there’s a magician, photography exhibit and speakers about truffle production in the area. Tasting tours via horse drawn carriages, are organized by dairy company Gruppo Grifo both Sundays and include local chocolate and dairy products (purchase tickets at their festival stand).
The shade of trees in the forests nearby harbor these fragrant and expensive mushrooms. Used raw or cooked they are often tossed with rice or pasta. Norcia’s foodie highlights are more than just it’s truffle production; the famous Norcinos (butchers) and their salumerie shops are not to be missed for further tastebud exploration.
Spring has already sprung in Agrigento, Sicily. Originally founded as a Greek colony in 581 BC and called Akragas, Agrigento has been, at various times, ruled by Byzantines, Romans and Arabs. The Greek presence is perhaps most felt at the Valle dei Tempi, home to five temple ruins that draw visitors from around the globe.
The Sagra del Mandorlo in Fioricelebrates the almonds of the area. On Saturday at afternoon at 4:30 PM, a parade of folk groups kicks the evening off. Starting at 7:00 PM Sicilian street food will be served in Piazza Marconi. If you‘d like something more formal, various restaurants participate in fixed menus that incorporate the use of the almond as the highlighted ingredient. On Sunday at 10:00 AM don’t miss the parade of folk groups, Sicilian carts, and both Andalusian and Friesan horses.
Eager for more local dancing and entertainment? Not only is this the 71st Feast of the Almond Blossom, it’s the 61st International Folklore Festival. This is the second weekend and it continues each weekend through March 13th.
If you didn’t make it to Mardi Gras in New Orleans to celebrate Fat Tuesday, hop over to the Tuscan Coast of Italy for one of four remaining carnival parades. Multiple carnival celebrations take place throughout Italy at this time each year. What makes the 143 year old #CarnevalediViareggio special is its size and artistic pageantry. Over 200,000 spectators attend the month-long series of events showcasing fabulous floats along 3 kilometers of the palm-tree lined promenade by the sea.
Since 1873, when the parade began with decorated carriages along the Via Regia, this carnival parade entertains with effigies of (in)famous people, sports athletes and politicians who are sometimes in attendance to view the spectacle. There are a total of five masked parades; the next three Sundays and the first Saturday in March are the remaining dates in 2016. In addition to the parades filled with larger than life floats, there are daytime and nighttime festivities including parties and masked balls. On the final day judges award the best floats and cap off the event with a large fireworks display.
Preparing for this $5 million event involves a lot of planning and preparation. “La Cittadella” is a building and event complex housing 2 museums and 16 warehouses; the warehouses are utilized by masters of paper-mâché to create the gigantic floats. One museum displays the history and pageantry of the carnival celebration, the other, ”Carnevalotto”, displays a collection of valuable works of art.
Burlamacco: Symbol of the Carnevale
Viareggio is located north of Pisa on the Tyrhennian coast and is a relatively short train ride from Pisa, Lucca & Florence. Daily tickets are 18 Euros for 12 + over, 13 Euros for ages 7-12 and children under 7 are free. Reserved seating is available for an additional 10 Euro per person.
Oranges are the ammunition of this battle royale in the northern Italian town of Ivrea. Referred to as the “largest food fight” in Italy, the Battle of the Oranges engages over 5,000 participants inflicting pain by hurling 60 tons of blood oranges at each other. Ivrea, north of Turin and west of Milan, imports an entire train full of oranges from Sicily each year for the event.
The Battle is based on stories of real people from the rebellion 900 years ago. At this period in time, the “right of the first night” or jus primae noctae allowed the local Lord to sleep with a bride the night before her wedding. As the story goes, the mugnaia (miller’s daughter), went to the castle the night before her wedding, wielded a knife, murdered the Lord and cut his head off. The locals then started a three day rebellion which is represented by the throwing of the oranges.
Activities for this Carnival period celebration started in January and culminate in the coming week with historical parades, feasts and of course, the famous orange fight. Aranceri (orange handlers) on fifty carts battle the aranceri from the nine pedestrian teams. Spectators are strongly advised to purchase and wear at all times the beretto frigio; this red stocking cap identifies the innocent onlookers hoping to escape errant oranges. Nets are strung throughout the parade route with designated areas for spectators to gather beneath for protection. The orange throwing spectacle can be seen on Sunday and Monday nights before dinner, refer to the full program schedule below for parade map and times.