Marradi is a small village of 3,500 located 28 miles northeast of Florence and quite near the Tuscan border with the Emilia-Romagna region. Several trains will transport you to the Sagra delle Castagne (Chestnut Festival) in Marradi over four Sundays in October. Trenitalia runs additional trains from Florence (Firenze) on these Sundays and a special, historic steam locomotive runs (treni a vapori) from select cities on different Sundays.
The festival has activities spread throughout the town in seven different locations. There are stands selling different types of delicious pasta, food, cakes and jams made with chestnuts and chestnut products. This year, the post office has commissioned a special cancellation stamp for everything mailed from Marradi during the festival period. So if you decide to give this festival a try, bring your postcards to mail for an extra special touch.
Free from the tourist crush of nearby Florence, the Mugello region is north of Florence and was first settled by a Ligurian tribe named Magelli, hence the name Mugello. The countryside is a lush valley of rolling hills and home to many Villas, including Villa Demidoff in Vaglia, Palazzo dei Vicari in Scarperia and the two historic Medici Villas: Villa Medicea di Cafaggiolo in Barberino di Mugello and Villa Medicea del Trebbio near San Piero a Sieve.
Zafferana Etnea is a town on the eastern slopes of Mount Etna in the Catania province of Sicily. Etna is Europe’s highest active volcano and dominates the landscape of Eastern Sicily. This weekend the hamlet of Sarro within Zafferana Etnea is hosting their 25th annual wine and chestnut festival as part of their Feast of San Martino. Wine and chestnuts are the ritual food and drink to celebrate St. Martin and during Roman times chestnuts were eaten by shepherds and referred to as “Jupiter’s acorns”.
There is an established tradition of this festival that offers all attendees free pasta and chickpeas but the offerings don’t stop there. On Piazza Padre Russo, the heart of the festivities, from 6:30 pm into the night there will be opportunities to purchase roasted chestnuts, sausage and homemade cakes. In addition, organized games and evening entertainment along with a raffle organized by a non-profit with proceeds benefiting the poor during the upcoming holiday season.
The Zafferanesi are resilient, rebuilding their town multiple times after angry eruptions of Etna over several hundred years. The town is a popular stopping off point for tourists on their way to the Park of Etna. Etna’s eruptions have provided very fertile agricultural land that supports the cultivation of grapes, almonds, citrus fruit and a variety of vegetables.
The nearby town of Sant’Alfio has a huge 2,000-4,000 year old tree called “Castagno dei Cento Cavalli” (the chestnut tree of 1,000 horses). Legend has it that this tree protected Queen Jeanne d’Anjou, Queen of Aragon, and her retinue of 100 knights during a terrible thunderstorm. It is the subject of various songs and poems and had a circumference of 190 feet when its measurement was recorded back in 1790.