Sagra: Italian Food Festivals to Eat Like a Local


Sagra: Italian Food Festivals to Eat Like a Local

16 May 2018

Sagre are Italian food festivals, ones like no other. Generally dedicated to a local delicacy, ingredient or agricultural activity, these are hyper-local festivities to celebrate a way of life and the passing of time. While some sagre have become world famous, these five will give you a taste of the local life.

Regardless of the timing for your Italy trip, what you’ll eat is likely at the forefront of your mind. Italians love to eat, share their cuisine, and tell anyone who will listen why it's superior to food made anywhere else. That kind of enthusiasm is infectious. Imagine how much more animated this effusion would be during one of their sagre, or food festivals. A sagra (the plural is sagre) is loosely defined as a local festival (some of them are centred around events like Medieval jousts), but most sagre are devoted to food. And, let's face it – in Italy, even when a sagra isn’t dedicated entirely to food it plays an important role. There are sagre year-round, with most of the food-related sagre occurring in the spring and autumn. Sagre are held for specific ingredients – there’s an onion festival, a potato festival, chestnut festivals – as well as for dishes like stuffed eggplant or polenta. The celebrations may take place over a few days or a couple of successive weekends, and most are tied to a particular time of year (the last full weekend of a month, for instance). These are celebrations for and by the locals, sometimes dating back centuries. Visitors are welcomed, but these aren’t precisely tourist events – don’t expect to find English translations of anything, for instance. Bring your Italian phrasebook, a taste for adventure, and a healthy appetite. Sagre happen all over Italy in small villages and larger cities, so if you’re visiting Italy during the harvest season, it’s a good idea to check with the local tourism office to see if there’s a sagra going on while you’re in the area. You might be lucky enough to attend the most delicious celebration of your life.

5 Delicious Sagre in Italy

Sagra dell’Uva di Marino – Marino, Lazio

A woman in a crowd of people holding a sandwich at an Italian food festival Sagra dell'Uva Marino - by Fiammetta Bruni

Analogies about wine flowing like rivers are relatively common in Italy, but once a year in a small Lazio town the analogy becomes startlingly real. Marino is one of the villages that, collectively, make up the Castelli Romani (more-famous Frascati is another). These hill towns surrounding Rome are prolific wine producers, and most of what they make is white. On the first Sunday each October for the Sagra dell’Uva di Marino (Marino’s Grape Festival), the water supply to Marino’s main fountain is replaced with white wine, which gushes from spigots and cascades over the fountain’s statues. Celebrants line up to fill empty water bottles with wine – it’s free, after all – to wash down their porchetta sandwiches.

Sagra del Pesce – Camogli, Liguria

A giant metal frying pan at an Italian food festival in Camogli The Giant Pan at Camogli - Eippol

Seafood is prevalent on many Italian menus thanks to all that coastline. In the Ligurian fishing town of Camogli, fish is the centrepiece of an annual festival. During the Sagra del Pesce over the weekend of the second Sunday in May, an enormous frying pan makes its yearly appearance in the town centre for the biggest fish fry you’ve ever seen. The pot weighs about 2.8 tons and spans some 12.5 feet (3.8 meters) across, giving festival cooks plenty of space to dish up roughly 30,000 plates of fried fish in a day. The festival is held in honour of St. Fortunato, the patron saint of fishermen, and other activities over the weekend include sculptures built on the beach, bonfires, and fireworks. The fish fry is on Sunday.
While in Liguria, explore the world of Vermentino with The Grand Wine Tour! This fresh white wine is the perfect pair for all the fish fritti. 

Limoni in Festa – Massa Lubrense, Campania

a crate of lemons Lemons - by Clem Onojeghuo

Visitors to Sorrento and the Amalfi Coast are always treated to luminous bottles of limoncello in shop windows, shining like liquid stained glass. The lemons from this part of Italy are prized, so it’s no surprise there’s an annual lemon festival. Limoni in Festa takes place over a weekend in mid-to-late-July in Massa Lubrense, a town not far from Sorrento. There’s a street market with vendors selling all things lemon-related, music and art shows, and plenty of opportunities to taste local products made with the flavorful yellow citrus.

Porchettiamo – San Terenziano di Gualdo Cattaneo, Umbria

Porchetta for sale at an Italian food festival Porchetta

Porchetta is one of the most beloved Italian “fast foods.” The meat is boneless suckling pig that’s been stuffed with aromatics and roasted for hours until the exterior is crisp, and it’s most often served in sandwich form. Local variations on porchetta are found all over Italy, but to celebrate you’ve got to go to Umbria in May. Porchettiamo – literally, “let’s porchetta” – takes place in mid-May in the town of San Terenziano di Gualto Cattaneo, about 26 miles (41.5 km) from Perugia near Todi. Over the course of the festival’s three days, porchetta purveyors from different parts of Italy tempt passersby with some of the best pork sandwiches you’ll ever eat.

Fiera del Tartufo Bianco – Sant’Agata Feltria, Emilia-Romagna

a basket of white truffles A basket of white truffles

When you’re tempted by the famous international white truffle fair in Alba but you’d rather not dive headlong into that sea of people, consider instead the white truffle festival in the town of Sant’Agata Feltria in Emilia-Romagna. Every Sunday in October, the town comes to life for the Fiera del Tartufo Bianco. Market vendors sell all manner of locally-made goodies, from cheese to cured meats to honey, made with the prized truffle. And, yes, you can buy the truffles themselves, too – both black and white – but be prepared to spend a pretty penny on them. Other types of mushrooms are on offer, as well, and street food stalls offer plenty of truffle-laced dishes.

The Grand Wine Tour is a mark of excellence in hospitality distinguishing Italian wineries throughout the country. Book your tasting and tour today!