September is a great time to visit Italy, as temperatures start to cool down just a little bit, and summer crowds dissipate when Italians return from their vacations. There are many festivals, special events that have taken place over the years like the historic regatta in Venice, harvest festivals, and unique small-town patron saint's days happening all over the country.
To get in touch with Italian culture, put one of these festivals on your travel calendar—you'll have fun watching horses race, experiencing religious processions, and feasting next to the locals in the town square.
Venice's historic boat race takes place the first Sunday in September with four race categories—children, women, men in six-oar boats, and the champions racing in boats with two oars. The races are preceded by a parade of beautifully decorated 16th century-style boats with costumed oarsmen filling the canals. Gondoliers in period costume carry the Doge, the Doge's wife, and high-ranking Venetian officials along the Grand Canal
The most exciting race is the Campioni su Gondolini (champion gondolier) race where small, racing gondolas fly down the Grand Canal to the finishing line.
Motorboats and gondolas carrying photographers and visitors line the canals watching all this pageantry—many Venice hotels have special boats scheduled to transport their guests up the canals to see the parade and races.
Films premiere on Lido Island, but the whole of Venice is abuzz with cinematic activity during the festival, which takes place in early September. This star-studded event is the oldest film festival in the world and one of the "Big Three" film festivals along with the Cannes Film Festival and Berlin International Film Festival.
The festival shows both up-and-coming works and films by famous directors from around the world. The Festival also presents retrospectives and tributes to major film industry figures who are important to the history of cinema.
Friendly rival cities Milan and Torino host a variety of musical performances during the month of September. Originally called SettembreMusica, founded in 2007, the festival became MITO SettembreMusica when Milano (MI) and Torino (TO) teamed up for a joint effort in the arts (MITO). During September in both cities, you will encounter a range of impressive small and large musical performances at reasonable prices in theaters, concert halls, churches, and village piazzas as Torino and Milano become "music cities."
Held in Figline Valdarno, about 30 kilometers southeast of Florence, the Palio di San Rocco is said to be one of the first Palio (horse race) competitions in Tuscany. The horse race concludes five days of medieval competitions with jousting, archery, and costumed events. Visitors enjoy special foods, entertainment, and pageantry in this Tuscan town.
This big festival in Viterbo, north of Rome, is held on September 3 annually. A historic procession, carrying a reliquary said to contain the heart of their patron saint Santa Maria Rosa, takes place the day before, with participants wearing costumes from the 13th to 18th centuries.
The next day, the Macchina, a lighted tower about 30 meters tall, topped by a statue of Santa Maria Rosa, is paraded through the streets. More than 100 porters carry the statue on their shoulders (it weighs nearly 5 tons) along the 1-kilometer route.
Saint Vito Day (Ciminna, Sicily)
Saint Vito, patron saint of Ciminna, is celebrated the first Sunday of September in this Sicilian town in the Palermo province. There's a huge parade recalling the life of Saint Vito with townspeople dressed in colorful period costumes. A livestock fair also coincides with the celebrations.
The main church in Ciminna, built in the Middle Ages, has a lovely Gothic rose window and is the home for most of the town's religious processions.
La Festa Della Madonna Degli Ammalati, or the Festival of the Madonna of the Sick, is celebrated the first weekend of September in the Sicilian town of Misterbianco. The festival commemorates the miracle of the sanctuary being saved from destruction during Mt. Etna's eruption in 1669 when the rest of the town was covered with lava.
Festivities run for five days starting Thursday evening and ending with a fireworks display.
Cordovado, in the Friuli-Venezia region, recreates a noble wedding from 1571 the first Sunday in September. Festivities include a procession followed by an archery competition and tournaments where the districts of the town compete. The town of Cormons in the same region also has a Renaissance pageant and parade on the first Sunday of September.
Corsa Degli Asini (Fagagna, Friuli-Venezia Giulia)
A historic donkey race in the Friuli-Venezia Giulia town of Fagagna has taken place the first Sunday in September since 1861. Teams from four regional hamlets compete with their racing donkeys and carts on an oval course set up in the town square. The race is preceded by a "grand entry" with donkeys and teams in their town colors, marching units, and event "royalty."
The Paper Lantern Festival is believed to be one of the oldest festivals in Florence. You'll find outdoor festivities September 6, 7, and 8. The tradition relates back to the celebration of the birth of the Virgin Mary. A festival in Florence was held to commemorate her birth, and farmers from surrounding towns and farms trekked to Florence with their produce and goods for the occasion. In order to arrive for the religious services on time, many started their journey before the break of dawn and needed lanterns to light their way—these were often carried at the end of a stick with a candle inside.
Today, a market is still held in the square in the form of a huge fair of organic produce on September 6 and 7.
The lantern tradition continues today and on the evening of September 8, Florentines and others representing the farmer-pilgrims carry colorful paper lanterns at the end of a stick through the streets of Florence. A speech and blessing are made in the piazza, followed by a party.
Festival of the Madonna a Mare (Patti, Sicily)
The Festival of the Madonna of the Sea is celebrated the second Sunday of September in Sicily in the village of Patti, Mesina province. The golden Madonna statue is carried to the sea in a procession, then put on an illuminated boat to lead a boat procession. Dancing, music, food, and wine follow.
Juliet's Birthday (Verona)
One half of Shakespeare's most tragic teenaged couple is celebrated September 12 in Verona. When you visit Verona, you can see a home, thought to be the original Capulet's home, along with Juliet's balcony—a bronze statue of Juliet graces the courtyard.
During the birthday celebration, partiers roam the streets of Verona dressed in romantic period costumes to celebrate the young love-struck heroine’s birthday. Festivities include parades of the infamous Courts of the Montagues and Capulets, dances, and street entertainment.
Luminara di Santa Croce (Lucca)
The Illumination of the Holy Cross is a beautiful religious procession in Lucca, Tuscany, on September 13. In a celebration dating back to the 8th century, the city is illuminated with thousands of candles at night as the procession goes through Lucca's historic center.
One of Lucca's most important annual events is connected to an antique reliquary, the Holy Face (the completion of the face on the original crucifix was seen as a work of God). This significant wooden crucifix is located in Lucca's cathedral dedicated to San Martino.
During the Luminaria di Santa Croce, the procession leaves from the Basilica of San Frediano and proceeds through the town to the Cathedral to pay homage to the Holy Wooden Cross—participants hold candles or lamps and the procession route is illuminated with tiny votives containing candles.
The festival of the patron saint of Naples celebrates the miracle of the liquefying of San Gennaro's blood in Naples Cathedral on September 19, followed by eight days of processions and celebrations.
On the morning of September 19, thousands fill the Naples Cathedral and Piazza del Duomo, hoping to see the saint's blood liquefy in what's known as the miracle of San Gennaro—it's a bad omen if it doesn't liquify.
And then the festivities begin. Stands selling toys, trinkets, food, and candy are set up in the streets. Festivities go on until the reliquary is returned to its place at the cathedral.
If you're in the U.S., you'll find big San Gennaro festivals in places like New York and Los Angeles.
This bareback horse race dates back to the 13th century and is held in the Piemonte town of Asti. The race is preceded by a parade with participants in period costume, and special events are also held on the days leading up to the actual event, usually the third Sunday of September.
While the location has been moved several times since the inception of the race, since 1988 the Palio has been held in the Piazza Vittorio Alfieri in the heart of the city, a very scenic venue.
Feast of Saint Cipriano and Saint Cornelio (Dorgali, Sardinia)
The patron saints of the Sardinian town of Dorgali are celebrated for eight days, with traditional dancing and period-costume parades starting the middle of September to commemorate the coming of autumn.
Three evenings featuring live music and dancing, folk musicians, and singing tenor groups draw visitors.
Similar to Venice's historic regatta, this one takes place off the island of Burano, near Venice, on the third weekend of September. Venetian-style rowing in Burano has a centuries-old tradition—it was the best way to transport fish to nearby islands and to Venice before motorboats. Now, this regatta is considered a "rematch" with the original race taking place in early September in the canals of Venice.
Italy's favorite monk is celebrated with a torchlight procession and religious ceremonies September 23 in San Giovanni Rotondo in Puglia, the site of the monk's friary. The first priest in history to bear the wounds of Christ (stigmata), Padre Pio was dedicated to continuing Jesus’ work of redemption and is beloved by Italians. Besides being devoted to God, he was known for his care of the sick and supernatural powers and was declared a saint in 2002.
On this day of commemoration, hundreds of stalls sell religious items, and there are celebrations for several days.
Saint Greca Festival (Decimomannu, Sardinia)
The Santa Greca Festival (celebrating a saint of questionable origin) is held the last Sunday in September in the Sardinian town of Decimomannu near Cagliari. This food-centric festival includes a five-day barbecue where they roast hundreds of suckling pigs as well as things like eel shish kababs and stuffed sheep intestine.
The celebration lasts five days with parades, music, poetry, and dialect competitions.
Feast Day of San Michele (various locations)
On September 29, this popular saint's day is celebrated in many places in Italy. The most important celebration of San Michele, or Saint Michael, is at the Sanctuary of the Archangel Michael on the Gargano Promontory of Puglia, where you can visit the crypt and museum.
"Michaelmas," the Christian celebration of St. Michael the Archangel, is celebrated in Catholic churches on September 29. As St. Michael was known as the leader of the heavenly armies combatting Satan, celebration of all angels was incorporated into his feast day.
Potato Festival (Bologna)
A week-long Potato Festival is held in Bologna, a top culinary city, near the end of the month. Bologna knows how to cook potatoes Italian-style and the event is an opportunity to taste local gastronomic specialties such as tortelloni (stuffed egg pasta) with potatoes, gnocchi (made with wheat flour and potatoes), and even potato ice cream.
Live music adds to the fun and a traditional food market with food stalls serves the potato-related foods.