May in Italy is a good time to find spring festivals. Visiting in the spring usually brings warm, pleasant weather and slightly fewer crowds compared to June and July. You'll find flower festivals, food and wine festivals, medieval reenactments, and events celebrating rituals of spring. You will probably come across other local festivals while visiting, but some major festivals you can count on recurring annually in many parts of the country.
There are several things that Italy takes seriously like enjoying life away from work, reveling in the history and art within its museums, it's wine, and its beautiful countryside. If you are visiting in May, you can definitely find locals and visitors basking in it all.
- May Day: May 1, is a public holiday all over Italy. It is celebrated similarly to America's Labor Day. Many services will be closed, but you may find interesting parades and festivals to celebrate the day. Expect big crowds in popular Italian tourist destinations.
- Giro d'Italia: Italy's big bike race similar to the Tour de France, starts in early May and lasts most of the month. The race takes in scenic countryside and it's fun to watch a leg or two.
- Night of Museums: One Saturday in mid-May, museums in many Italian cities are open late, often with free admission and special events.
- Cantine Aperte: "Open cantinas" is a big wine celebration throughout Italy the last two weekends of May, when cantinas and wineries, many normally closed to the public, invite guests for tastings and tours. There's often food and live music, and, of course, bottles of wine available to purchase. Do an internet search for "cantine aperte" and you'll find the events closest to you.
Abruzzo is east of Rome with the Adriatic coastline and the Apennine Mountains in this region. National parks and forest cover much of its rugged interior. The region includes hilltop towns that date to the Medieval and Renaissance periods.
- Snake Handlers' Procession: On the first Thursday in May, in the town of Cocullo, Italy, a statue of St. Dominic, the town's patron saint, is carried through town covered with live snakes. According to lore, the festival dates back thousands of years to pre-Christian times. To appease the Vatican, the event was adapted to additionally honor St. Dominic, who is believed to provide protection against snakebites for people working in the fields. Also, St. Dominic can intercede on your behalf for relieving toothaches and wolf bites.
- The Flower Festival of Bucchianico: In preparation of the feast of St. Urban, the town's patron saint, this town's people do a reenactment of a 13th-century military event and hosts a parade of more than 300 women balancing beautiful floral bouquets on their heads on the third Sunday in May.
- The Daffodil Festival: In the Abruzzo town of Rocca di Mezzo, you can celebrate the coming of spring with folk dancing and a parade on the last Sunday in May.
The Emilia Romagna region is found between the Po River, the Adriatic Sea, and the Apennine Mountain chain that forms Italy's backbone. It is most famous for its cuisine offerings like prosciutto (cured ham) from Parma, Parmesan Reggiano (cheese), and balsamic vinegar from Modena.
- Il Palio di Ferrara: Ferrara hosts a historical horse race dating from 1279. It is run the last Sunday in May. There are parades, flag throwing contests, and other events every weekend in May including a historical procession to the castle with over 1,000 people in Renaissance costumes on the Saturday night of the weekend before the race.
- Medieval Parade and Jousting Tournament: The town of Grazzano Visconti is a replica of a Medieval Italian town and it hosts a parade and tournament with a nod to the Medieval time period on the last Sunday in May.
Lazio, also referred to as Latium in a more archaic form, is the region that contains Rome. However, when you hear people refer to Lazio, most are referring to the towns and area just outside of Rome.
- The Wedding of the Trees: In Italian, called Sposalizio dell'Albero, this festival takes place May 8 in the northern Lazio town of Vetralla. A couple of oak trees are decorated with garlands, horsemen offer bouquets of the first spring flowers, and new trees are planted while everyone enjoys a free picnic lunch. The ceremony revives Vetralla's sovereignty over the forests and continues the time-honored tradition of giving each citizen a cubic meter of firewood annually.
- La Barabbata: The Barabbata Festival is held every year on May 14 on the shores of Lake Bolsena in the fishing village of Marta near Viterbo. The festival is a Catholicised rendition of the pagan rites of spring that consists of a parade honoring the Virgin Mary. In this procession, men wear costumes representing the old trades and carry their tools while white buffalo pull floats carrying the fruits of the trades.
In the Fish Festival of St. Fortunato, the patron saint of fishermen is celebrated in the village of Camogli, south of Genoa, the second Sunday in May. Saturday night there is a huge fireworks display and bonfire competition followed by free fried fish on Sunday.
The northwest corner of Italy is the Piedmont region, which borders the Alps. Piedmont translates from Latin to mean "the foot of the mountains."
- The Risotto Festival: The first Sunday in May in the Piedmont town of Sessame is a huge feast celebrating Italian risotto, a special rice dish dating back to the 13th century.
- Roman Fest: The Roman Fest is a three-day reenactment of a typical ancient Roman festival in the Piedmont town of Alessandria, the last weekend of May. The festival includes parades, feasts, staged gladiator combat, and chariot races.
Sardinia and Sicily
Sardinia and Sicily are large Italian islands off the coast of Italy in the Mediterranean Sea. Both have beautiful beaches. Sicily is the largest island in the Mediterranean and has one of the most active volcanoes in the world, Mt. Etna.
- Sagra di Sant Efisio: On May 1, one of the most important festivals in Sardinia features a colorful four-day procession from Cagliari to the Romanesque church of Saint Efisio on the beach at Nora. Decorated oxcarts and horsemen accompany the saint's statue in a parade followed by food and dancing.
- Infiorata di Noto: A huge festival with flower petal art displays and a parade, takes place in Noto, Sicily, the third weekend of May.
Tuscany is Italy's largest region and was the birthplace of the Italian Renaissance. Florence is its capital.
- Pinocchio's Birthday: May 25 in the Tuscan town of Pescia within the village of Collodi, the village celebrates the "puppet with the ever-growing nose," Pinocchio. Collodi is the pen name of the Italian author who penned the story in the 1880s, which has since been popularized further by a 1940 Disney movie.
- The Chianti Wine Festival: On the last Sunday in May and first Sunday in June, the Chianti Wine Festival takes place in Montespertoli in the Chianti wine-making region of Tuscany.
Umbria, called Italy's green heart, is similar to adjacent Tuscany with verdant forests. Although it is landlocked, it has Lake Trasimeno, one of the largest lakes in Italy.
- Ring Race and Procession: This festival in Narni boasts reenactments of 14th-century contests and parades through May 12. It usually starts near the end of April.
- Calendimaggio: Celebrated in early May in Assisi, this festival is a spectacular display of Medieval and Renaissance costumes and life. The festival includes theater shows, concerts, dances, processions, archery, crossbow, and flag-waving displays.
- La Palombella: Hosted in Orvieto, this festival represents the descent of the Holy Spirit on the Apostles. The festival is held on Pentecost Sunday, seven weeks after Easter, which usually falls in May. The festival takes place in the plaza in front of the Orvieto Cathedral and ends with a fireworks display.
- The Festa dei Ceri: This candle race and costumed parade in Gubbio takes place May 15 and is followed by a historical cross-bow exhibition on the last Sunday of May.
Veneto is a gem of a region in the northeast corner of Italy. It is bound on the west by Lake Garda, on the north by the Dolomite Mountains, and on the east by the Adriatic Sea. It is the home region of Venice, the city built on 100 small islands.
The Festa della Sensa, or Ascension Festival, is held on the first Sunday after Ascension Day (40 days after Easter) in Venice. The ceremony commemorates Venice's marriage to the sea and in past times, the Doge threw a gold ring into the sea to unite Venice and the sea. In modern times a regatta heads from Saint Mark's Square to Saint Nicolo culminating with a gold ring being thrown into the sea. There is also a huge fair.