No Italian village can let the year run its course without a handful of celebrations of church, history, local talent, or just good food and wine. And no visit to Italy is complete without taking part in at least one of them. Those listed below represent merely the biggest and most spectacular Tuscany and Umbria have to offer. You'll find these events described in greater detail in each city's guide, along with dates for smaller feste and weekly markets.
For an exhaustive list of events beyond those listed here, check http://events.frommers.com, where you'll find a searchable, up-to-the-minute roster of what's happening in cities all over the world.
Regatta on the Arno, Florence. The city of the Renaissance kicks off the new year with a boat race. Call tel. 055-23-320 for details. January 1.
Carnevale, throughout Italy. The most outstanding Tuscan Rite of Spring occurs in the coastal town of Viareggio (for details, contact the Fondazione Carnevale di Viareggio, Casella Postale 317, Viareggio; tel. 0584-58071; www.viareggio.ilcarnevale.com), with a colorful and sophisticated parade of mechanized floats subtly lampooning political figures and celebrities. Other Carnevale festivities worth dropping in on are the costume parade in San Gimignano (call tel. 0577-940-008 for details) and a similar masked procession at Vinci (call tel. 0571-568-012 for details). The week before Ash Wednesday (Feb/early Mar).
Scoppio del Carro (Explosion of the Cart), Florence. When the bishop inside the cathedral gets to the "Gloria" part of Easter High Mass, a mechanical dove is let loose from high over the altar, and it slides down a wire toward the front doors. Waiting for it on Piazza del Duomo outside is a tall 18th-century cart -- pulled there by two snowy white oxen and loaded with fireworks -- which the dove ignites (it's hoped). Contact the tourist office at tel. 055-290-832 for details. Easter Sunday.
Torciata di San Giuseppe, Pitigliano. An ancient Maremman festival with pagan roots -- watch the men of the town march to the central square with burning torches to form a giant straw effigy. After the whole thing burns to the ground, the whole town comes out to party. Visit www.comune.pitigliano.gr.it or www.maremma-tuscany.com. March 19.
Easter is always a big event. Some of the most colorful yet solemn celebrations are held in St. Francis's Umbrian hometown, Assisi (call tel. 075-812-534 for details), and in Florence. Easter Sunday; Sunday in March or April.
Festa del Grillo (Cricket Festival), Florence. In the Cascine Park, vendors sell crickets in decorated cages, and, after a parade of floats on the Arno, everybody releases the bugs into the grass. Contact the tourist office at Via Cavour 1r (tel. 055-290-832) for details. First Sunday after Ascension Day (mid- to late May).
Corso dei Ceri (Candle Race), Gubbio, Umbria. One of Italy's most spectacular and oldest festivals. Color-coded teams of burly men from the city's three districts run about town all day long carrying 9m-high (30-ft.) wooden "candles" (read: phallic symbols) topped with statues of saints. After a seafood dinner, they carry the things at a dead trot more than 300m (984 ft.) up a mountain. Perhaps the tourist office can explain it: Call tel. 075-922-0693. May 15.
Giostra dell'Archidado (Crossbow Competition), Cortona, Tuscany. This crossbow competition is held in late-14th-century costume. Contact the tourist office at tel. 0575-630-353 or 0575-630-352 for details. May 18.
Balestro del Girifalco (Crossbow Competition), Massa Marittima, Tuscany. Massan crossbow sharpshooters in 13th-century costume fire bolts into impossibly small targets, following all the requisite processions and flag tossing. Call the festival association (tel. 0566-903-908; www.societaterzierimassetani.it) for details. May 20 or the following Sunday and again the second Sunday in August.
Palio della Balestra (Crossbow Competition), Gubbio, Umbria. Eugubines, all dudded up medieval-style, test their crossbow skills against teams from historical rival Sansepolcro. Call tel. 075-922-0693 for details. Last Sunday in May.
Corpus Christi Procession, Orvieto, Umbria. In the town where this religious holiday was first proclaimed, the holy liturgical cloth onto which a communion wafer once miraculously dripped blood is carried through town in a procession of hundreds dressed in medieval costume. Contact the tourist office at tel. 0763-341-772 for details. Corpus Christi, early June.
Festa di San Ranieri, Pisa, Tuscany. The city celebrates its patron saint by lining the Arno River with flickering torches (la luminaria). Call tel. 050-42-291 or visit www.giugnopisano.com for details. June 16 and 17.
Calcio Storico (Historic Soccer), Florence. St. John is Florence's patron, and what better way to celebrate his holy day than with a violent Renaissance version of soccer played in 16th-century costume? Two teams of 26 men battle each other tooth and nail on dirt-packed Piazza di Santa Croce (the first June match) and Piazza della Signoria. The teams hail from each of Florence's four historic quarters -- San Giovanni in green, Santa Maria Novella in red, Santa Croce in blue, and Santo Spirito in white. The season opens on June 16, but the big game is on June 24, after which fireworks explode over the Arno at 10pm. Contact the tourist office at Via Cavour 1r (tel. 055-290-832) for details, or visit www.calciostorico.it or www.turismo.intoscana.it. June 24 and 28.
Gioco del Ponte (War on the Bridge), Pisa, Tuscany. Pisan teams from opposite banks of the river get into Renaissance garb, stand on the city's oldest bridge, and have a push-of-war with a 7-ton cart. For details, call tel. 050-42-291 or visit www.giugnopisano.com. Last Sunday in June.
Spoleto Festival, Spoleto, Umbria. A world-renowned festival of music and the performing arts. For details, contact the Fondazione Festival dei Due Mondi, c/o Teatro Nuovo, Via Vaita Sant´Andrea, Spoleto (tel. 0743-221-689; www.festivaldispoleto.com). Mid-June to mid-July.
Estate Fiesolana (Fiesolean Summer), Fiesole, near Florence. This summertime festival of music, ballet, film, and theater is held above the oppressive Florentine heat in the ancient hill town of Fiesole. Most of the performances are staged in the remains of the 1st-century-A.D. Roman theater. You can get information and tickets in advance through Box Office (tel. 055-210-804; www.boxol.it), or at the Roman Theater on the day of performance. See www.estatefiesolana.it for the program. Late June to August.
Palio delle Contrade (Horse Race), Siena, Tuscany. The Palio between Siena's traditional neighborhoods vies with Venice's Carnevale as Italy's premier festival. It's a breakneck bareback horse race around the dirt-packed main square prefaced by 3 days of parades, trial runs, and heavy partying. The night before the race is a regular bacchanal to which visitors are often welcome. The best 150€-to-200€ grandstand seats sell out years in advance. Standing in the center of the piazza is free. Hotel rooms in the entire city are booked more than a year in advance of the July 2 event. And they do it all over again on August 16. For more information, visit www.ilpalio.org, or contact Siena's Ufficio Informazione Turistico, Piazza del Campo 56 (tel. 0577-280-551; www.terresiena.it). July 2.
Umbria Jazz, Perugia, Umbria. This has been one of Europe's top jazz events for more than 30 years -- 2 weeks of performances, concerts, and jams from top names and bands. For more information, contact the Associazione Umbria Jazz-Perugia, Piazza Danti 28 (tel. 075-573-2432; www.umbriajazz.com). Mid-July.
Giostra dell' Orso (Joust of the Bear), Pistoia, Tuscany. This medieval-costumed jousting match pits mounted knights against targets shaped like bears. Not nearly as death-defying as in the olden days when they used real bears, but still a rousing good time. Call tel. 0573-34-326 or visit www.giostradellorso.it for details. July 25.
Settimana Musicale Senese (Sienese Music Week), Siena, Tuscany. This festival brings a week of the best concerts and opera that Siena's prestigious music center can muster. Contact the Accademia Musicale Chigiana, Via di Città 89 (tel. 0577-46-152; www.chigiana.it). One week in July or August.
Puccini Festival, Torre del Lago (Lucca). The biggest annual date in a local opera lover's calendar, celebrating Lucca's beloved composer. There's a seasonal ticket office at Viale Puccini 257a, in Torre del Lago, or book tickets online. tel. 0584-359-322; www.puccinifestival.it. July through August.
Rodeo della Rosa (cowboy parade and rodeo), Alberese, Tuscany. The gateway town to the Maremma's best natural park hosts a rodeo of the top butteri stars of Tuscany's deep south. Butteri are the old-fashioned Italian cowboys who've watched over the white Maremma cattle herds for generations. The Parco Regionale della Maremma information office may have details at tel. 0564-393-211 or www.parco-maremma.it. August 15.
Palio delle Contrade (Horse Race), Siena, Tuscany. An encore of Siena's famous horse race. This edition is marginally more prestigious, and even more crowded. August 16.
Bravio delle Botti (Barrel Race), Montepulciano, Tuscany. This is something akin to a medieval fraternity stunt. Teams of poliziani (the name for local residents) dress like their 14th-century ancestors in order to be the first to roll a 79kg (175-lb.) barrel uphill to the top of town. Come for the pageantry and feasting afterward. Contact the tourist office at tel. 0578-758-687 or visit www.braviodellebotti.com (tel. 075-119-0521) for details. Late August.
Giostra del Saracino (Saracen Joust), Arezzo, Tuscany. This jousting tournament is between mounted knights in 13th-century armor and the effigy of a Saracen warrior. It's held on Arezzo's main square and is one of the few versions of this sport in which the target, which swivels and is armed with a whip, actually hits back. Contact the tourist office at tel. 0575-377-678 or visit www.giostradelsaracino.arezzo.it for details. First Sunday in September.
Astiludio (flag tossing), Volterra, Tuscany. Townies in 14th-century get-ups practice the ancient art of juggling silken banners on one of Tuscany's most medieval of piazze. The tourist office (tel. 0588-86-150) can tell you more, or contact the organizers directly (tel. 0588-85-440; www.sbandieratorivolterra.it). First Sunday in September.
Todi Arte Festival, Todi, Umbria. This annual bash started in the 1980s brings theater, music, ballet, and opera to the medieval hill town for 10 days in late summer. Contact www.todiartefestival.com or tel. 075-895-6700 for details. Early September (some years in July or Aug).
Festa della Rificolona (Candlelit Procession), Florence. Children carry paper lanterns around town, especially up to Piazza Santissima Annunziata. It's a dim memory of the lanterns peasants from the surrounding countryside carried as they filed into town on this night, the eve of the birth of the Virgin, to pay their respects at the church. Contact the tourist office at Via Cavour 1r (tel. 055-290-832) or visit www.comune.fi.it for details. September 7.
Palio dei Balestrieri (Crossbow Competition), Sansepolcro, Tuscany. Sansepolcro gets the home-turf advantage in part two of the medieval crossbow competition with Umbrian rival Gubbio. Call tel. 0575-75-827 for details. Second Sunday in September.
Rassegna del Chianti Classico (Wine Festival), Greve in Chianti, Tuscany. Greve's annual wine fair showcases the newest vintages from both the top and the smaller vineyards in the Chianti Classico zone. Call tel. 055-854-5243 or visit www.chianticlassico.com for details. September 12 to September 15.
Luminara di Santa Croce (Candle Night), Lucca, Tuscany. In honor of their highly revered Volto Santo statue of Christ, an image blackened with age (they hold that Nicodemus himself, present at the Crucifixion, carved it from a Lebanon cedar), the Lucchesi hold a solemn candle-light parade through the streets at 8pm. Call tel. 0583-419-689 or visit www.luccatourist.it for details. September 13.
Perugia Classico (Festival of Classical Music), Perugia, Umbria. Perugia's music-filled summer is finished off with a week of classical and chamber music. Details are available from the Comitato Promotore Perugia Classico, c/o Comune di Perugia, Ripartizione XVI Economia e Lavoro, Via Eburnea 9 (tel. 075-577-2253; turismo.comune.perugia.it). Last week in September.
Sagra del Tordo (Feast of the Thrush), Montalcino, Tuscany. Montalcini wander around all weekend in medieval costume throwing archery tournaments and parades, mainly for an excuse to roast hundreds of tiny thrushes, whose passing they toast with plenty of Brunello wine. Call tel./fax 0577-849-331 or visit www.comunedimontalcino.it for details. Last weekend in October.
Mostra Mercato Nazionale del Tartufo Bianco (White Truffle Fair), Gubbio, Umbria. The world's most expensive form of edible fungus, highly prized by food connoisseurs, is the centerpiece of Gubbio's annual agricultural fair. Call tel. 075-922-0693 or visit www.cmaltochiascio.it for details. Last week of October.
Vino Novello (New Wine) Festivals, various towns. By law, New Wine can't be released before November 4, and several towns celebrate the coming-out weekend of these light, short-lived red wines. The main event is a weekend of tastings, along with the usual stands lining the streets during any festival (offering everything from traditional candy to underwear). A big dinner night is arranged in the better restaurants in town, where you sample vini novelli with your meal. Two of the larger and more easily accessible from Florence are the festival in Montespertoli (tel. 0571-609-412; www.comune.montespertoli.fi.it), for which you can take a SITA bus, and the festival in Pontassieve (tel. 055-83-601; www.comune.pontassieve.fi.it), for which you can take a train. First weekend after November 4.
Live Nativity Procession, Barga (in the Garfagnana north of Lucca), Tuscany. Just before Christmas, a live procession of locals dressed as the Holy Family passes through town, where other inhabitants are costumed as traditional tradespeople. The procession starts sometime after 7pm and arrives at the Duomo around 11pm. For details, call tel. 0583-723-499, or visit www.comune.barga.lu.it. Usually held December 23.
Ostensione della Sacra Cintola (Display of the Virgin's Girdle), Prato, Tuscany. This is the final and most sumptuous of the five annual occasions on which the bishop releases Mary's Sacred Girdle -- the belt she handed to Thomas upon her Assumption -- from its jewel-encrusted treasure chest and shows it to the people massed inside the Duomo and crowding the piazza outside. Plenty of Renaissance-styled drummers and fifers are in attendance. The pomp is repeated at Easter, May 1, August 15, and September 8. Call tel./fax 0574-24-112 for details. December 25.
Umbria Jazz Winter, Orvieto, Umbria. Wine tasting and internationally renowned jazz artists come to Orvieto for part two of Umbria's premier jazz festival. Call tel. 075-572-1653 or check www.umbriajazz.com for details. December 27 to January 1.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.