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Oct 3, 2012

Celebrating Autumn’s Bounty in Tuscany

Tuscans celebrate the rhythm of the seasons with an array of festivals and feasts adapted for each period of the year.  Autumn is particularly colorful as the leaves change and the ordered rows of vineyards are speckled in hues of yellow and red.  Fall brings a feast for the eyes as well as a feast for the table; the bounty of the season is enjoyed all over Tuscany at sagras that highlight the foods of the forest.  Truffles, mushrooms and chestnuts have starring roles in these home-spun food festivals.

Sagra derives from the term sacra festa.  What was once a religious feast is now an open-air party with great food, local wine, and amiable company.  We are sharing four of Tuscany’s best autumn festivals, which are in easy reach of Trust and Travel’s villas.

Sagra del Fungo e della Castagna – Vivo d’Orcia (Val d’Orcia)
Second and third weekends of October

Mushrooms and chestnuts are the featured foods of this festival in the beautiful Val d’Orcia.  The medieval hamlet of Vivo d’Orcia plays host to historical reenactments, an antique fair, and an exhibition of old world-style artisans crafting their wares.

A cornucopia of dishes utilizing the featured funghi and chestnuts take the humble ingredients to culinary heights.  An open-air market offers the forest-foraged foods and other products for sale in a lively setting. During the festa the town holds the Palio del Boscaiolo, or the woodsman’s competition.  The hamlet’s two districts choose six hardy men to compete in a battle of brawn.  They must use an old fashioned saw to cut a tree trunk into six seats and six wooden platters.  The first district to complete the task and sit down to eat polenta off the newly-hewn platters wins!

Sagra del Tordo – Montalcino
Last weekend of October

The “thrush festival” has ancient roots, dating back to Roman times when it was celebrated with tournaments, dancing and opulent banquets to highlight the hunt of the migratory bird.  Nowadays it features grilled, the local homemade pasta known as pici, and a medieval competition to test the townspeople’s archery skills. Montalcino’s four quartieri choose two representatives to compete for the treasured silver arrow.  The competition is preceded by elegantly-costumed parades and is capped off with a banquet inside the 13th century fortress.

Festa del Primo Olio – Montisi (Siena)
First weekend of November

The picture-perfect village of Montisi proudly plies the area’s green-gold olive oil to visitors and locals alike.  The first-pressed oil is featured in a variety of delicious regional dishes, which also highlight the area’s truffles and excellent wines. The town offers visits to olive oil mills to watch the pressing of the olives, and organizes a short course in oil tasting and wine tasting.  There is also a colorful market of artisan wares and local foods, along with music and entertainment to round out of the day and dance off some of the pasta.

Sagra del Tartufo Bianco – San Miniato (between Florence and Pisa)
Second, third, and fourth weekends of November

November brings crisp air and sharp smells to this pretty town in the gently rolling hills near Pisa.  The piazza is overwhelmed by the scent of the prized tuber, which is proffered at stands and used liberally in traditional local fare.  Heralded by the Slow Food organization as a “Citta’ Slow,” San Miniato is a historically important city at the crossroads of Pisa, Lucca and Florence.  The zone enjoys a naturally-conducive climate and geology for the growth of truffles, and one-quarter of Italy’s white truffles come from here.

Katharina's Italy