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Heads up: the carnival in Viareggio is one of the biggest in Italy
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What to do in Tuscany in 2019

By Tuscan Guru

JANUARY

Palio di Buti

20 January 2019

Visiting too early in the year to catch the famous Palio di Siena? Try this alternative in Buti, near Pisa (facebook.com/paliodibuti). They may not have a shell-shaped piazza, but the main streets serve just as well for this version of the ancient urban horse race. Seven jockeys compete, bearing the colours of the flags of the different districts, or contrade, of the town they represent. As in Siena, it’s a colourful and protracted event, with a procession on the Sunday before the race, lead by the winning contrada from the previous year, a mass held at a different contrada church each night of the preceding week, and, finally, the event itself.

FEBRUARY

Carnevale di Viareggio

9 February-5 March 2019

More than half a million take to the streets of Viareggio in February to join in one of Italy’s, if not Europe’s, biggest carnivals (they even broadcast it on national TV). The month-long party (viareggio.ilcarnevale.com) begins at the final boom of a triple cannon salute with a procession of floats bearing giant papier-mâché caricatures. In true carnival style, they satirise famous faces, not least from the world of politics – surely Matteo Salvini will be a star this year. Check out the pyrotechnic displays on the beach and you won’t have to go far to find dancing into the night on the streets of this seaside resort.

An ancient ritual is performed in Pitigliano for spring equinox. Photo: Giuseppe Trogu

MARCH

Torciata di San Giuseppe

19 March 2019

For a truly atmospheric take on the spring equinox, head to the medieval town of Pitigliano in Grosseto to see the Torciata di San Giuseppe (pitigliano.org/eventi/torciata-di-san-giuseppe). As dark descends, the local men turn out in suitably shadowy long, hooded tunics and process through the town bearing reeds on their shoulders. When they reach the main square, the bushels are set alight and used to ignite the l’invernacciu, a gigantic straw figure that is burned to represent the end of winter, and the men dance around it, hand in hand. In an olden-style act of recycling, the next morning local women gather the ashes from the fire and scatter them around the fields to encourage a good harvest.

APRIL

Easter celebrations

18-22 April 2019

Everything stops for Easter in Italy and you’ll be able to experience how the Tuscans observe this highlight of the Christian calendar anywhere in the region during Holy Week (Settimana Santa), Good Friday (Venerdi Santo), Easter Sunday (Pasqua) and Easter Monday (Pasquetta). Among the events to add to your holiday itinerary is the dramatic re-enactment of Christ bearing his crucifix through the streets at the Processione dei Crocioni at Castiglione di Garfagnana at 9pm on Holy Thursday. On Good Friday, the Passion of Christ (catgrassina.org) is performed by a cast of 500 in Grassina near Florence at 8.30pm, culminating in a procession to the final crucifixion scene on a hill. On Easter Sunday, the Scoppio del Carro, or Explosion of the Cart, takes place in front of the Duomo at 10am, read our story about it here. Finally, why not let the kids loose for an Easter Egg hunt on Easter Monday amid the fun sculptures at the Parco Pinocchio at Collodi (pinocchio.it).

May marks the 500th anniversary of the death of Tuscan-born Leonardo da Vinci

MAY

500th anniversary of da Vinci’s death

2 May 2019

May 2019 marks the 500th anniversary of Leonardo da Vinci’s death. Special events are still under wraps at the time of writing, but you can create your own trail dedicated to the Renaissance polymath. Start with a trip to the Uffizi Gallery (uffizi.it) in Florence, the city where he lived and worked for many years, to see a new room to house his paintings – now contained in climate-controlled cases – that opened in 2018, including the Baptism of Christ and the Adoration of the Magi. A good tip for families is a trip to the Museo Leonardiano (museoleonardiano.it) at the Castello dei Conti Guidi in Vinci, which has a fascinating collection of more than 80 models of his futuristic machines, faithfully recreated from his drawings. Nearby in Anchiano, you can visit the house where he was born, and see more paintings at Villa del Ferrale.

JUNE

Luminara di San Ranieri

16 June 2019

See Pisa come alight at the Luminara di San Ranieri (comune.pisa.it), when 70,000 candles are hung along the banks and set upon the waters of the river Arno. The event is held to honour St Ranieri, the city’s patron saint, a travelling minstrel who devoted his life to Christianity and was said to have the power to perform miracles. Join the crowds and enjoy Pisa by candlelight and see the huge fireworks display that is launched from the old citadel. Find out more by reading our story here.

Watch Puccini’s ‘Turandot’ at the annual festival of his work. Photo: Giorgio Andreuccetti

JULY

Puccini Festival

12 July-24 August 2019

Opera lovers from around the world descend on the huge outdoor auditorium at Puccini’s villa at Torre del Lago in July. The grand lakeside estate is the setting for an annual festival dedicated to the late composer (puccinifestival.it). The 65th edition offers a comprehensive programme of Puccini’s works, including performances of Turandot, La Bohème, Madame Butterfly, Aida, Manon Lescaut, Tosca and Le Villi. (If you want to brush up on the maestro’s operas, read our bluffer’s guide here by Puccini expert Adrian Mourby.) Also, be sure to visit the museum in the villa and stroll through the grounds to see the contemporary works by sculptors such as Pietro Cascella, Jean-Michel Folon and Kan Yasuda.

AUGUST

Palio di Siena

16 August 2019

It’s the big one. The world-famous Il Palio dominates life in Siena in summer, with not one but two horseraces to watch in the medieval Piazza del Campo (the first is on 2 July 2019). Jockeys sporting the colours of their district of the city, or contrada, battle it out to clear the finishing line first, cheered on by hundreds of spectators. Find out more about Il Palio (ilpalio.org) by reading our story here or our interview with photographer Greg Funnell about his experience of shooting the event.

SEPTEMBER

Harvest festivals

Throughout the month

Chestnuts, walnuts, olives, whatever the produce, the Tuscans celebrate plucking it from the soil with a sagra. Come harvest time, the roadside posters go up for these local food festivals with an open invitation to all. It’s a great way to meet the locals and try the fruits of their labour (how many ways can you cook a chestnut – you’ll soon find out) and also contribute a few euros to local fundraising efforts. This is also the time of the vendemmia, when the grapes are picked. Many cellars throw open their doors for tastings and one of the main regional wine festivals, Expo del Chianti Classico (expochianticlassico.com), takes place from 5 to 8 September in 2019.

Chianti’s roads become a cycling course for the original Eroica. Photo: Marka/Alamy

OCTOBER

L’Eroica

6 October 2019

The original and now much-copied L’Eroica (eroicagaiole.com) takes place in Gaiole in Chianti this month. This annual vintage cycling event sees participants turn out in retro attire on road bikes built before 1987 to tackle Tuscany’s famous white gravel roads, the strade bianche, on routes from 32km to 209km in length, starting and finishing in Gaiole. Along the way, there are food and wine stops – you read that right, tables laden with bread, cheese, salami and even cups of Chianti. There are now 10 Eroica events around the world, including Britain and the Netherlands. In 2014, To Tuscany invited the writer Ellie Ross to take part in L’Eroica – you can read her story here.

NOVEMBER

San Miniato White Truffle Fair

Last three weekends of the month

They may not enjoy the same fame as the Alba truffle of Piedmont, yet Tuscany’s white truffle, tartufo bianco, is similarly prized. Autumn is the moment when white truffles are unearthed in the hills around the medieval village of San Miniato (san-miniato.com), near Pisa, and on the last three weekends of November, you can taste slivers of the pricey tuber and even try your hand at truffle hunting at this festival in its honour.

Try Tuscany’s famous white truffle at San Miniato. Photo: Shutterstock

DECEMBER

Treno Natura

Early December 2019

All aboard Treno Natura (ferrovieturistiche.it) for a journey back in time. A trip on this steam train is a treat in itself, as it puffs its way out of Siena and deep into the Tuscan countryside, often bound for a festival or fair. Check out the timetable for December and buy a ticket to ride to the Festa dell’Olio Novo at San Quirico d’Orcia (lafestadellolio.com/the-olive-oil-festival). At this celebration of extra virgin olive oil you can sample the produce of the surrounding groves and enjoy some impromptu performances by jugglers, fire-eaters and musicians, too.

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