Photo ©Bernardo Conde
Beyond beaches and bathing suits
Top 10 annual summer events in Tuscany

By the time summer in Tuscany rolls around, most residents and visitors make a beeline for the coastline, seeking refuge from big crowds and blazing temperatures. Truth be told, though, you’ll find both of those things beachside, too. Beyond this conundrum, there are plenty of exciting reasons to stay put in the landlocked cities (or take part in something in a beach town that doesn’t require putting on a swimsuit). Summer is a vibrant season in the region with food festivals, folkloric rituals, historical re-enactments and much more. Here are some highlights to look forward to, year after year.

Calcio storico and San Giovanni celebrations in Florence

Calcio storico fiorentino, or historic Florentine football, is one of Florence’s most quintessential – if bizarre – rituals. An amalgamation of rugby, football, and general roughhousing among giant athletes, it’s steeped in neighborhood pride and history-centered pageantry. Color-coded teams from each of Florence’s historic districts (the Whites of Santo Spirito, the Reds of Santa Maria Novella, the Greens of San Giovanni and the Blues of Santa Croce) face off against each other in preliminary matches throughout the month of June. The climactic final is one of the cornerstones of June 24 celebrations fort he Feast Day of San Giovanni (Saint John the Baptist), Florence’s patron saint. (A post-match highlight is the spectacular fireworks show from Piazzale Michelangelo, which you can watch from the lungarni down below). Info: 

The Palio di Siena

The first two iconic Tuscan events in this list are not exactly for the faint of heart! The Palio di Siena is the Florentine “rival city’s” most emblematic event, a horse race featured in numerous films; its venue is the cinematic Piazza del Campo which adds a heightened level of drama to the proceedings. Taking place every year on July 2 and August 16, the Palio’s roots go back as far as the 11th century, when the race was first launched to celebrate Saint Mary of the Assumption as protectress of the city in their conflicts with the Florentines. Racers (besides the horses themselves) represent the various contrade, or historic neighborhoods of the city. Can’t manage to snag even a nosebleed seat? Siena in summertime is still worth a visit; you’ll be able to enjoy related events and plenty of Palio-centered pomp and circumstance even if you can’t watch the race itself. Info:

Mercantia in Certaldo

Certaldo is a Tuscan gem that’s rarely on most tourists’ radars, despite its world-famous onions, its ties to the Italian literary great Giovanni Boccaccio, its rustic medieval division into upper and lower towns and, finally, its world-class medieval-style theatre and arts festival, Mercantia, which has now run for over 30 editions. Dedicated to the concept of the “fourth theatre” – mostly street performance, specifically – Mercantia is a feast for the senses, filled with costumed creatures, sights and sounds to delight the young and the young at heart. Dozens of shows take place every night throughout its run, spanning circus and music to traditional and not-so-traditional theatre. Info:

Lucca Summer festival

Musical greats past and present take the stage at this top-of-the-line concert series, which in past editions has featured such giants as Lenny Kravitz, Van Morrison, the Rolling Stones, Natalie Cole, Bob Dylan, David Bowie and myriad others. Most concerts of Lucca Summer Festival take place in the tree-lined piazza Napoleone, one of the charming city’s main squares and a hub of activity and social life year-round. Some of the most prestigious performances, however, have even taken place along Lucca’s historic walls (a must-visit monument while you’re in town). Info:

White Carrara Downtown

A rich programme of initiatives and events “for all tastes in marble” in the name of art, culture and “Made in Carrara” food and wine.  Music, visual art, sculptural installations and quality gourmet food and drinks come together to create a lively show which has a line-up of international artists performing until late at night, making the marble vibrate with the bass and loudspeakers. Info:

Montepulciano: Bravio delle Botti

Recalling Florence’s calcio storico rituals in some ways (or perhaps just one – through the super-strong, rough-and-tumble athletes), Montepulciano’s Bravio delle Botti is a 1.8km barrel race like nothing you’ve ever seen. Competitively speaking, just consider it Montepulciano’s take on the Palio. Athletes representing (you guessed it) the town’s historic neighborhoods train for months in advance to push heavy barrels up twisting cobblestone streets, ultimately ending up in piazza Grande. Surprisingly, the origins of this race are relatively recent in the land of the Renaissance: it “only” goes back to the 1970s. Info: 

Calici di stelle

In Tuscany, you never run out of excuses to raise your glass. Calici di Stelle is an annual, Italy-wide wine event that coincides with the peak of the Perseids meteor shower, typically marked on the Night of San Lorenzo (Saint Lawrence) around Italy (the sky is said to be filled with the martyr’s “tears”.) For the occasion, wineries all over Tuscany open up for tastings, tours and toast-worthy parties against the balmy backdrop of summer. Info:

Cortona on the Move

A photography festival for the ages, Cortona on the Move has considerable international clout, having hosted top-tier artists from around the world for many summers now. Temporary exhibitions by both established and emerging photographers run throughout the summer (July and August, with some extending into the fall), and are set up not just in the festival’s main venues but in various side streets and corners of the city. Exhibitions are hardly static: many of the featured artists come to town for talks and even portfolio reviews, an extraordinary opportunity for budding or beginner photographers. Info:

Bolgheri Festival

Chianti who? Bolgheri Festival is a broadly defined celebration of one of Tuscany’s less widely-known wine production areas, featuring a rich program of concerts and artistic events from top Italian and international names. It typically takes place over the last few days of July and first half of August and, apart from bringing mega-musicians to the stage, it encourages participants and concertgoers to get out and explore the area, enjoying nature and sipping the DOC wines Info:

Festambiente in the Maremma

Green-focused and family-friendly, the Festambiente is where sustainability takes center stage. An initiative of the Italian environmental advocacy organization Legambiente, the festival is hardly dry or just for “hippies” – instead it highlights the joy found in protecting and loving our planet through a range of activities and events appropriate for all ages. Organic markets, concerts, nature excursions and more ensure that you get the most you can out of the wild Maremma region while you’re there – this event typically takes place against the stunning setting of the Natural Park of the Maremma (Rispescia, GR). Info: