Summer – and there’s always something happening in Italy. It’s a country that loves a spectacle. Whether it’s an opulent outdoor opera concert, a lavish art retrospective in one of its many dazzling galleries or a city-wide cultural jamboree. Yes, this country likes to stage a bit of a do. And, all summer long, there’s no excuse for you not to join in the fun, soak up some culture, and live a little of that dolce vita. Here’s our list of top events taking place this season.
Villa Ada, Rome
Musicians from around the world play on a lakeside stage beneath the illuminated trees of the Villa Ada park. It all adds up to a beautifully atmospheric and relaxing summer festival, with food and drink on site, and lots of stuff for kids to do too.
L’ara Com’ere (The Ara Pacis as it was)
Until 30 October
Museo dell’Ara Pacis
This multi-medial tale fuses history and technology to create a fully immersive and multi-sensory experience of the Ara Pacis (a huge altar dedicated to Pax, the Roman Goddess of peace). People, nature, gods and animals are turned into 3D animations that tell the story of the origins of Rome and the Emperor Augustus’ family. Slap on a VR headset and travel back 2,000 years. A dizzying experience.
Piazzas, parks and palaces come alive in the summer in Rome, as the Roman Summer (Estate Romana) Festival sparks into life. Expect outdoor cinema, music from local heroes and visiting legends, food (of course) and cultural events. Many events are free.
Held in the ancient Roman theatre Ostia Antica, this heavy-hitting festival is as catholic as the country – in the breadth of its musical tastes, that is. So expect international acts of the calibre of Patti Smith, Jackson Browne, Morrissey and The Mars Volta. Theatre and dance acts also strongly represented.
mid June-mid Aug
If classical, chamber and choral music is more your thing, head to this well-respected symphonic and operatic music festival, which takes place in the Renaissance splendour of the courtyard of Sant’Ivo alla Sapienza, in Rome’s medieval university.
mid June-mid Aug
This Latin American-themed festival sees a summer of performances by Latin American bands, singers and dancers. With four dancefloors, scores of restaurants and stalls… and lots of salsa this is a joyous celebration of the links between Italy and South America.
Ferie Delle Messi
Travel back in time to celebrate the traditional Ferie Messum, a festival that dates back to 1255. The four “Contrade” (quarters) of the town – San Giovanni, San Matteo, Castello and Piazza – compete against each other singing, dancing, tug of war-ing, archery and the “Giostra dei Bastioni” where knights compete against each other armed with sticks! It’s very Italian, a thrilling event quite unlike any other. And the town itself is beautiful.
The medieval streets of Peccioli will be filled with artists, musicians, performers and bewitched onlookers, with music in the central square, fireworks and local food and drink stalls throughout the town.
Pistoia Blues Festival
This venerable blues fest has been going for 37 years, and shows no sign of mellowing with age. Rock, rhythm and blues concerts held in the stunning Piazza del Duomo, with the Cathedral as a memorable backdrop. Expect big name acts and local artists giving them a run for their money.
Lucca Summer Festival
A sprawling, life-affirming and everyone’s welcome kind of festival, Lucca pulls out all the stops for its annual fest. Big names (Tom Jones/Neil Young/Lionel Richie) are drawn to this well-respected bash, but there’s lots of fun for little ones too in this family-friendly affair in the heart of the city.
Jazz and Wine
Can there be a better pairing than sweet jazz and even sweeter summer wine? The town of Montalcino celebrates its fabulous home-grown wine – Brunello, with Jazz & Wine – world class jazz musicians playing in the vineyards of the Castello Banfi wine estate.
One of Italy’s most enjoyable arts festivals sees the pretty Florentine village of Certaldo transform itself into one huge, thrilling open-air theatre as giants, fairies, acrobats, minstrels and a host of enchanted creatures perform in nooks and crannies, performing aerial dance moves, and generally making your jaws drop. It’s street theatre at its most fantastical. Don’t miss it.
Musica Neglli Horti
It moves around, but this year it’s taking place in the beautiful Valdorcia region, and its UNESCO preserved little villages – and it’s well worth hunting down for its programme of concerts, culinary delights, cooking lessons and local folklore.
13 May to 26 Nov 2017
Art, architecture, cinema, dance – there’s not much the Biennale doesn’t scoop into its cultural orbit. If you plan on catching a lot of what’s on offer, buying a Biennial Card might be the smartest move you can make. The heart of the proceedings, the 57th Art Biennial features 87 international participants. The one not to miss is Damien Hirst: Treasures From the Wreck of the Unbelievable, which cost the artist £50 million to create – it’s a collection of gleaming gold, crystal and marble sculptures, mysterious artefacts as big as a gallery and coral-encrusted weapons, lost in a storm five thousand years ago, and recovered from the bottom of the ocean (or so Hirst’s story goes). (Palazzo Grassi and Punta della Dogana until 3 December).
The Four Seasons Mystery Show in Venice
May – September 2017
This new show tells the story of both the man and the artist Antonio Vivaldi, The Red Priest, a visionary genius ahead of his time. Innovative technologies combine large HD images, multi-directional sound and scent effect, enhancing the beauty of the Sant’Apollinare Complex.
Fete de la Musique
Musicians take to the stage (or the street, or the square, or the courtyard, or the alleyway…) in this fantastic celebration of culture in the squares, streets and parks of Bezzecca. It’s a celebration of the summer solstice, and it’s a night you really won’t want to end.
Garda Jazz Festival
Around Riva del Garda
29 July – 13 August
Two weeks of fine, mellow jazz floods the shores of lake Garda – the perfect backdrop for some of the world’s finest jazz interpreters.
Sherlock Holmes on the Lake
Riva del Garda
Open air theatre, concerts and guided ‘promenade’ style performances culminating in a spectacular firework show on the lakefront at Riva del Garda. These summer fêtes are always a great time to visit the lakes.
Opera lovers, this one’s for you. The renowned Festival Puccini is dedicated to some of the Giacomo Puccini’s greatest operas, including Tosca, Madama Butterfly, La Bohème, Turandot and many others, performed in an open-air stage right on the coast (main pic). Sheer bliss on a summer’s evening.
Homage to Maria Callas
Lake Garda pays homage to great singer – who, in turn, loved the Italian Lakes (she kept a villa here) – in a series of concerts, all with free admission.