Month by Month
Settimana Santa, March–April
La Biennale di Venezia, May–November
Estate Romana, June–October
Il Palio di Siena, July & August
Truffle Season, November
Following hot on the heels of New Year is Epiphany. In the Alps and Dolomites it's ski season, while in the Mediterranean south winters are mild and crowd-free, although many resort towns are firmly shut.
Regata della Befana
Witches in Venice don't ride brooms: they row boats. Venice celebrates Epiphany on 6 January with the Regatta of the Witches, complete with a fleet of brawny men dressed in their finest befana (witch) drag.
Italy's top ski resorts are in the northern Alps and the Dolomites, but you'll also find resorts in Friuli, the Apennines, Le Marche and even Sicily. The best months of the season are January and February.
'Short' and 'accursed' is how Italians describe February. In the mountains the ski season hits its peak in line with school holidays. Further south it's chilly, but almond trees blossom and herald the carnival season.
In the period leading up to Ash Wednesday, many Italian towns stage pre-Lenten carnivals, with whimsical costumes, confetti and festive treats. Venice's Carnevale (www.carnevale.venezia.it) is the most famous, while Viareggio's version (htpp://viareggio.ilcarnevale.com) is well known for its giant papier-mâché floats.
An early-spring taste of truffles in the gastronomic Umbrian town of Norcia, this fair usually runs over two to three weekends in late February and early March. Thousands of visitors sift through booths focusing on all things fungi, alongside other speciality produce.
Masqueraded horse riders, fearless equestrian acrobatics, and grandly costumed drummers and trumpeters define this historic event (www.sartiglia.info), held in the Sardinian town of Oristano on the last Sunday before Lent and on Shrove Tuesday.
The weather in March is capricious: sunny, rainy and windy all at once. The official start of spring is 21 March, but the holiday season starts at Easter.
The Pope leads a candlelit procession to the Colosseum on Good Friday and gives the Easter message and blessing from St Peter's Square on Easter Sunday. Fireworks explode in Florence's Piazza del Duomo, with notable processions taking place in Procida and Sorrento (Campania), Taranto (Puglia), Trapani (Sicily) and Iglesias (Sardinia).
For three days in March, gourmands flock to Florence for Taste (www.pittimmagine.com), a bustling food fair held inside industrial-sleek Stazione Leopolda. The program includes culinary-themed talks, cooking demonstrations and the chance to sample food, coffee and liquor from more than 300 Italian artisan producers.
Spring has sprung and April sees the Italian peninsula bloom. The gardens of northern Italy show off their tulips and early camellias, and as April edges towards May, the mountains of Sicily and Calabria begin to fill with wildflowers.
Salone Internazionale del Mobile
Held annually in Milan, the world's most prestigious furniture fair is held at Fiera Milano, with satellite exhibitions in Zona Tortona. Running alongside it is the Fuorisalone (www.fuorisalone.it), serving up design-related exhibits, events and parties across the city.
Settimana del Tulipano
Tulips erupt in spectacular bloom during the Week of the Tulip, held at Lago Maggiore's Villa Taranto in Verbania; the dahlia path and dogwood are also in bloom in what is considered one of Europe's finest botanical gardens.
Maggio Musicale Fiorentino
Established in 1933, Italy's oldest art festival brings world-class performances of theatre, classical music, jazz, opera and dance to Florence's opera house and other venues across the city.
Runners from around the world flock to Italy's mythical Cinque Terre for this challenging 47km race along a cliff-edge trail past terraced vineyards and iconic villages. Wine tastings and other events inspired by the area's famed Sciacchetrà wine are an integral part of the weekend.
The month of roses, early summer produce and cultural festivals makes May a perfect time to travel. The weather is warm but not too hot, and prices throughout Italy are good value. An especially good month for walkers.
Maggio dei Monumenti
As the weather warms up, Naples rolls out a mammoth, month-long program of art exhibitions, concerts, performances and tours around the city. Many historical and architectural treasures usually off-limits to the public are open and free to visit.
Festa di Sant’Efisio
Sardinians and visitors alike pack out Cagliari to celebrate the town's patron saint during the ticketed Festa di Sant’Efisio.
Wine & The City
A 10-day celebration of regional vino in Naples, with free wine degustations, aperitivo sessions and cultural events in venues as diverse as museums and castles, art galleries, boutiques and restaurants.
Corsa dei Ceri
This centuries-old race in the Umbrian town of Gubbio celebrates the town's patron saint with a three-team, statue-lugging race of gigantic proportions through the medieval Corsa dei Ceri.
Milan dedicates a long weekend to extraordinary piano concerts held in the city’s museums, courtyards, stations, parks and markets. Classical music aside, ears are also treated to jazz, rock and world music tunes. Book tickets early.
Ciclo di Rappresentazioni Classiche
Ancient intrigue in an evocative Sicilian setting, the Festival of Greek Theatre brings Syracuse's 5th-century-BC amphitheatre to life with performances from Italy's acting greats.
La Biennale di Venezia
Europe’s premier arts showcase is actually held annually, though the spotlight alternates between art (odd-numbered years) and architecture (even-numbered years). Running alongside the two main events are annual showcases of dance, theatre, cinema and music.
The summer season kicks off in June. The temperature cranks up quickly, lidi (beaches) start to open in earnest and some of the big summer festivals commence. Republic Day, on 2 June, is a national holiday.
Napoli Teatro Festival Italia
Naples celebrates all things performative with one month of theatre, dance and literary events. Using both conventional and unconventional venues, the festival program ranges from classic works to specially commissioned pieces from both local and international talent.
Held in the Umbrian hill town of Spoleto, the Spoleto Festival is a world-renowned arts event, serving up 17 days of international theatre, opera, dance, music and art.
Giostra del Saracino
A grandiose affair deep-rooted in neighbourhood rivalry, this medieval jousting tournament sees each quartiere (quarter) of Arezzo put forward a team of knights to battle on one of Tuscany's most beautiful and unusual city squares, Piazza Grande; third Saturday in June and first Sunday in September.
School is out and Italians everywhere are heading away from the cities and to mountains or beaches for their summer holidays. Prices and temperatures rise. While the beach is in full swing, many cities host summer art festivals.
Il Palio di Siena
Daredevils in tights thrill the crowds with this chaotic bareback horse race around Siena's world-famous medieval piazza. Preceding the race is a dashing medieval-costume parade.
Perched high above the Amalfi Coast, Ravello draws world-renowned artists during its eponymous festival, and covers everything from music and dance to film and art exhibitions. Several events take place in the beautiful gardens of Villa Rufolo.
Rome puts on a summer calendar of events that turn the city into an outdoor stage. Dubbed Estate Romana, the program encompasses music, dance, literature and film, with events staged in some of Rome's most evocative venues.
Taormina Film Fest
Sagra della Madonna della Bruna
A week-long celebration (www.festadellabruna.it) of Matera's patron saint that culminates on 2 July with a colourful procession that sees the Madonna della Bruna escorted around town in a papier-mâché-adorned chariot. The chariot is ultimately torn to pieces by the crowd, who take home the scraps as souvenirs.
Festa di Sant'Anna
The Campanian island of Ischia celebrates the feast day of Sant'Anna to spectacular effect. Local municipalities build competing floats to sail in a flotilla, with spectacular fireworks and a symbolic 'burning' of Ischia Ponte's medieval Castello Aragonese.
Giffoni Film Festival
Europe's biggest children’s film festival (www.giffonifilmfestival.it) livens up the town of Giffoni Valle Piana, east of Salerno, Campania. The nine-day event includes screenings, workshops, seminars and big-name Italian and international guests.
Lungo il Tevere
Nightly crowds converge on the river Tiber for this popular summer-long event in the capital: food stalls, clubs, bars, restaurants, cinemas, even dance floors, line the river bank as Rome's nightlife goes alfresco.
Music lovers head to the flanks of Sicily's Mount Etna in July for the island's three-week Alkantara Fest, a celebration of folk and world sounds.
Ortigia Sound System
One of Sicily's top music festivals, Ortigia Sound System on Syracuse ushers in five days of electronica by top-tier Italian and international artists at venues island-wide.
August in Italy is hot, expensive and crowded. Everyone is on holiday, and while not everything is shut, many businesses and restaurants do close for part of the month.
After Christmas and Easter, Ferragosto, on 15 August, is Italy's biggest holiday. It marks the Feast of the Assumption, but even before Christianity the Romans honoured their gods on Feriae Augusti. Naples celebrates with particular fervour.
Venice International Film Festival
The Venice International Film Festival is one of the world's most prestigious silver-screen events. Held at the Lido from late August to early September, it draws the international film glitterati with its red-carpet premieres and paparazzi glamour.
This is a glorious month to travel in Italy. Summer warmth lingers in much of the country and the start of the harvest season sees lots of local sagre (food festivals) spring up. September is also the start of the grape harvest.
Corsa degli Zingari
Each year on the first weekend in September, the Corsa degli Zingari sees hundreds of hardy (crazy?) barefoot runners race along sharp, stony mountain paths around the Abruzzo village of Pacentro – as has been the case for the last 550-odd years.
Festival delle Sagre
On the second Saturday and Sunday in September more than 40 communes in the Piedmontese province of Asti put their wines and local gastronomic products on display at this appetite-piquing, waist-expanding culinary fest (www.festivaldellesagre.it).
In early September, gondoliers in period dress work those biceps in Venice's Historic Regatta. Period boats are followed by gondola and other boat races along the Grand Canal.
Expo del Chianti Classico
There is no finer opportunity to taste Tuscany's Chianti Classico than at the annual Chianti Classico Expo, in Greve in Chianti on the second weekend in September. All of the major producers are represented, with supporting events including musical performances.
Venice Glass Week
This Venetian festival showcases the work of Murano's finest glass-blowers. The week-long event also offers visitors a peek into what were previously off-limits furnaces.
Cremona is Italy's violin-making capital and the city celebrates music for string instruments with this month-long event. It's organised by Cremona's Museo del Violino.
The Sicilian town of San Vito Lo Capo celebrates multiculturalism and its famous fish couscous at this colourful six-day food fest. Highlights include an international couscous cook-off, tastings and live world-music gigs.
October is a fabulous time to visit the south, when the days still radiate with late-summer warmth and the lidi (beaches) are emptying. Further north the temperature starts to drop and festival season comes to an end.
Top international artists take to the stage for Rome's premier festival of theatre, opera and dance. Performances are held at numerous venues across the city.
Salone del Gusto & Terre Madre
Hosted by the home-grown Slow Food Movement, this biennial food expo takes place in Turin in even-numbered years. Held over five days, mouthwatering events include workshops, presentations and tastings of food, wine and beer from Italy and beyond.
Over a million chocoholics pour into Perugia for the city's 10-day celebration of the cocoa bean. The festival includes exhibitions and chocolate sculptures, cooking classes and no shortage of free samples.
Scale del Gusto
Ragusa's squares, streets and Unesco-listed buildings otherwise shut to the public become evocative settings for this three-day celebration of irresistible Sicilian food.
Winter creeps down the peninsula in November, but there's still plenty going on. For gastronomes, this is truffle season. It's also the time for the chestnut harvest, mushroom picking and All Saints' Day.
Celebrated all over Italy as a national holiday, All Saints' Day on 1 November commemorates all the saints, while All Souls' Day, on 2 November, is set aside to honour the deceased.
Italy is home to four of the world's great opera houses: La Scala (Milan), La Fenice (Venice), Teatro San Carlo (Naples) and Teatro Massimo (Palermo). The season traditionally runs from mid-October to March, although La Scala opens on St Ambrose Day (7 December).
From the Piedmontese towns of Alba (www.fieradeltartufo.org) and Asti, to Tuscany's San Miniato and Le Marche's Acqualagna, November is prime truffle time, with local truffle fairs, events and music.
The days of alfresco living are firmly at an end. December is cold and Alpine resorts start to open for the early ski season, although looming Christmas festivities keep life warm and bright.
The weeks preceding Christmas are studded with religious events. Many churches set up nativity scenes known as presepi. Naples is especially famous for these. On Christmas Eve the Pope serves midnight mass in St Peter's Square.
The Weihnachtsmarkt in Merano, actually runs from late November through to Epiphany (6 January) and is one of Italy's best Christmas markets: live music, ice skating, stalls selling roasted chestnuts, mulled wine and other seasonal treats.