Italy is a country that can boast a wealth of festivals throughout the year. Holidaymakers can almost guarantee that there will always be some sort of event taking place, no matter when they visit. Puglia is no exception. Many of the festivals here take place outdoors, thanks to the wonderfully mild climate that the Puglia region enjoys all year round. So, take a seat and enjoy our breakdown of our favourite festivals in Puglia by month.
February in Italy is the month of the carnevale. Whilst there is no denying that Venice is home to the most famous of Italy’s carnivals, one of Italy’s oldest carnivals is the one held in Putignano in Puglia which is believed to have been running since 1394. However the carnival here only came to resemble the modern event it is today during the Fascist era when street parades started to come into fashion.
These days, events actually start as early as 26 December when the residents of Putignano attend church to ask for forgiveness in advance for any sins they may commit during the carnival period! From then on, every Thursday, costumed balls and parties are held for the adults, counting down the passage towards Lent. However, it’s actually only on the last three Sundays of the event when the famous processions actually take place.
On these three Sundays, you’ll find children running through the streets dressed in their favourite costumes, streets lined with stalls selling delicious street food and ornately decorated floats up to 50 feet high processing through the town. The floats are usually carrying giant caricatures of politicians and TV personalities, with the aim of satirising current affairs or political events, with prizes awarded for the best entries. And of course, all this is accompanied by plenty of dancers and loud music. You’ll also meet the carnival’s main character, a jester named Farinella, whose name derives from a typical local fish dish made with barley and garbanzo beans.
The celebrations finally draw to a close on Shrove Tuesday with Martedi Grasso (the Mardi Gras) when events take a very different feel. On this day, tthere is a funeral procession with masked ‘priests’ leading a papier-mache sacrificial pig to Putignano’s main square where it is subsequently burned. The last minutes of the carnival are then marked by the tolling of the Campana dei Maccheroni bells. These ring 365 times to signify each of the days of the year.
Want to see the Putignano carnival for yourself? Then why not stay in this stunning trullo in Alberobello, just 15 minutes drive from the heart of Putignano.
It’s not long to wait until the next celebrations in Puglia. Father’s Day is celebrated throughout Italy on 19 March. This is to coincide with the Festa di San Giuseppe, marked throughout the Puglia region by the lighting of bonfires.
The festival season starts to step up a gear towards the end of April, kicked off by Non solo Fiera in Martina Franca in the last week of April which celebrates the very best of the local food and wine in this part of Puglia. Opt to stay in this stunning Puglia trullo just outside Martina Franca if you fancy attending.
And April is also a great month for sporting enthusiasts since it’s also when the Gargano Running and Trekking week takes place. This attracts runners from all over Italy and even further afield. The event offers a range of different length trails over a range of landscapes – coast, hills and forests – as well as a host of different challenges from a more basic 15 km course to overnight mini vertical races to a longer trekking challenge, divided up into 3 stages each 30 km in length. It also includes the Gastro Run which works its way through local olive mills.
At the beginning of May in Bari, there is La Festa di San Nicola. This event attracts thousands of pilgrims from all over the world. During the festival, a large statue of Saint Nicholas is carried by sea along the coast and back again by a colourful flotilla. The event culminates in an impressive fireworks display.
At the same time in Taranto, there is the Festa di San Cataldo which takes place on the canal in the centre of the the town. Celebrations include a rowing competition and procession and, as with so many of Puglia’s festivals, it is topped off with a fireworks display.
And then, towards the end of May, there are celebrations in Parabita in Southern Puglia to mark the Matonna ta Cutura (Feast of the Madonna of Cultivation). According to legend, whilst ploughing his fields, a farmer once discovered an image of the Virgin Mary and Child on a stone. Excited, he ran with it to the village. The next day, the residents of the village went to the church to pray in front of the stone only to find that it had disappeared and had somehow miraculously returned to the place in which it was found. The modern day celebrations mark this event at noon on a Sunday when the curraturi (runners) in effect reenact the running of the farmer all those years ago as part of a race called La Gara del Chilometro (the race of the kilometre). They drop in front of the Madonna under the Gate of Gallipoli, one of the three gates of the city’s walls. Festivities and celebrations also include the lighting up of the church and streets and culminate with fireworks. A nice base for your holiday in Puglia if you fancy joining in the celebrations in Parabita is Masseria Luci, a stunning 3 bedroom Puglia villa about 30 minutes drive away near Maglie.
As we move into June, the focus turns much more from religion to music. Throughout the month, Bari hosts a variety of jazz concerts. However, these aren’t necessarily confined to Bari alone but instead take place in many other towns and cities throughout the Puglia region.
There is also plenty to be enjoyed this month for any foodies amongst you. First, there is the Truffle Food Festival in Corigliano d’Otranto where tempting food stands literally fill the central streets of the town. The city also plays host to San Pietro e Paolo later in the month when visitors to the city will enjoy the opportunity to sample numerous local delicacies as well as enjoy the colourful Salento folklore. But let’s not forget the other important event that takes place in June – the Negroamaro Wine Festival in Brindisi – where the famous Negroamaro wine made in Puglia will be sipped and enjoyed against the stunning backdrop of the city.
And finally, we must also mention Buongiorno Ceramica right at the very start of June. This is actually not an event confined to Puglia but is instead a nationwide 3 day event celebrating Italy’s ceramic tradition. In Puglia, the most notable celebrations are to be found in Laterza and Grottaglie.
Following the jazz events in Puglia in June, the emphasis on music continues into July. The Festival della Valle d’Itria is an extremely popular classical music festival in Puglia. The programme of events is always prestigious and, without fail, includes a number of high profile artists. As a result, tickets get snapped up pretty quickly so if you are interested in going, we recommend you head to the website as early as possible to book your seats! The event normally runs across July and the beginning of August in Martina Franca.
For classical music lovers, it’s also worth heading to Cisternino across the Summer months. In July and August, the town plays host to the popular Aperitivo Classico. We think this is one of the most charming music events in Puglia. Held every Sunday at noon in the Piazza Vittorio Emanuele, live classical music is performed to accompany that most classic of Italian traditions – the aperitivo.
For both these events, choose a Puglia holiday rental in the Valle d’Itria so that you’re within the heart of the events. A couple of our favourites are Villa Miracolo, a 4 bedroom villa near Ostuni and Villa Lilly, a stylish 3 bedroom villa in the Valle d’Itria.
There are plenty of jazz festivals this month too including the Locomotive Jazz Festival at the end of July and the Otranto Jazz Festival also held in the Summer months. And in Locorotondo across July and August, there is the Locus Music Festival. The event includes numerous jazz, blues, progressive, electronic and world music concerts from an impressive line-up of musicians from all over the world along with a range of meetings and exhibitions, all in the beauty of the Valle d’Itria.
One of the prettiest festivals in the region this month though has to be the Alberobello Light Festival. This takes place across July and August and is when Alberobello’s historic old centre is illuminated. In 2016, to make the 25th anniversary of Van Gogh’s death, Alberobello’s fabulous trulli were illuminated with hundreds of stars to remember one of Van Gogh’s most well known works ‘Starry Night’. There’s no better place to stay in Alberobello than Trullo Natalia, a stunning trullo in Alberobello.
Lights then feature again in La Festa di Santa Domenica. In July, the little town of Scorrano near Otranto literally lights up in celebration of their patron saint, Santa Domenica. Local craftsmen create fantastic structures festooned with colourful lights and, again, the event culminates in an impressive firework display lighting up the night sky yet further.
Other events in July include La Festa di Santa Cristina each July in Gallipoli when there is a rowing regatta and other events to celebrate the town’s patron saint.
On 15 August each year, Santa Maria di Leuca in Puglia hosts La Festa della Madonna di Leuca during which the Madonna of Leuca is carried through the streets of the town in a fantastic evening procession. The parade culminates in a spectacular fireworks display at midnight. Opt to stay in this luxury villa in Puglia, perched on the cliffside in Santa Maria di Leuca and you’ll enjoy prime position for the fireworks!
More fireworks follow as part of a different festival – Sagra Pirotecnica della Valle d’Itria – in Locorotondo. This is a massively popular annual event with tens of thousands of spectators (both locals and tourists) coming to watch the impressive nighttime display. It doesn’t start until midnight but we can definitely recommend staying up for it!
Also on 15 August, the Sagra di Ferragosto is held each year in San Vito dei Normanni. This is another lovely music festival featuring pizzica dancers and musicians. The pizzica tarantata is a traditional Italian dance that mimics the ancient healing ritual to fight the deadly bite of the dangerous tarantula spider. Tambourines are beaten in time to a rather frenzied, hypnotic dance. It’s a fantastic spectacle and a dance like no other so well worth seeing.
This is followed later in the month by La Notte della Taranta, a tribute to Salento’s tarantella dance, the Pizzica Pizzica. Lasting over a fortnight, the festival provides plenty of opportunities to enjoy the music, get dancing and simply soak up the atmosphere. It is also a lovely event to round off the month as it combines a number of different musical traditions including rock, jazz and classical.
And then for reggae lovers, there is the Gusto Dopo Al Sole festival which usually takes place across the first fortnight in August. This festival uses music almost as a medium for people to discover the beauty of this part of Puglia.
Back to events for foodies, in August in Maglie, there is a wonderful food market (Mercatino del Gusto). Local food and wine producers flock to the town and set up stalls selling their wares. It’s a great chance for holidaymakers to enjoy, sample and purchase the delicious local produce that the Puglia region is known for. It’s also a brilliant family-friendly event with children able to enjoy the chance to participate in various activities including pasta making lessons.
And in the coastal town of Polignano a Mare, there is Mareviglioso. This is a festival celebrating the very best fish and seafood produce caught off the coast of Puglia. The event also includes a number of competitive rowing regattas. Apartment Agrumi is the perfect place to stay if you want to join in this event. Situated just a few minutes drive from the historic centre of Polignano a Mare, it’s a luxury apartment in Puglia that ticks all the boxes.
To participate in a truly historic festival in Puglia, head to Oria in August to witness the Corteo Storico di Federico II and the Torneo dei Rioni. It is possible to purchase seated tickets for just a handful of euros or you can save your money and choose to stand and watch the spectacle for free. Over 1000 costumed participants including soldiers, jesters, flag bearers, noblemen and ladies, parade through the historic centre of the town to the Piazza Manfredi. Once here, the opening ceremony of the Palio is held. During the palio, the four districts of Oria (Castello, Lama, Judea and Santo Basilio) compete against each other, all aiming to be crowned the ultimate victors. Tickets to the palio itself are a bit more expensive and must be purchased in advance from the ticket offices in the town.
La Festa dei Martiri Idruntini is another historic festival in Puglia. Celebrated in Otranto, it has a rather more sombre feel than the events in Oria, commemorating the 800 martyrs who died at the hands of the invading Turks in 1480 for refusing to convert to Islam. The festival last 3 days. The first 2 days are marked by solemn processions but on the final day the mood changes and is marked much more by parties and fireworks.
Other notable Puglia festivals running in August include Fiera di Sant’ Oronzo in Lecce (a lively event characterised by music, food stalls and fireworks), as well as La Cvalcata di Sant ‘ Oronzo in Ostuni, a celebration of the town’s patron saint. During the festivities, the saint’s statue is paraded around the the town accompanied by an escort of knights on horseback.
The Puglia festival season starts to quieten down in September but there are a couple of events not to be missed this month.
The first of these is La Ghironda, a 3 week event that crosses August and September and which celebrates global music and culture. It takes place in numerous towns within the Valle d’Itria including Ostuni, Martina Franca, Ceglie Messapica and Locorotondo. Bringing together everyone from street artists to internationally acclaimed musicians, it always attracts an enthusiastic audience.
Next on the calendar is the Festa te lu Mieru in Carpignano Salentino. Enthusiastically described on the organisers site as the ‘Mother of all Festivals’, it is an extremely popular wine festival full of opportunities to try the wine and food on offer. There are also plenty of events and activities to keep the younger family members entertained too though including live music and folk dancing.
October sees a return to the sporting festivals in Puglia. Not surprisingly, sports events tend to take place in the Spring or Autumn when temperatures are a little cooler than in peak Summer months. This month, Bari plays host to the San Nicola Half Marathon, an event included in the Italian Athletics Federation official calendar. There are different length races (5 km, 10 km and 21 km) for both competitive and non competitive runners. Those new to running will be relieved to hear that the route is nice and flat!
The year may be drawing to a close but the festivals in Puglia don’t stop! In November, the city of Noci hosts Bacco nelle gnostre, a not-to-be-missed gastronomic festival attracting in excess of 100,000 visitors each year. Stalls and open air restaurants fill the streets of Noci with their wonderful aromas and scents. Puglia is renowned for its incredible cuisine and this is one of the best opportunities to sample both its food and its wine. ‘Gnostre’ are actually small communal courtyards that ca be found in many of the typical houses in the city. During the event, they are the setting for a number of events that showcase the beauty of Noci to tourists. You’ll also find plenty of street performers and musicians adding to the atmosphere of the event.
And November is the month of another important food festival – the Novello sotto il Castello in Conversano. This event marks the annual grape harvest and culminates in the celebrations of Saint Martin’s Day. Make the most of the 3 day event to discover the very best that Conversano has to offer including its churches, museums and masserie along with its incredible food and wine!
Whilst there may not be loads of festivals in December, you’ll find plenty of nativity scenes throughout Puglia and lots of celebrations around the region for Capodanno (New Year’s Eve) when many cities, towns and villages in Puglia will put on firework displays.
We hope you’ve enjoyed our whistle-stop tour of the festivals of Puglia. For help with where to stay in Puglia, get in touch with the team at Bookings For You and we’d be happy to send through a customised list of villa rentals in Puglia that match your search criteria.