Umbria is renowned for its festival season; an array of festivals and events to celebrate everything from jousting to jazz. We’ve handpicked the best of the events that the annual Umbrian calendar has to offer.
Festa dei Ceri, Gubbio
This is an annual event in the city of Gubbio, and one of the most adrenaline-filled events in the Umbrian calendar – thanks to the treacherous yet traditional ‘ceri’ race in the late afternoon. The aforementioned ‘ceri’ are wooden candles, 5 metres high and weighing a staggering 300 to 400 kg. They’re carried vertically by their bearers – the ‘Ceraioli’ – and their immense weight means that each Ceraioli is only permitted to carry the structure for 70 meters.
The candles are mounted with a statue of either Saint Ubaldo (protector of Bricklayers), Saint Giorgio (protector of Milliner’s shops) or Saint Antonio Abate (protector of farmers, and students). Supporters of each Ceraioli will dress in the colours of their candle; yellow for Saint Ubaldo, blue for Saint Giorgio and black for Saint Antonio, and the main square becomes a bustling sea of these colours as crowds gather to celebrate the day.
On the morning of the festival, a Ceraioli is nominated to lead the three relay teams who are tasked with transporting these wooden candles through the narrow streets of Gubbio and uphill to the Basilica of St. Ubaldo, located on the top of Mount Ingino. Although referred to as a race, the participants must remain in their starting order throughout – with the best Ceraioli chosen by Gubbio’s inhabitants.
Spello is a town filled with an abundance of flowers whatever time of year you visit. 365 days of the year, window baskets seem to spill over with vibrant, colourful flowers bringing a rainbow of colour to this wonderful town. However, these displays are most incredible at the end of May each year when the town celebrates the Infiorata of Corpus Domini. During this marvellous floral spectacle, the streets of Spello are literally paved with floral displays. Artists and local residents will all start work on their masterpieces at the same time on the Saturday and work through the night in order to have their masterpieces finished in time to be judged on the Sunday. Awards are given for the most spectacular creation.
This villa in Spello is the perfect base from which to enjoy this incredible spectacle.
Giostra della Quintana, Foligno
Revived in 1946, this event pits ten city districts against one another every June in a bid to be crowned jousting champion. However, contestants don’t battle each other (probably for the best, since their jousts are made of metal and not wood) but have to spear a gold ring from the wooden outstretched arm of the ancient Roman god of war instead. The competition is won by the knight who spears three gold rings and completes the course in the quickest time with no penalties.
Over this weekend, the town is transformed by celebratory festivities – including a parade with over 800 characters dressed in baroque attire. In the two weeks before the event, the flagship taverns of each of the ten districts serve traditional seventeenth century Umbrian food accompanied by the best local wines.
Umbria Jazz Festival, Perugia
The Umbria Jazz Festival has been held annually each July since 1973, in Perugia. The event is one of the leading Jazz festivals in the World, with a mix of concerts and street performers. Past line-ups have included international music megastars such as Elton John, Alicia Keys and Eric Clapton.
As this is an extremely popular event, we recommend securing your tickets – and any local accommodation – well in advance.
The annual chocolate festival held in Perugia is definitely one of our favourites. In its 24th year, it includes tasting tours, chocolate making demonstrations and cooking classes. A popular attraction are the giant chocolate sculptures, where sculptors carve designs into vast solid blocks of chocolate – previous designs include Rome’s Colosseum and Pisa’s leaning tower. These are on display for the entire duration of the nine day chocolate extravaganza; make sure you hang around for the free chocolate off-cuts which are handed out to visitors.
Gubbio Christmas Tree
Nothing quite says the magic of Christmas like a giant sparkling Christmas tree illuminating the night sky.
Every December, the town of Gubbio builds the World’s Largest Christmas Tree – a spectacular feat which was officially recognised by the Guinness Book of World Records in 1991. The tree is constructed from over 3,000 lights, has a metre-long star and is over 650 metres high. It honours the Patron Saint Ubaldo, and dominates the vast area of Mount Ingino, overlooking the town.