You’ve likely heard that August is a big vacation month in Italy – for Italians, that is. In fact many shops and restaurants are closed over a certain period in August – some for the entire month – while Italians head to the sea, the mountains and the countryside to enjoy a great big slice of summer. For visitors this can be confusing and frustrating, until you understand how it all works.
Here’s why August is a month for vacationing and festivals in Italy – in a nut shell.
In the year 18 BC the Roman Senate declared Emperor Octavian Augustus as “venerable and sacred” and named a month of the year in his honor. To mark the happy occasion Emperor Augustus declared the entire of “his” month (August), Feriae Augusti, vacation Augustus. Since the month of August also happened to include many Roman religious festivals, including the important feast of Diana (goddess of the moon, hunting and birthing), declaring a full month for festivals made perfect sense.
In later centuries, the Catholic feast of the Assumption of Mary began to be celebrated on August 15th and towns throughout Italy held local festivals to mark the day. Many of the festivals began to take on themes and included feasts, games and contests, such as barrel rolling, jousting and horse racing.
These medieval festivals continue (minus the deadly medieval lances, of course), with many having morphed into festivals of pasta, wine, cheese, fish, wild boar (virtually any type of food, really) and most including some kind of entertainment, such as, open-air theater or concerts, along with local artisans selling their wares.
My advice to visitors traveling in Italy in August is to embrace August as it is here – closed stores, vacant offices and all the like – and head for the countryside. The plethora of hill towns and hamlets hosting a multitude of feste can be a magical way to enjoy summer nights in Italy – Italian style.
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Pamela Haack creates and hosts boutique-style small group tours, artists’ workshops and retreats that are a combination of the very best of Italy: the exciting and the peaceful, the popular and the secret, the talked about and the never-heard-of-before. From art experts and operettas to authentic cooking classes and ancient Etruscans, Pamela helps guests experience the spectacularly beautiful, endlessly interesting cities and countryside of Italy in an up-close and personal way – off the beaten strada.
Pamela is also the author of Top 10 Favorite Etruscan Sites. She lives with her husband, Lou, in Umbria, Italy.