For those planning to walk or cycle the Via Francigena, the Camino to Rome, here’s our list of the most colourful festivals and events you will encounter along the route throughout the year. From national days to cow battles, religious events and celebrations full of history, these are some of the must-see festivals along the Via Francigena:
Bataille de Reines, cow battles in Aosta – March to October
The battle of the queens, ‘Bataille de Reines’, is one of the most unusual and traditional agricultural festivals you will find along the Via Francigena. One of the most popular festivals in the Aosta Valley, these cow battles or challenges take place every year, starting in Spring and finishing, after 20 elimination rounds, with a grand finale in Aosta, in October. The challenges are believed to have been taking place in the region since the 1600s and the purpose is to establish the ‘queen’, the leader of the heard in a natural way. There is a pause in June and July, when the cows are moved to the mountain pastures. Similar battles take place in the Swiss canton of Valais in May.
Where: Aosta Valley, Italy
On 15th May, the gorgeous walled town of Gubbio on the Saint Francis Way hosts its annual ‘candle race’, where giant candles are carried along the streets of the town by groups of local men. This impressive traditional race in honour of Saint Ubaldo, the city’s patron saint, has been taking place since the 12th century.
Where: Gubbio, Italy, Saint Francis Way.
Joan of Arc Festival in Reims – May & June
A city chosen by many French monarchs for their crowning ceremony, Reims celebrates its heroine, Joan of Arc, with a colourful historic festival in late May-early June. For the Joan of Arc Festival, locals and visitors dress up in period outfits, taking Reims back to medieval times.
Where: Reims, France.
Republic Day, Festa della Repubblica in Italy – June
2nd June is Italy’s National Day and a holiday across the country. Republic Day or Festa della Repubblica is the day Italians celebrate their republic, with special events taking place in major towns and cities.
Where: across Italy
Festa di San Giovanni in Florence
On 24th June, Florence (starting point of the Saint Francis Way) honours its patron saint, Saint John with its Festa di San Giovanni. Fireworks and the ‘calcio storico’ or historic football match in Piazza Santa Croce between the different districts of the city are part of the traditional celebrations. Another very special festival to see in Florence is the Festa della Rificolona, taking place on 7th September, also called the ‘Festival of the Lanterns’.
Where: Florence, Italy, Saint Francis Way.
Festival de la Cité in Lausanne and Montreaux Jazz Festival – June & July
The city of Lausanne and its region, on the shores of Lake Geneva, are home to a busy calendar of events starting in Spring. The city hosts its annual Festival de la Cité in June, a whole week of open-air entertainment to delight locals and visitors. Further along the Via Francigena route, following the shore of Lake Geneva, the town of Montreaux is home to one of the most prestigious jazz festivals in Europe: Montreaux Jazz Festival, taking place in July.
Where: Lausanne and Montreaux, Switzerland – Via Francigena in Switzerland.
Bastille Day in France – 14th July
On 14th July France celebrates La Fête Nationale. Fireworks and parades take place in most cities and towns.
Where: across France.
Palio di Siena in Tuscany – July & August
Palio di Siena is the most spectacular horse race in Italy. Ten horses and bareback riders represent ten of the 17 Siena city districts, competing in the town’s ‘piazza’ while carrying their own colours and flags. Il Palio is a spectacular display of colour, passion and excitement.
Where: Siena, Italy. Via Francigena in Tuscany.
Swiss National Day – 1st August
Switzerland celebrates its National Day on 1st August: fireworks, music and general merriment is organised in major towns.
Where: across Switzerland.
Festa di Santa Rosa in Viterbo – September
The medieval town of Viterbo hosts its most special festival in September, in honour of Santa Rosa (St Rose). The highlight of this festival is the impressive Santa Rosa night procession where one hundred ‘facchini’, men belonging to the Santa Rosa fraternity, lift and carry a 30-metre high tower called ‘macchina’, lit with candles and topped with the image of Santa Rosa.
Where: Viterbo, Italy. Last section of the Via Francigena.
Comics and Games Festival in Lucca – October
Lucca, on the Via Francigena in Tuscany, hosts one of Europe’s biggest comic and games festivals each year at the end of October. Launched in the 1960s, Lucca’s festival is a must-visit for comic fans.
Where: Lucca, Italy – Via Francigena in Tuscany.
Truffle Festivals in Italy – October & November
Exquisite palates travelling along the Via Francigena in Tuscany, in Autumn, will enjoy one of the most famous truffle fairs in the country: ‘La Sagra del Tartufo Bianco’. The stunning medieval town of San Miniato has hosted this fair dedicated to the fine white truffle for over 40 years. Crafts, entertainment and truffle dishes take over the town for three weekends in November. Gubbio, Cittá di Castello and Pietralunga, all three towns on the second section of the Saint Francis Way, also host important Autumn fairs dedicated to the truffle from mid-October to November.
*If you would like more information and to book your walking holiday on the Via Francigena, Camino to Rome, please contact our travel specialists.