Late summer and fall are prime festa times in Italy. This year, however, COVID has put an end to the festas. It’s very sad for us, but I’m glad they’re taking things so seriously here. Festas are celebrations, usually to mark the harvest of some crop or to honor some specialty that an area is known for. There are a few things that are allowed under COVID rules and for the life of me I can’t figure out the difference between a mostra and a festa. Mostra means exhibit or show and is like an arts and crafts, food, and/or music festival. The only difference I can see is that mostras don’t have communal dining opportunities and festas do. Regardless, mostras are happening (although you have to show proof of vaccine, called a green pass here, to enter). Bike races (motor and pedal kinds) are allowed as well. This past Sunday we were entertained by two such events, one right outside our doorstep.
Anghiari has big bike race every year about this time called the L’Intrepida. It’s a bike race (the pedal kind), of course, but it’s also a celebration of all things vintage – bikes, cars, vespas. Vintage in this case being around 1940. The bikers all dress in vintage clothing, some more vintage than others, and must ride bikes built before 1987. It’s a weekend-long celebration in Anghiari that includes a DJ in the piazza and tents set up all over town with any imagineable bike-related thing for sale. All the local shops have L’Intrepida displays and there’s a L’Intrepida booth that sells branded merchandise. This is a big race – about 1,000 bikers traverse three different routes, the classic at about 25 miles, the long at about 50 miles, and the intrepid at about 75 miles. And these routes aren’t just winding roads through the valley. They go up and down mountains and over mostly gravel roads or in some cases, just paths. This is the second largest vintage bike race in Italy, so it’s pretty well-known.
The race starts at about 8:30. I say about because this is Italy and schedules are not things to be taken seriously. They do try to get them on their way, however, so they’ll have time get back for the big pasta lunch awaiting them. And they don’t lack for snacks along the way either. At several points along the routes are refreshment stations. They aren’t just handing out granola bars and bottled water, either. There’s all kinds of food at each stop, along with espresso and wine. This is Italy – the country that could give a flip about schedules, but makes sure each and every person who sets foot on this soil eats heartily. We watched the bikers set out on a glorious October morning with the town band playing the Italian national anthem to send them off. There was a little bit of Mayberry to the whole thing, which is one of the reasons we enjoy it so much. The bikers set out in groups according to which route they are taking. And at the head of one of the groups was the mayor in his vintage attire with his official mayor sash of green, white and red. And before the first biker rolled out of town, the parish priest blessed the whole thing. Gotta love it.
We were so energized by watching all these athletic types take a vigorous ride through the countryside that we decided to go have a nice Sunday lunch. We went to Citta di Castello to a place called Sesto Canto, a reference to Dante’s Divine Comedy about the circle of hell reserved for gluttons. They are known for their pizzas; however, they reserve that particular form of gluttony for evenings. So we settled for pasta. They have a great seafood selection, so we both got pasta with seafood. Very good and a nice change from the ragus we’ve been having. Steve also had a pork roast – this was very different. It was dressed in a mustard sauce – very good, but unlike anything I’ve seen here. Walking back to our car, we saw a poster for an autumn event up in Monte Santa Maria Tiberina. Because it was a glorious October day and we felt like walking off some of our lunch, we went.
Monte Santa Maria Tiberina
Monte Santa Maria Tiberina (that’s a mouthful, so I’m just going to refer to it as Monte) is a beautiful hill town near here. It’s high up, at about 2,200 feet, about the same as Asheville, NC. And there’s nothing on the way to it. We’re always astounded that somewhere along the historical path someone thought it would be a good idea to build a city there. It has Etruscan roots and I’m sure held some strategic significance at some point, but how it remained a city is beyond me. There’s no grocery store for miles and because it’s so high up, it takes quite a while to get up and down from there. But once you make the commitment, you are rewarded with spectacular views and the most adorable little medieval city.
What autumn festival would be complete without a marching band and a couple of court jesters performing in the piazza? The band traveled all over town, so we were entertained by them several times. The court jesters had a whole show which included juggling flaming torches (we missed that part).
On the way home, we passed several of the bikers making their way back to Anghiari and the finish line. These had to be the intrepids, going for the whole 75 miles. They looked a lot better than I would have thought after spending a day biking up and down mountains. But they had their refreshment stops along the way to revive them and my guess is they’ve been biking and hiking up these hills all their lives. We took one last stroll around town as everything was being packed up. Then later, on our terrace bundled against the October chill in the air, we declared it the perfect Sunday. I’ll leave you with not one, but three videos from this special day. After all, how often do you run across two bands and a priest blessing in one day?