Summer is a great time to travel to Italy.
The flavoursome tomatoes make it worth the journey in themselves!
Then there is the gelato, the crisp white wines, the festivals, the divine weather…
One tip though for anyone planning a summer vacation to Italy: if you can, try to avoid August, and specifically Ferragosto – a public holiday that falls on 15th August.
Although it may be the busy tourist season, as it is the hottest time of year, most Italians still prefer to close up shop and go to the cooler beach or mountain areas than to work through August and particularly around the holiday weekend of Ferragosto.
At this time, you’re likely to find the streets empty and all the stores and restaurants closed.
This holiday dates back as early as Roman times, when a festival would be held to honour gods and, in particular, Diana and fertility.
It was re-introduced by – and then re-named after – emperor Augustus in 18BC, the name being derived from ‘Feriae Augusti’, or Augustus’ festival. Coinciding with the end of harvest, it was designed to allow for a bit of well-earned R & R.
Labourers and their draught animals would be honoured, with horses, donkeys and oxen being decorated and paraded through the villages.
It is also the Catholic Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, who is believed to have risen to heaven, body and soul, on this date. It is also one of the few times throughout the year when the Vatican closes.
In Siena on 16th August, the Palio dell’Assunta horserace is run, blending the ancient tradition of celebrating work animals and the Assumption.
The custom of travelling during Ferragosto is however rather new, dating back to just the 1920s. The fascist regime of the time offered locals one-day or three-day discount train travel around mid-August, giving the less well-off the opportunity to take a rare out-of-town vacation.
The fascist regime may have ceased, but the holiday tradition has not.
As schools are also on break over the summer, multiple generations of Italian families often gather in seaside or mountain villages to relax, enjoy long lunches and take afternoon passaggiate – tranquil strolls – together.
Don’t get us wrong, if you can only visit Italy in August then by all means, anytime is better than no time at all.
But if travelling to Italy in August, just be aware that this is the high summer season when many locals take their annual vacation so many shops close and services may be limited.
Artiva small-group Florence tours and Tuscany tours are still operating in August. Whilst our small-group Rome and Venice tours are on summer break in August, we have a great range of fantastic private tours.