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Ferragosto – what is it, and what can I do?

There is one thing that is constantly on an Italian’s mind during the month of August – “le ferie”, the holidays.

Italians seem to look forward to their period of holiday a little more than the rest of us – especially to the period in August known as “Ferragosto”, which is also the main reason why you walked to your local grocery store only to find a “chiuso per ferie” (closed for holidays) sign proudly attached to the shutter. It is also one of the main reasons why the main cities in Italy during the month of August seem to be deserted of locals – as they all flee towards the seaside – ready to enjoy some well-deserved relaxation and rest. It is also what feels like the final morsels of summer to Italian children, who will be, eagerly or not, heading back to school during the month of September.

The actual Ferragosto holiday is celebrated on the 15th of August. The history behind its celebration goes a long way, way back to the 18th century. Emperor Augustus had introduced celebrations called the Feriae Augusti (Festicals of the Emperor Augustus) to mark the end of intense agricultural labor, and so celebrated the harvest made during that year. These celebrations, which included horse races, served also as a period of rest to those who had been previously during that year involved in agricultural labour. Some remnants of these celebrations are still alive today, as for instance, Siena celebrates its Palio dell’Assunta on August the 16th.

Fast-forward to many years later, and nowadays Ferragosto is still all Italians (or almost) look forward to. With celebrations happening all over Italy, you are bound to find something you enjoy! If you happen to find yourself in Italy during this period – it would be a great idea to plan from beforehand. Most shops, stores and restaurants in the city centres should still be open during this period, however you will find that they might be working on reduced hours, or that some of them might close during a certain week or days.

One of the best things to do during this period would to head towards the seaside – although you might find that most of them might be over packed with locals and tourists alike. One other alternative would be to take a dip in a pool, enjoying the beautiful countryside landscape Italy can offer, whilst savouring its wonders of food and tasting some chilled wine.

For those of you who wish to stay out of the sun, you might want to head towards the museums. Some museums have special opening hours on the 15th of August, which also includes the famous Uffizi Gallery Museum as well as the Accademia museum in Florence, which will both be open from 8.15am till 6.50pm on that day. You  might also want to visit the Uffizi Museum and the Accademia museum these museums during the days prior or following this day – and leave the 15th free for enjoying some fun in the sun.

Again, should you want to stay in the city, but you’re concerned about the heat, you could try visiting cities which are breezier than the rest – which is something usually characteristic of hilltop towns such as Siena and San Gimignano, whose location makes them a little fresher.

Whichever option you take, this period is an occasion to experience Italy as the locals do –do not forget to stay hydrated, and obviously, do not forget to cool down with some gelato!

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