La Sagna della Castagna, PiegaroAll civilizations throughout history have celebrated holidays, but none so much as the Italians.  Early in the Roman Empire, Augustus Caesar declared an entire month each year would be devoted to them, and it's become an inspiration each August for a month-long vacation frenzy sweeping Europe.   The way I see it though, the Europeans have it all wrong – the time to vacation in Italy is not during the crowded and humid summer months but during the Festa del Raccolto, in the cooler harvest season.

Throughout Italy you’ll find many of these harvest festivals on late September and early October weekends, rituals stretching back to a time even before the Romans.  With a centuries-long tradition of showcasing the specialty of each town or village – be it boar, truffles, or wine – today these celebrations are mingled with the "slow food" movement, a philosophy promoting consumption of locally grown food and a slower pace that is in tune with the Italian lifestyle.

It was just such a festa, celebrating the chestnut, La Sagna della Castagna, which took me into the greens hills of Umbria and the village of Piegaro.  Walking cobblestone lanes leading to the summit plaza immersed me in the party atmosphere, and the medieval architecture that surrounded temporary food booths filled with harvest food and drink enticed me.  Among the revelry I found the good life many seek, and easily joined with locals in toasting to abundant life and enjoying good food in this ancient tradition.

When you go:

Often people tell me that good travel is all about the journey and the destination is irrelevant. While that's true in a philosophical sense, and the major reason why I travel, there is no journey without your destination.  To find another way of getting somewhere I joined up with Zephyr Adventures, a tour agency all about innovations in personal travel.  Along with their in-country partner, this team supplied me with a GPS and a Portable Video System pre-loaded with informative talks by my electronic tour leader, e-Giovanni.  Navigating in Italy was never quite this easy, and the added security of knowing English-speaking Giovanni was a mere cell-phone call away made it all the more relaxing.

For this and other self-guided adventures, check out Zephyr's website:

Written by: Steve Smith and Christine Johnson

Photography by: Christine Johnson