Salento is a region that has a lot to offer all year round. Between June and September several musical and traditional festivals are organised, but there is no shortage of interesting events even in the low season.
The year starts with a traditional festival: the Fòcara of Novoli. The highlight of this festival is the construction of an enormous pyre.
More than 80 thousand bundles of dried vine shoots are used to build a tower of height and diameter of about 18 metres, which is burned in honour of Sant’Antonio Abbot. In February, the most interesting festivities are the Candelora Festival and Carnival.
Several events such as fairs and folk concerts are organised in the streets by several villages around Lecce. You cannot miss the parade of thematically decorated floats, the most famous ones taking place in Gallipoli and Putignano.
March is the month of the Tavole di San Giuseppe, even though, over time, this tradition has almost disappeared. It is special because real tables are set with typical Salento products, including the famous zeppole (local dessert). As spring arrives, most outdoor festivities begin such as the Sagra della Cuddura (Easter cake), typical of Santa Cesarea Terme, and the Sagra del Pesce a Sarsa (Fish Festival), held in Castro during the celebrations of the Madonna Annunziata. The saint is celebrated at this time in Roca Vecchia with a pilgrimage to the sanctuary, located next to the unmissable archaeological site.
In May, the Cortili Aperti Event (Open Courtyards) is an opportunity to admire the enchanting private gardens of the palaces in the historical centre of Lecce, which are usually closed to the public. On the occasion of the Flower Festival, in the historical centre of Leverano, a veritable flower show is set up. During this period, the village also hosts the ‘Sagra delle Ciliegie’ (Cherry Festival). But the most anticipated event of the month is, certainly, the ‘Cantine Aperte’ (Open Wineries) days that are organised every year throughout Salento. What better occasion to discover and taste the local wine?
In June, the summer season is opened by the event-show of La Madonna della Coltura, in Parabita. Not to be missed are the ‘Borgo in Festa‘ activities in Borgagne. The most important event is undoubtedly the Patronal Feast of Santi Pietro e Paolo, in the city of Galatina: the choreo-charting ritual of the tarantolate is re-enacted, among the evocative lights of the luminaries and the concerts of traditional music.
In July, Scorrano, the capital of luminaries, hosts the Festival of Santa Domenica, with a breath-taking fireworks performance.
Several events are organised in the villages such as the Castro Wine Fest, the Notte Blu (Blue Night) in Santa Cesarea Terme, the Otranto Jazz Festival, the Mercatino del Gusto (Market of Taste), the Locomotive Jazz Festival, the Beer & Sound Fest, and the Notti Bianche (White Nights) of the various villages: these are just some of the unmissable events that, every year, take place in the region.
The event that attracts the most visitors is the Notte della Taranta popular concert based in Melpignano. August closes up with the Sant’Oronzo Festival. Sant’Oronzo is Lecce’s Saint protector and the whole city lights up.
September is the month of the chilli pepper: in Ruffano, at the Maru Festival, this characteristic plant is used in many different ways. In Carpignano Salentino, at the Festa te lu Mieru visitors can taste the local wine and the typical Salento dishes such as horse meat in tomato sauce and the tasty potato pie. An important cultural event for arthouse cinema lovers is the Salento International Film Festival, organised in the charming village of Tricase.
In October, San Francesco is celebrated in various villages; also, there are the olive festivals and experiences dedicated to the olives harvest and the famous autumn festival celebrated in Palmariggi, ‘Lu Paniri te e site’. With the first autumn mists, the pomegranate opens its rough rind and becomes the star of the local fair of the same name. In Leverano, with the first blends, new wine is celebrated and the population prepares for the San Martino Festival. Christmas is, of course, the most wonderful time of the year and the narrow streets of the villages are lit up with Christmas decorations. Lecce’s squares are filled of local handcraft markets; Piazza Mazzini is coloured with magic and the atmosphere evokes sweet childhood memories with the beautiful Carousel-style merry-go-round; inside the Ex Convent of Teatini, the famous Papier-mâché Puppet
Market is set up as symbol of an ancient art that has almost been lost. Christmas and New Year’s Eve concerts are not to be missed: Otranto becomes the location of the famous Alba dei Popoli (Dawn of the Peoples), symbolising the arrival of the first new ray of sunshine.