Spello’s Gold

spello 3

The quaint alleys of Spello


What I really miss of my husband’s (short) running career are those fantastic week-ends, when his races took us to visit many picturesque towns and villages. We used to choose the competition according to what the place had to offer for what concerns artistic beauties and, why not, food tradition. First you run and then you eat, it was a great combination after all, even for me that I didn’t run and the only task I had to accomplish was to welcome him at the finish line. So, as there are no races in sight, what did we have left? Well, the answer is simple: food.

Yes, food. After all, Italy is the land of food, and this is so true that we celebrate food every weekend, in every corner of the country. I’m talking about “sagre“, annual country festivals in honour of the typical products of the land: strawberries, cherries, chestnuts, pasta, mushrooms, bread, even flowers, only to mention the most famous ones just around Rome. These festivals are major attractions and a fantastic reason to quit the big city, take a breath of the fresh country air and taste juicy traditional food. Last week’s destination was Spello, an ancient town built of stone and enclosed in a circuit of medieval walls on Roman foundationsย in the province of Perugia (east central Umbria). Spello also boasts about two dozen small churches, most of them medieval, but the reason why we were there, was gold, Spello’s liquid gold: olive oil.

spello4Certainly this hasn’t been the best year for olive oil. A combination of bad weather (very mild winter 2013/14 followed by a rainy summer) has led to Italy’s most disastrous olive harvest of the century. Furthermore an insect calledย tignola plus some fungi belonging to the Anthracnose family have plagued what had remained, completing the disaster. Despite the adverse fate, the annual festival hadn’t beenย  cancelled and hundreds of local people put on their traditional costumes to welcome tourists and make the celebrations start.


street dance

Even the children were happy actors of the ceremonials.


lovely little girls following the procession

Everywhere you could see people playing, dancing and having a good time. The city streets were filled with stalls offering “bruschetta” ( grilled bread rubbed with garlic and topped with tomatoes, olive oil, salt and pepper), and extra-virgin olive oil, skewers, sausages etc..


tasty skewers

All of a sudden the most amazing pagan procession started. Rather than the usual religious statues of saints or the Virgin Mary, dancing and singing people started to follow their local gods: olive trees adorned with food carried by old tractors.


“bardascitti” means young boys in the local dialect.


the festive procession

In this genuine, joyous atmosphere, made of the little, simple things typical of the past rural tradition, I couldn’t help but wonder: even if those people didn’t have all the comforts of modern, technological societies, weren’t they happier after all?


the future of tradition



38 thoughts on “Spello’s Gold

  1. Stefy this looks like such an amazing time! I would have loved to experience such a festival. So sorry to hear of the terrible olive harvest. That must be a blow to the Italian economy as if it needs any more angst.

  2. Beautiful post. I never been in Italy. I almost went there. When I turned 50 this september, me and my ex boyfriend ( Who is from Florence) planed to travel to Venice together. Unfortunately we split before we had time to go. But it seems to be an absolutely beautiful country!

  3. Oh Stefy, what a lovely visit to Spello, and beautifully captured in words and pictures! The bruschetta is making my mouth water! I do hope your husband gets back to his running eventually. ๐Ÿ˜‰

  4. Hello Stefy…

    Great to see the festive mood every where and it’s so nice to see people still following the old customs and traditions.

    I really feel that, people who doesn’t rely on new technology and gadgets are mush less stressed than city folks.

    After five months of rain, now the festival season is on it’s way in Kerala and we are gearing up for that ๐Ÿ™‚

    Have a beautiful day ๐Ÿ™‚

    • Hi Sreejiit, it is so nice to have you here. As the festival season in Kerala is so close, I’m looking forward to seeing your beautiful, colorful pictures of the celebrations. I won’t miss them.:)
      Stefy ๐Ÿ™‚

  5. Hesitant to ‘like’ this after a poor harvest, but you’ve painted such a lovely optimistic scene.

    ‘Pagan’ is such a perjorative word but as its roots merely refer to the countryside Spello’s ‘worship’ of the olive trees (anciently Minerva, perhaps) is right and fitting, and much less ‘pagan’ than the display of saints’ statues in procession. I think so, anyway! Where I live now in the ancient Welsh kingdom of Powys the name probably signifies that the area was more rural, less urbanised (more ‘pagan’ therefore) in Roman times rather than less Christian.

    • I’ve a couple of thick books jammed with examples of festivals and traditions still going strong in the 60s and early 70s, but some were already dying out as the UK is such an urbanised country. Nowadays new traditions have sprung up and in Pembrokeshire there’re festivals celebrating fish, folk music and ‘wild’ food that’s foraged; Wales-wide there are literary festivals, food festivals and of course the cultural phenomenon that is the eisteddfod celebrating Welsh music, language and culture. But very little that’s rural: it’s mostly middle-class and gentrified, subsidised or sponsored.

    • Hi, Charly. I wish, he could, but it won’t be before a couple of months. So, I guess we’ll have a lot of “sagre” to explore. I remember I read a post about a festive Spanish procession on your blog as well!!Still engaged in writing hard?

      • Writing hard…..I just couldnยดt finish the nanowrimo thing, but it did provide for a lot of material even though I didnยดt get to the 50,000 words on the timeline they gave us.

        About the festivities, itยดs the running of the bulls I did post my guess would be this September since itยดs when festivities occur here, or maybe it was when I went to Malaga and they bring out the Spanish Legion to show off….basicaly the uniforms, plus since we are very religious country is quite amazing to see the processions with the virgin or Christ being carried around and each of them has his or her own story, which being me, I never bothered to look into the back story. But is quite emotional to a lot of people and obviously beautiful, that is if you like standing in 40 degrees weather for quite some hours. So is really not my thing, but I do understand a lot of people out there love it.

        And this was a long comment to a simple question….

  6. In my opinion food is the thing that unites us.Every year I go to Riofreddo, a little town near Abruzzo and there is the “sagra of sagnozzi” a type of pasta. Here people eat together in a square and have a great time. Seeing these photos I think that Spello is a beautiful town and I would like to go there. Certainly running and food are a very good combination!

  7. Oh I do miss those Italian street festivals. They do them so well. I have danced with strangers in rustic streets under lamplight with the smell of food all around. Everyone should! ๐Ÿ˜€

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