With the renewed vibrancy of local life that comes hand-in-hand with sultry late summer days and flourishing harvest produce, the allure of Italy in September is clear. But there’s even more to this season than first meets the eye. Only by speaking to a local can you truly uncover a country’s secret sights, tastes and seasonal celebrations. We sat down with Italian expert and Trafalgar Travel Director Patrizia Tocco, to find out what it is that Italians love most about Italy in September, and why this month is the perfect time to visit her home country.
What makes September such a special time in Italy?
“All Italians rave about September as the perfect time of year. The first thing that comes to mind is the light – I like to take photos of foliage at this time – but September is also when people go back to work and school, returning to the city with flamboyance and as animated as they can be. September is when the Italians are at their best.”
What do you love most about Italy in September?
“The warm days of late summer mean you can enjoy everything you do from morning until night. And the food changes; in Italy, we are obsessed with the seasonal food and eating vegetables from local farms. Everybody in Italy talks about what they’re going to cook in September and everyone orders the seasonal cuisine when they’re in restaurants.
September is also the month that freesias flower all over the country, so you can always smell them in the air; florists sell them in bunches and perfumeries start making freesia their main fragrance. I always think of this flower as the scent of September.”
How does the produce vary across the regions at this time?
“I was in a restaurant with some friends the other day and as usual food became the topic of conversation. The chef came by and started talking about what he was going to cook in September, so we began discussing what we like to have in each region. The landscape here is very diverse, and the history we’ve had means the food varies a lot.
If you start in Sicily, you’ll find sun-ripened peaches in September, and then by going north to Naples, you’ll catch the beginning of pumpkin season, where they marinate it to have in cold dishes. In Tuscany they have a lot of panzanella, using the bread of the day before with the summer’s tomatoes, olive oil and oregano. It’s also the time when sun-dried tomatoes are finally ready to be eaten. By going north a little more, you’ll reach Milan; here they have focaccia topped with grapes, which makes it especially juicy. September is also the beginning of risotto season up in the north, and it’s the time they start making soups.
One of the Trafalgar trips I love the most is the Flavours of Italy itinerary. We go to the market with a chef in the morning to get the produce we need, then we return to the restaurant to prepare a meal and sit down to eat what we’ve cooked together. I think that’s the perfect way to experience the amazing produce you get at this time of year.”
Tell us about September’s wine making season.
“Across the country, the dates vary depending on how hot it has been and how much it has rained, but from Sicily up to Verona and the Prosecco area, they all pick the grapes throughout September. Each year, they’ll check the sweetness of the grapes, then pick them on just the right day, so these wine making traditions can be seen as you travel between the regions throughout the month.”
What unique experiences can people only have in September?
“September is the month of Italy’s religious processions – it’s the month of the Madonna and every region has its own version. In Sicily they have a lot of processions, on the sea in boats as well as through the streets. During these religious festivals, everyone is out to celebrate; many villages close the streets, and street food like pumpkin fritters are made especially.”
Can people also be a part of the harvest festivals?
“Yes, and they take place everywhere. You don’t get to try that season’s wine, but you do get to try the wine of the year before. It’s the time for what we call the Novello, or new wine of the season, so a lot of festivals are held to celebrate it. When I’m leading trips, I always check to see where a festival is going to be, and head that way, so we can dance along with it.”
How can people best spend their time in Italy during September?
“They should try the local, seasonal food that Italians love to eat, like the afternoon snack of sliced Palma ham with fresh figs, or fresh raspberries with a drop of Limoncello. As well as eating the food that’s in season, spend some time sitting in a café, people watching and noticing the changing light. It really does feel as though the air is different, and more special, in Italy during this season.”
Travel to Italy in September on the Italian Holiday, Best of Italy, Italian Discovery, Rome and Tuscan Highlights, Best of Italy and Sicily, Southern Italy and Sicily and the Grand Italian Experience.
Image credits: Cover photo of an Italian vineyard © iStock / franckreporter. Tuscan olives © iStock / Ray Tango. Castello del Trebbio © Castello del Trebbio. Focaccia with grapes © iStock / fotografiche. The vineyards of Italy © iStock / skynesher. Machiavelli © Machiavelli. Sun-dries tomatoes © iStock / AnkNet.