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      April 2012 > Racing with Candles through Umbria

Racing with Candles through Umbria

In mid-May, the fairy-tale medieval town of Gubbio plays host to one of the oldest Italian folklore festivals, the Festa Dei Ceri, or 'Race of the Candles'.

Believed to have started in the 12th century to celebrate a famous victory over would-be invaders, the festival today sees the town come alive with colour and pageantry, drawing in people from far and wide.

Time your single-centre walking holiday in Italy to coincide with this festival – 15th May – and you can witness teams of 10-15 men racing around the streets, each in the colours of their allotted saint, carrying a heavy frame on which stands a 5-metre high candle.

The candles, or ceri, sit on carved wooden hexagonal columns, each surmounted by an effigy of one of the town’s three venerated saints: St Ubaldo (protector of masons and builders), St Giorgio (protector of merchants and craftsmen) and St Anthony (protector of farm workers and peasants).

The Ceraioli (the men who carry these heavy 'ceri') wear brightly coloured costumes consisting of fez, red scarf and sash around the waist, white shirt and trousers – yellow for St Ubaldo, blue for St Giorgio and black for St Anthony. After racing round the town to great roars and cheers from the enthusiastic onlookers, the teams then have to race uphill (each frame weighs about half a ton) to the Basilica of St Ubaldo on Monte Ingino where the saint's body has lain since 1194.

When it’s all over, everyone retires to the town's colourful and bustling trattoria to feast on the typical robust dishes of the region, many of which are based on the earthy flavours of local truffles and mushrooms. Popular dishes from Gubbio include fricco all’eugubina, a stewed meat dish made with rabbit, accompanied by crescia (a type of salted focaccia bread made with water and flour), and yellow squash gnocchi.

Gubbio, UmbriaWith a Roman theatre and mausoleum; the impressive Palazzo dei Consoli (which houses the famous bronze Eugubine Tables, written in ancient Umbrian alphabet); the aforementioned Basilica of Sant’Ubaldo; and several other medieval churches and palaces, Gubbio is just one of many fascinating places to explore in unspoiled northern Umbria.

It lies within easy reach of Manuela and Berni Bonelli’s charming Castel Rigone Apartments (pictured below), nestling in the Umbrian hills near Magione. Here, enjoy leisurely walks and relaxed exploration by car to discover a landscape of gentle hills coated with olive and oak trees and dotted with medieval castles that has changed little over the centuries.

The Ceraioli may be compelled to strain every muscle to win the 'race of candles' but, as a bystander, you can simply stand back and watch their super-human efforts, while slowly immersing yourself in the traditions and lifestyle of this wonderfully laidback region of central Italy.

Castel Rigone Apartments Umbria

Posted: 07/04/2012 14:43:46 by | with 0 comments
Filed under: festivals, gastronomy, Italy

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