Four unforgettable festivals in Italy this spring and summer

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Frog races and the world’s biggest fish fry

The $700 standing room spots at the Palio

It’s that time of year when travelers to Italy start thinking about tickets to the Palio in Siena, one of the most legendary horse races in the world. It’s also about the time those travelers realize that tickets start at about $450 for the famous festival — if they are available at all.

In that case, Frog Palio anyone? How about the world’s largest fish fry?

Italy is filled with unforgettable festivals year-round, but especially in the spring and summer months. Here are four remarkable ones you can start planning for now.

April 23, 2017: Palio della Rana (Frog Palio)

Urbino, Le Marche

Like any other festival in Italy, this one in the eastern region of Le Marche is filled with historic costumes, fireworks and great food, but the difference maker in this case is a frog race. Young men in medieval garb run with wheelbarrows down the streets of Urbino, with a frog riding on top. The frogs are impatient passengers. Every time it jumps out, the competitor must stop, put it back on top of the barrow before continuing downhill.

Like the Siena Palio, each competitor in this version represents one of the city’s neighborhoods and there is more pride on the line than you might expect from a frog-and-wheelbarrow race. And, like the horses in Siena, the slippery creatures in Urbino are examined by officials before each race to make sure there hasn’t been any tampering with the amphibians.

May 14, 2017: Sagra del Pesce (World’s Largest Fish Fry)

Camogli, Liguria

Why a 24-foot handle?

Very near the Cinque Terre, the town of Camogli is famous for one thing: the world’s largest fish fry. Every May, town officials wheel out a 28-ton frying pan, measuring about 12 feet in diameter, and (for some reason) a 24-foot long handle.

On the eve of the festival there are bonfires on the beach and burning wooden sculptures, and in the morning, 800 gallons of frying oil go into the pan along with some three tons of freshly caught fish. Serves about 25,000. The best part: It’s only about $5 to get in.

June 24th: Calcio Storico (Medieval, full-contact soccer)

Florence, Tuscany

Every St. John’s Day, Florence gets ready to rumble. The game of calcio storico (historic soccer) is a no-holds barred game of what looks like rugby played on a hard-packed surface of dirt. It is even more fluid than rugby because there are fewer whistles and fewer rules.

Actually, there are no rules at all. Just get the ball into the opponent’s goal by whatever means necessary: kicking, tackling, tripping, clothes-lining, roundhouse punches, it’s all legal. Just score.

The game goes back to 15th-century Florence and was played mostly by the aristocrats, even Popes. These days, the annual event is a tournament between the four neighborhoods of the city in a makeshift court on Piazza Santa Croce.

June 17th: La Giostra del Saraceno (The Saracen Joust)

Arezzo, Tuscany

The swiveling Saracen

Here is a perennial Tuscan event that is something like a medieval training session for knights. It is meant to celebrate the epic battles between Italian horsemen and the invading Moors (or Saracens) from North Africa and the Middle East from around the time of the Crusades.

At one end of the dirt-covered Piazza Grande in Arezzo awaits a horseback knight with a lance, and on the other stands a puppet Saracen on a swivel, with a target in one arm and a flail-like weapon in the other. The object in the joust is to (1) strike the target with your lance and (2) not be hit by the swiveling half-pound balls on a whip that follow, which would lead to deducted points and a pretty good bruise as well.

There are two knights per each of Arezzo’s four neighborhood quarters, and the winner gets a free dinner.

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