Six unmistakable signs that spring has arrived in Italy

March 20th was officially the first day of spring - but what does the new season typically bring to Italy? Expect to see delicious food at your local market, foreigners shedding layers of clothing while Italians merely reach for their sunglasses, and a healthy dose of quirky local festivals. Here are six tell-tale signs of an Italian spring.

Six unmistakable signs that spring has arrived in Italy
Wildflowers along the Amalfi Coast. Photo: Gene/Flickr

1. The clothing

We're being deliberately vague here, because choice of springwear often depends on whether or not you're a native. Italians tend to dress for the season, not the weather, so late March means swapping black and navy for white and pastel hues, and shedding the winter coat, while holding off from raiding the summer wardrobe.

Among expat communities, Brits and others from cooler climes show no such restraint, often opting for sandals and shorts as soon as the temperatures reach double digits.

According to reader Rochelle Ferreri, you know spring has reached Italy “when us British expats start wearing flip flops… to the Italians' horror!”

Photo: Pexels

2. The animals

Plenty of readers said the sounds and sights of the animal kingdom were a tell-tale sign of Italian spring.

“The sound of hundreds of bees on our blossom tree,” said Janice Mitchell, when we asked what were the surest signs of the new season's arrival.

“Battling against ticks on the dogs!” was another suggestion.

You can also expect to start seeing wall lizards – the small reptiles that come out of hibernation around this time of year and love to sun themselves in gardens, rocks, and Roman ruins. And look out for birds and baby farm animals too!

Photo: Andrew and Annemarie/Flickr

3. The flowers

If you visit Italy in the spring months, you'll see it in full bloom. Take a trip to your local garden, park, or flower market to take in the colours and scents of spring, from bluebells to crocuses, poppies to magnolia.

But there's no need to feel left out if you live in a city either. Most of Italy's urban centres can boast plenty of green space – which in the springtime turns red, yellow, pink and blue with wildflowers.

In Rome, the Spanish Steps in the very centre of the city are adorned with pink azaleas for one month each spring (not to mention the capital's Orange Garden and Rose Garden, both well worth visiting). And this year, for the first time, a huge tulip field has been opened just outside Milan, where you can pick the flowers for yourself.

Photo: Pedro/Flickr

4. The food

Watch out for the three 'a's of springtime cuisine: Artichokes, asparagus, and agnello (spring lamb – OK, we've cheated a bit using the Italian for that one). Each can be prepared a myriad of ways, with every restaurant and nonna swearing that theirs is the best, so try as many varieties as possible.

And perhaps most excitingly, after a winter of hibernation, the gelato shops start opening up once again.

Photo: Tim Sackton/Flickr

READ MORE: Six springtime foods you simply have to taste in Rome

5. The festivals

Carnival may be over, but there are plenty more opportunities to celebrate up and down the country. In April there's the anniversary of the founding of Rome, then Liberation Day on the 25th, and not forgetting the Easter weekend – what's more, most towns and villages will have their own traditional feste too.

For those who were disappointed at the lack of fuss over Valentine's Day, you could always check out the Festa di San Marco in Venice on April 25th. It's also called the Blooming Rose Festival and is known as a day to celebrate love and romance.

And then there are the quirky options to look out for: what about heading to the Snake-Handlers' Festival on the first Thursday of May in Abruzzo, or the annual Frog Race just after Easter in Le Marche? 

Photo: Christiano Cani/Flickr

6. The weather

The arrival of spring means more daylight, warmer weather, and less rainfall. Time for long evening strolls, outdoor dining, and perhaps even a swim if you live by the water.

It's also the perfect season to visit the country's lakes and beaches – just before the hordes of tourists descend, but while the locals still think it's too cold for sunbathing.

But be warned – Italian weather can be variable and spring still sees rain and even snow, so you might want to take your umbrella out as well as your sunglasses.

Photo: Jacopo/Flickr

This article was originally published in 2017.

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OPINION: Michelin-starred cuisine is just not suited to Italy

Michelin-starred food has its merits but it doesn't fit with the Italian tradition of cuisine, argues Silvia Marchetti and some frustrated Italian chefs. There's nothing better than a plate of steaming lasagne, she says.

OPINION: Michelin-starred cuisine is just not suited to Italy

I’ve never been a great fan of sophisticated dishes, twisted recipes and extravagant concoctions that leave you wondering what is it you’re actually eating. T-bone steak with melted dark chocolate as topping, burrata cheese with apples, spaghetti with blueberry sauce aren’t my thing.

Hence, I never eat at Michelin-starred restaurants, and it’s not because of the exorbitant bill – paying €200 for a salad simply because it was grown in the private garden of a chef which he personally sprinkles with mountain water each morning, is a bit over the top.

I just don’t think such fancy food has anything to do with the real Italian tradition.

The ‘nouvelle cuisine’, as the name suggests, was invented in France by chef Paul Bocuse. And it’s ‘nouvelle’ – new – not anchored to past traditions.

The philosophy of serving small morsels of chic food on humongous plates as if they were works of art is the exact opposite of what Italian culinary tradition is all about.

We love to indulge in platefuls of pasta or gnocchi (and often go for a second round), and there are normally three courses (first, second, side dish, dessert and/or coffee), never a 9 or 12-course menu as served at Michelin establishments (unless, perhaps, it’s a wedding).

Too many bites of too many foods messes with flavours and numbs palates, and at the end of a long meal during which you’ve tasted so many creative twists you can hardly remember one, I always leave still feeling hungry and unsatisfied. 

So back home, I often prepare myself a dishful of spaghetti because Michelin pasta servings often consist in just one fork portion artistically curled and laid on the dish. In fact, in my view Michelin starred cuisine feeds more the eye than the stomach.

The way plates are composed, with so much attention to detail, colour, and their visual impact, seems as if they’re made to show-off how great a chef is, than as succulent meals to devour. I used to look at my dish flabbergasted, trying to make out what those de-constructed ingredients were and are now meant to be, and then perplexed,

I look at the chef, and feel as if I’m talking to an eclectic painter who has created a ‘masterpiece’ with my dinner. I’m not saying Michelin starred food is not good, there are some great chefs in Italy who have heightened a revisited Italian cuisine to the Olympus of food, but I just don’t like it nor understand it.

There’s nothing greater than seeing a plate of steaming lasagne being brought to the table and knowing beforehand that my taste buds will also recognise it as such, and enjoy it, rather than finding out it’s actually a sweet pudding instead.

More than once, after a 4-hour Michelin meal with a 20-minute presentation of each dish by the chef, the elaborate food tasted has given me a few digestion problems which lasted all night long.

Michelin-starred food has started to raise eyebrows in Italy among traditional chefs, and is now the focus of a controversy on whether it embodies the authentic Italian culinary experience. 

A Milanese born and bred, Cesare Battisti is the owner of restaurant Ratanà, considered the ‘temple’ of the real risotto alla Milanese.

He has launched a crusade to defend traditional Milanese recipes from what he deems the extravagance and “contamination” of Michelin-starred cuisine. “Michelin-starred experiments are mere culinary pornography. Those chefs see their own ego reflected in their dishes. Their cooking is a narcissistic, snob act meant to confuse, intimidate and disorientate eaters”. 

Arrigo Cipriani, food expert and owner of historical trattoria Harry’s Bar in Venice, says Michelin-starred cuisine is destroying Italy’s real food tradition, the one served inside the many trattorias and historical osterias scattered across the boot where old recipes, and cooking techniques, survive.

“Tasting menus are made so that clients are forced to eat what the chef wants, and reflect the narcissistic nature of such chefs. Italian Michelin-starred cuisine is just a bad copy cat of the French one”, says Cipriani.

I believe we should leave French-style cuisine to the French, who are great at this, and stick to how our grannies cook and have taught us to prepare simple, abundant dishes. At least, you’ll never feel hungry after dinner.