La Bella Vita: Italian trains, book fairs and perfecting your pizza order

From seeing Italy by rail to ordering pizza like a true Neapolitan, our new weekly newsletter La Bella Vita offers you an essential starting point for eating, talking, drinking and living like an Italian.

La Bella Vita: Italian trains, book fairs and perfecting your pizza order
A passenger waits for a train at Manarola, Cinque Terre. (Photo by MARCO BERTORELLO / AFP)

La Bella Vita is our regular look at the real culture of Italy – from language to cuisine, manners to art. This new newsletter will be published weekly and you can receive it directly to your inbox, by going to newsletter preferences in ‘My Account’ or follow the instructions in the newsletter box below.

I don’t know about you, but I’m really not a big fan of dubbing: the ubiquitous Italian film voiceover which gives famous Hollywood actors voices nothing like their own and leaves their lips moving out of sync with their speech. Some people say they like dubbing as it gives them a chance to practise Italian listening skills, others say they’d rather watch Italian-made films for that purpose. Personally I think it renders films unwatchable even if you speak Italian well, since the effect is so distracting and unsettling.

Either way, you don’t get much choice at the cinema. Almost all foreign-language films are still dubbed in Italy – a practice which began in the early 20th century amid widespread illiteracy and was enthusiastically embraced by Fascist propagandists in the 1930s. It’s not clear why these voiceovers are still so popular in Italy today, but if you’re anything like me you may be pleased to know that there are, at least sometimes, alternatives. We looked at where and how you can watch films in English or other languages in Italy:

Is there a way to see films without dubbing in Italy? 

If you prefer the written word, Italy has myriad book fairs, and literary festivals held annually all over the country. They’re not always well known outside of the country, because most of these events focus on Italian writers and require good knowledge of Italian, though some feature at least a few talks in English.

There are dozens of festivals taking place up and down Italy this year. We’ve put together a small selection of the best fairs and festivals to attend in Italy in 2023 (and beyond).

Eight of Italy’s best book fairs and literary festivals in 2023

The picturesque town of Tuscania, Lazio. Photo by Gabriella Clare Marino on Unsplash

If you’re planning a trip to Rome this year, or if you live in Rome and fancy a weekend adventure this spring, the surrounding region of Lazio is absolutely brimming with fascinating places to visit just a short drive or train journey from the city.

Lazio is overlooked by most visitors in favour of its northern neighbours Tuscany and Umbria – which means many places here are often lesser known and unlikely to be crowded. We couldn’t fit all of our favourite spots onto one list, so we’ve concentrated on the northern and western areas, but please feel free to add any of your own suggestions in the comments section at the bottom of this article.

14 reasons why Lazio should be your next Italian holiday destination

Train travel is a scenic, safe and usually speedy option for hopping between major cities in Italy, particularly in the north and centre of the country. If you’re planning to use Italy’s rail network on your next trip, here’s a guide to the routes, tickets, companies, costs and everything else you’ll need to know to make sure your journey goes smoothly.

Everything you need to know about train travel in Italy

And everyone knows how to order a pizza… right? In Italy you might find this can be a slightly more complex process than expected, particularly if you venture far from the tourist trail.

Do you know your rossa from your bianca? What about the different types of impasto? Then there’s the toppings loved in Italy – but not so much elsewhere. Here are a few things to be aware of if you want to navigate the pizzeria menu like you’ve lived in Naples all your life.

Five tips for ordering pizza in Italy

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Is there an aspect of the Italian way of life you’d like to see us write more about on The Local? Please email me at [email protected]

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Nine of Italy’s best small summer music festivals

Every summer, some of Italy’s most picturesque locations transform into stunning backdrops for diverse music festivals. Here's our pick of the best in 2023.

Nine of Italy's best small summer music festivals

From ancient castles to tiny islands, historic towns and idyllic countryside, Italy’s best summer events are as much about location and local culture as they are about the music.

READ ALSO: Eight events to look forward to in Italy this June

Well-known festivals such as the historic Umbria Jazz, which this year celebrates its 50th anniversary, or the capital’s vast Rock in Roma are well worth the ticket price, but smaller events offer the opportunity to have a more intimate experience, explore new places, and enjoy local food — all while listening to your favourite band or brand new musical discovery. 

Here are nine of Italy’s most unique summer music festivals

Beaches Brew  June 5- 8 

Beaches Brew is a festival that takes place in Marina di Ravenna, on the shores of the Adriatic sea.

It’s entirely free, so you won’t have to spend a fortune for the luxury of spending a few days with your feet in the sand, eating local seafood, and listening to the festival’s famously eclectic lineup, which this year features the likes of South African gqom trio Phelimuncasi, Guatemalan cellist and composer Mabe Fratti, and Angolan-Portuguese singer and composer Pongo.

Beaches Brew also highlights the culture and lifestyle of Emilia Romagna: the traditional, family-run pescherie on the town’s pier for example take centre stage on the day of the festival’s opening ceremony, and the team works closely with locals breweries and restaurants. 

IndieRocket June 23 – 24 – 25 

When visiting Abruzzo the coastal town of Pescara is usually skipped over in favour of the region’s spectacular mountainous areas and stunning national parks. Which is a shame, because Pescara has a lot to offer, from pristine beaches to coastal cycle paths that run for hundreds of kilometres.

There’s also the well-loved Indie Rocket, a festival that feels like a local sagra but has all the trappings of an international event.

Thirty euros will get you three days of concerts (this year the lineup features musicians from Uganda, Kenya, Turkey, Lebanon, and more) in the lush Ex Caserma Cocco park, where local artists also display and sell their work. And of course you’ll be able to sample Abruzzo’s delicacies, from arrosticini to Montepulciano d’Abruzzo wine. 

Mistica Sounds Festival July 7-8-9

One of the best things about Rome is just how easy it is to get out of it —  all it takes is a short drive or train ride to be completely immersed in nature.

The pretty Borgo della Mistica offers the opportunity to enjoy some peace and tranquillity without having to venture far, and for the first time this year it will host the Mistica Sounds Festival, a three day event that combines art, workshops, food and wellbeing.

The festival highlights the most cutting-edge club sounds from around the world — this year’s lineup features Mc Yallah from Kenya and Abadir from Egypt — and from Rome’s experimental scene. And if you need a rest, not to worry: there’s more than enough space to lounge by the pool or in the shade of the Borgo’s olive trees. 

Gaeta Jazz Festival July 1-12-13-14-15-17

Sitting right between Rome and Naples perched on the Tyrrhenian Sea, the beautiful town of Gaeta dates back to ancient times and is shrouded in myth and legend (Ulysses is said to have moored his ships here).

The medieval town unfolds over a knot of meandering cobbled alleyways and is overlooked by the impressive Castello Aragonese, which every summer for the past 15 years has played host to a series of concerts organised by Gaeta Jazz Festival.

While it used to be a jazz festival in the traditional sense, over the years its focus has broadened to include different evolutions of jazz and electronics, with concerts and DJ sets taking place in different locations around the city. 

Ortigia Sound System July 26 – 30 

OSS is an electronic music festival that brings together the rhythms and sounds of the Mediterranean with the latest trends in contemporary music. It takes place on the small island of Ortigia, the historic “heart” of Syracuse known for its Greek heritage (it’s been inhabited for over 3000 years) and baroque architecture.

For a few days every July since 2014 some of Ortigia’s most impressive buildings — the grandiose Antico Mercato, and this year even the elegant Teatro Massimo —  are transformed into picturesque concert venues, while many of the DJ sets and afterparties take place on boats out in the sea. 

Ariano Folk Festival August 16 – 20

Tucked away in the mountains of Campania is Ariano Irpino, a very charming but unassuming little town with a stunning view over the hills below. Since 1996 it has been the setting for one of Italy’s most important folk festivals, and over the years has welcomed important acts from all over the world.

As well as nightly concerts the festival includes theatre performances, workshops, book presentations, yoga, and activities for children. The whole town turns out for the festival and it all feels a bit like a village fete — it’s a great one for the family, especially if you love camping.

Photo: AFF/@rvs-dumdum-kumbiaboruka via Flickr

Festivalle August 3 – 6

The Valley of the Temples has to be one of the world’s most awe inspiring places: on a high plateau close to the sea and a stone’s throw from the historic centre of Agrigento, the UNESCO World Heritage Site is one of the foremost examples of Ancient Greek culture and art in Italy.

Festivalle’s four days of concerts and performances unfold across the valley’s most breathtaking locations, from the opening ceremony at the foot of the Temple of Juno, sunset performances in the Garden of Kolymbethra, and the traditional dawn ritual at the Temple of Concordia.

As well as a great lineup and unique location, Festivalle is a great opportunity to discover the history, culture, and food of Agrigento. 

Jazz Refound August 31 – September 3 

With its characteristic stone houses, expansive views, and lovely rose gardens, the Piedmontese borgo of Cella Monte is among the most beautiful in Italy. No wonder it was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2014.

Jazz Refound, which takes place between the end of August and the beginning of September, is the perfect excuse to explore this area.

Not only will you be listening to some of the biggest stars of the contemporary music scene (this year features sets and concerts by the likes of DJ, Radio host, and record label owner Gilles Peterson, as well as legendary DJ Louie Vega, and futuristic jazz trio the Comet Is Coming), but you’ll also have the opportunity to take part in their many side events, from wine and food tasting (lest you not forget, truffles are a speciality of this area), yoga, film screenings, and even rafting. 

Locus Festival June 27 – September 1

There are many hidden gems in Puglia, and with its whitewashed houses and historic churches the town of Locorotondo is one of the most striking.

Since 2005 it has been home to Locus Festival, which from its humble beginnings has grown into one of the most important festivals in Italy, expanding its global outlook without losing its local character.

The festival, which runs over several dates and locations throughout the summer, is rooted in jazz and soul, and boasts an impressive lineup featuring the likes of Herbie Hancock, Roy Ayers, Fatumata Diawara, and others.

Megan Iacobini de Fazio is a Rome-based freelance journalist who writes about music and culture for Bandcamp, Pitchfork, The Guardian, Songlines and others.