May in Tuscany

Suzi Jenkins
May 5, 2005

Bright and early on a May morning, somewhere in the Tuscan countryside, a little band of children is gathering. Along the country lanes, they knock at the door of every farmhouse and stand and sing their repertoire of May-time songs, all about cuckoos and spring flowers and boys and girls at dances. Afterwards they are, of course, rewarded with biscuits and lemonade!


Cantamaggio (May-song) is part of a tradition which dates from pagan times, a celebration of the miracle of Nature's fertility - and is inspired by birds nesting and children and all new things growing out of the death of winter.The English maypole, with its flowers blooming out of, apparently, dead wood, has an Italian counterpart and you can see it on the third Sunday in May in the small town of Acquapendente, down on the border between Tuscany and Lazio. Here, for the Festa della Madonna del Fiore (Our Lady of the Flower), long wooden implements, rather like enormous spades, are decorated with flowers and leaves and paraded up and down the streets of this charming little town.


May in Tuscany, flowers and music. For the city of Florence, this means the curtain rising on a festival of classical music, opera and ballet of international renown Maggio Musicale. The Gucci's, the Ferragamo?s, the Antinori?s and all the old Florentine families will be taking their place in the boxes, along with visiting music-lovers from all over the world, to hear Zubin Mehta conduct Il Trovatore, or listen to Verdi's Requiem performed by the Orchestra and Chorus of Maggio Musicale in Florence's prestigious Teatro Comunale.


May in Tuscany music and flowers. The roses are beginning to bloom. This is the perfect season to visit the Medicean villas of Castello and La Petraia, famous for their azaleas and rhododendrons, in the north-west suburbs of Florence. Or around the beautiful gardens of the private villas in Fiesole, in the hills above Florence only open to the public on Thursdays in the month of May.


There is one garden in the centre of town which you must not miss the Boboli gardens, pleasure gardens designed by famous architects for the powerful Medici family, behind their splendid mansion, Palazzo Pitti.


For a really special treat, do what the Medici's did! Cosimo deMedici, on the occasion of his son Francesco?s wedding in 1565, had a covered passageway built between the Uffizi (his government offices) and Palazzo Pitti. You can walk along Vasari's Corridor (book well in advance), only recently reopened to the public, in the footsteps of those Renaissance wedding guests!


And when the wedding lunch is over and you walk back into town, what pleasanter way to pass an afternoon than bookshop browsing in an international bookshop, window-shopping at Gucci and Prada in Via Tornabuoni, and a thousand other shops in Via Calzaioli and of course a rest and a creamy cappuccino topped with chocolate at an outdoor cafe.

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