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Unique Cultural Traditions in Italy: The Transumanza

Italy is full of hidden gems and unique cultural traditions to experience. In fact, many tourists in Italy focus on seeing famous sights and completely overlook the cultural traditions that can make their experience more exciting and meaningful.

At Creative Edge Travel, we like to dig deeper to immerse ourselves in the authentic cultural experiences in Italy that few “outsiders” have discovered. We’ve recently been learning about a tradition in southern Italy that connects the participants with ancient history, local homemade food, unspoiled nature, and agricultural traditions. We’re dying to hop on a horse and join in, and you will be too!

If you’re curious about what to do in southern Italy, read below to learn about a totally unique and immersive cultural experience in Italy: the Transumanza!

An Ancient Agricultural Migration Still Alive Today (Barely)

Since before the Romans, farmers in the overlooked regions of Puglia, Abruzzo, and Molise in southern Italy have been making the traditional Transumanza migration with their herds of cow or sheep every spring and fall. Actually, the Transumanza also takes place on the Italian island of Sardinia and a touch in the Alpine area in northern Italy. Braving changes in climate and terrain for days on horseback, the herders make this traditional journey to move their herds from snow-covered ground to greener pastures.

This migration has become an important part of the local culture. For hundreds of years, raising sheep was the livelihood of more than half the population of the region of Abruzzo. The trails of the migrations, tratturi (or tratturo for singular), have even become protected routes and public land.

The Most Immersive Way to Experience Forgotten Italian Countryside

Though these ancient tratturi and the cultural tradition of the Transumanza have been disappearing in recent years, there is now a resurgence of interest in not only protecting this age old tradition, but promoting it as a unique and memorable cultural experience for visitors to partake in! In these very rural areas, this type of experiential tourism could be a game changer for disappearing villages and ultimately help keep the tradition from going extinct– sustainable tourism at its finest (or as it’s now being called, regenerative tourism)!

On the Trail of the Transumanza

The most important tratturo is the Tratturo Magno, stretching 152 miles. The video below shows some of the charming countryside it passes, dotted with historical and archaeological wonders, some left in ruins.

There are different ways to participate in the Transumanza of southern Italy. Some groups walk at a leisurely pace as the herd grazes, while others ride on horseback. Either way, you’re bound to spend days in direct contact with nature, soaking in panoramic views and serenaded by the gentle sound of cow/sheep bells while slowly ascending into the mountains. You’ll come upon ancient ruins, abandoned medieval villages, and scenic towns perched high on mountaintops, all of which make you pinch yourself as a reminder that this is real life.

Early mornings are met with espresso and local delights such as smoked ricotta or pecorino cheese or even the traditional sweet salami made from sheep's liver. Along the way you’ll stop to nap in the sun, shaded by the tilt of your cowboy hat. You might refill your canteen in the fountains and water troughs found along the tratturo.

You’re also likely to encounter some friendly locals who hand out their homemade food such as freshly-baked biscotti, as a sign of support and perhaps gratitude for taking the time to keep this cultural history alive instead of moving the herd in trailers as is more common now.