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The Tuscany Tradition You Don't Want to Miss

Anghiari, in the far east of Tuscany, is in many ways a traditional Tuscan hilltop town. It’s beautiful but not particularly intent on commercializing that beauty, it’s more local than tourist most of the time, and each year Anghiari puts on an annual series of community events.

Late every summer, Anghiari welcomes its theatrical tradition of Tovaglia a Quadri. Tovaglia means tablecloth and quadri means square, so literally the term means checkered tablecloth. But quadri also means stage, a double meaning that really delivers here.

The play is not in a theater—though the town has a beautifully restored one—but in a tiny piazza surrounded by 800-year-old buildings. The piazza is filled with tables covered in checkered tablecloths, at which theatergoers, during the play, eat a four-course meal that often includes the town’s signature pasta dish—a thick spaghetti called bringoli.

The apartment buildings, garages, and shops that surround the square are all part of the action. Actors hang out of windows, gossip in doorways, and shout declarations from balconies.

In Anghiari, Tovaglia a Quadri is a big deal. Would-be theatergoers line up early in the morning weeks in advance for tickets, and getting one is an adventure all its own. Performances run in the evenings for just two weeks each year, and to get a ticket, people wait hours for the chance to hunch over seating charts and negotiate with event organizers for an ideal vantage point.

The 2019 play featured shepherds, migration, and crumbling bridges (a concern of many in this part of Italy after a 2018 bridge collapse in Genoa). In years past, the play has taken on topics like the refugee crisis and the Amazonification of the world. Each year for the last quarter century, the play is written—by the team of Andrea Merendelli and Paolo Pennacchini—just a few months before it’s performed, so it has that right-here-right-now feeling. 

In scope, Tovaglia a Quadri always draws on a mix of local, national, and global issues, and is performed in a seamless blend of Italian, the local dialect, and—helpfully for people who don’t understand much Italian—a lot of easy-to-interpret physical theater.

Tovaglia a Quadri delivers a lively mix of heart, politics, singing … and Italian grandmas. Pro tip: Get the scoop on the plot in advance, and if you don’t speak Italian, sit next to someone who can keep you in the loop.

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By Christine Sarkis

There's a 95 percent chance Senior Editor Christine Sarkis is thinking about travel right now. Follow her on Instagram @postcartography and Twitter @ChristineSarkis.

Christine Sarkis is an SATW-award-winning journalist and executive editor at SmarterTravel. Her stories have also appeared on USA Today, Conde Nast Traveler, Huffington Post, and Business Insider. Her advice has been featured in dozens of print and online publications including The New York Times, Conde Nast Traveler, and People magazine. She has also shared travel tips on television and radio shows including Good Morning America, Marketplace, and Here & Now. Her work has been published in the anthologies Spain from a Backpack and The Best Women's Travel Writing 2008. She is currently working on a travel memoir.

The Handy Item I Always Pack: The Trtl Pillow. It's easy to pack and comfortable, and makes it so I can actually sleep on flights.

Ultimate Bucket List Experience: Seeing the Aurora Borealis from the comfort of somewhere warm, like a glass igloo or hot spring.

Travel Motto: Curiosity is an amazing compass.

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Email Christine Sarkis at editor@smartertravel.com.

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