As horses racing goes, you can count this distinctly Sardinian experience as up there with the most bizarre and brilliant.
This hazardous annual pursuit, run by valiant horsemen upon enormous steeds, re-enacts Emperor Constantine’s victory over his opposing rival, Maxentius, in the year 312. The chase begins on a mound just a short walk outside the town of Sedilo, commencing after both the mayor and priest have given speeches and issued prayers for Constantine and for Christianity as a whole. It’s one of those experiences where the tension alone is worth travelling for; an entire town on tenterhooks, in deep conversation about the event that’s about to take place. A constant hum is eventually replaced by a mighty roar as the ‘Constantine’ and his famous horsemen take off, charging at a thunderous pace down the hill. After circling around the Santuario Di Santu Antinu six times – being blessed by the busy priest at each pass – the main man leaves the others to complete their seventh lap, ending his race ahead of them at the dry fountain in the grounds of the historic site and safe in the knowledge that he has replenished the town’s Christian vows for the next year.
An Italian event of such high regard would never go without a momentous feast, and Sedilo’s cooks duly deliver. Amongst the traditional offerings are suckling pig, roasted over a coal fire, and eels, a slippery local speciality that comes served in greasy newspaper, meaning east-enders will feel right at home. The next day (hangovers permitting) the locals get to have a go at re-enacting their own race, shortly followed by an ‘after party’ which involves traipsing down to the priest’s house for a generous helping of Vernaccia, the local wine. This is then followed by an ‘after-after party’ at the houses of the flag bearers. This is the kind of celebrating that would put even a seasoned festival-goer through their paces.
To get the most out of the festival, you’re best off flying into Cagliari and heading north, taking in the majority of south Sardinia and including a quick stop-off in Oristano, renowned for its stylish shopping streets and decorative piazzas. This small island isn’t always the first on many traveller’s ‘must-visit’ lists, but it manages to pack bags of beauty and a wealth of history into a small, but perfectly formed region, so make sure you give yourself time (on both sides of the race) to really get to know it. We bet it’ll be a new favourite.