Love is... carnivals, tradition, and good old Valentine's Day. John Bensalhia plucks the heartstrings of some February festivals this year...

It may be the shortest month, but as ever, Italy packs in a lot for February. Carnival season continues, and a couple of the best known are included in this selection. Valentine's Day is also celebrated, with one of the most iconic places to go to also featured. Also, food and art are on the menu, so let's play on!

Arte Fiera, Bologna

2nd - 5th February 2018

The art of putting on a festival is taken literally in February as the oldest and biggest art fair in the country comes to Bologna.

ArteFiere is due to be held in the early part of the month, and as visitors from around the world come to Bologna, artworks from around the world can also be seen on display as well. More than 1000 contemporary artists are showcased in a 20,000 m2 area for art lovers and enthusiasts to appreciate the best and latest in modern, contemporary art.

In addition to the displays of modern art, other aspects of the huge art fair include photography showcases, special projects performances and what's known as Art City Polis, which combines exhibitions and events devoted to the subjects of cohabitation, the identity of the Italian city, and how art plays its part in civic sensibility. During the weekend of the event, shops, galleries and museums also hold special events and stay open extra late to showcase the very best in the artwork of today.

Carnevale Cento

4th - 25th February 2018

With carnival season in full swing, the Emilia-Romagna town of Cento puts on one of the most memorable on every Sunday in February.

Countless papier mache floats, celebrity guests, costumes and fun are all on the agenda for the Cento Carnival. It's been dubbed as the “most crazy party of the year”, and with its whirlwind of colour, music and fun, it's easy to see why. The carnival also includes a twist of Brazil as the Rio de Janeiro Carnival is echoed in the Cento event's booking of Brazilian musicians, dancers and percussionists.

Among the special guests booked for this year's events are the sporting themed duo of Sky Sports' Diletta Leotta and sports host/journalist Serena Miller (appearing on the first Sunday of February 2018, the 4th), and the return of the event's regular resident band, the Mirko Casadei Orchestra.

Factor in the massive Ferris Wheel, fashion shows, the burning of the Centese mask and the fabulous fireworks display in the Piazzale della Rocca to close the event, and you've got another winning Cento Carnival. Unmissable stuff.

Ivrea Carnevale

c. 10th - 13th February 2018

The centrepiece of the hugely popular Ivrea Carnival is the historical event of the Battle of the Oranges in which nine competing teams (numbering around 4,000 people) literally take up arms with oranges in front of a massive crowd of spectators (about 100,000).

While the battle can be a bit over zealous (watch out for those oranges!), it's still a key element of both the carnival and the Ivrea heritage, culture and tradition. But while the prize is hotly fought for with great gusto, when it comes down to it, it's the taking part that matters for the competitors who lose themselves in the moment of the battle.

The Ivrea Carnival also includes a procession, music, costumes, and a concluding tradition that can determine whether the coming year is a good one or not. A sword-bearing Violetta will observe a pole that includes juniper and heather bushes known as a scarlo. The pole is set alight, and if it burns with considerable power and speed, then it's a good year ahead. A slower, less powerful burn means that the omens may not be so good for the coming year. Let's hope for a speedy, powerful flame this year!

Verona In Love 2018

11th - 14th February 2018

February means that love is in the air, and one of the key Valentine's Day events, Verona In Love, is back to spread the loving.

Taking its inspiration from the classic Shakespeare story, Romeo and Juliet, Verona becomes a fairytale location for love over a four-day period. It's the ultimate place to take your partner for a special Valentine's Day holiday, and over the four days, there is plenty to see and do.

With the specially decorated and illuminated shops, streets and building windows, there are so many classic and iconic places to be to feel the love. Whether it's Juliet's balcony, the Old Market Courtyard or the Lamberti Tower, you can relive the Shakespeare tragic love story for yourself. The latter provides some spectacular views of the surrounding area, so if you're pondering on popping the question, this could be one of the most romantic places to do so.

In between the organised tours of some of the most romantic local spots, there are special market stalls for a souvenir at Piazza dei Signori, with love-themed gifts and items on sale. Local restaurants and cafes will be putting on themed dishes for the ultimate romantic meal. And you can also leave your own message of love on a spacious notice board in Old Market Courtyard.

The perfect place to be on Valentine's Day, Verona In Love will create many a romantic memory for years to come.

Milan Clown Festival

14th - 17th February 2018

Think of circuses and what comes to mind? The big top? The trapeze artists? Not forgetting one of the most connected aspects of the circus: the clown.

This month, the clown gets its very own celebration in Milan as the Clown Festival returns for its 13th edition. In excess of 250 companies take part in this annual event (a mainstay since 2006) with thousands of visitors who grew up enjoying the clowns at the circus as kids.

In addition to the presence of clowns, there are many aspects of this festival that conjure up the flavour and atmosphere of the circus. The emphasis is on performance, as magicians, theatre actors and hair sculptors come to Milan to take part in a large choice of shows and workshops which are held in 21 venues in the areas of Isola, Loreto and Piazza Duomo.

Come to Milan this February and recall those enjoyable days from your childhood at the circus. The best clowns will be out and about as the fun of the circus and lots more is conjured up for everybody to enjoy.

Salon du Chocolat

Mico Milano, 15th - 18th February 2018

What are the odds that a common Valentine's gift will be a super box of chocolates?

So it's apt that a day after sees the return of Salon du Chocolat, a packed festival devoted to the art of the chocolatier. For four days at Mico Milano, connoisseurs, food lovers and professional chocolatiers will come together to take part in a festival that showcases and explores the many flavours and facets of the humble chocolate.

Events include talks, discussions, panels, tastings, a chocolate fashion show, and also displays from famous names in the business. Among the experts to grace this show are Davide Comaschi, Simone Salvini, Luigi Biasetto and Antonio Dalosio.

Olive and Bruschetta Festival

Spello, 18th February 2018 (TBC)

On the third Sunday of February, every year, the Umbrian town of Spello parties at the annual Olive and Bruschetta Festival.

Spello is well known for its high quality olive oil, which can be used as accompaniment to food, an ingredient in a recipe, a medicine, or even as a beauty product! So to celebrate this unique product, another iconic Spello goodie is part of this festival, the Bruschetta. At times of poverty, this simple snack would be eaten with oil as a satisfying snack without it costing the earth.

This foodstuff can be found at the annual festival and can be washed down with a glass of vin brulee. Roasted chestnuts, sausages and other local foods are also popular choices of snack at this festival, which really goes to town on a colourful, memorable parade, which usually features floats bearing harvest themed items and of course, the olive tree. Combining food, song and plenty of good company, this is a charming and unforgettable festival.