Get into the holiday spirit when you visit these Italian villages where Christmas is celebrated with special events.
Located about 60 kilometers northeast of Turin, Candelo is a medieval village known for its ‘Ricetto’, a fortified storehouse made of a group of houses and streets surrounded by walls, which the local population used as an agricultural warehouse and where they took shelter in case of danger. On the small square in front of the Ricetto entrance is the Palazzo del Principe, a three-story fort-house with a fortified tower, built at the end of the 15th century.
In Candelo, from the end of November to mid-December, a ‘Santa Claus village’ is set up; there, you can visit Santa Claus's Post Office and the Christmas market, where you can browse handicraft products and taste delicacies typical of the season. For families traveling with children, there are kid-friendly shows and workshops.
Campo Tures (South Tyrol)
Mountain lovers should head to Campo Tures in South Tyrol, set amid the peaks of the Vedrette di Ries-Aurina Natural Park. Not only can you ski on more than 30 km of slopes, equipped with modern lifts, choosing among different levels of difficulty; you can end your active day with some relaxation and pampering at one of the many wellness and spa centers, which feature indoor and outdoor pools and saunas.
Christmas time is especially charming, because it’s celebrated in castles and magical forests covered with snow, almost as if you were in a fairy tale. A Christmas market is set up in the castle with exhibitors offering various local handicraft products, accompanied by music and nativity scenes. Even more evocative is a path in the woods, lined with stalls as holiday music is played, leading to the Riva Falls.
Don’t miss the small ‘Speikboden’ Christmas market, set at an altitude of 2,000 meters, among igloos, where you can enjoy hot drinks and Christmas delicacies. It’s open on the four weekends of December.
In southern Tuscany, at the border between Unesco-inscribed Val d’Orcia and Val di Chiana, is the village of Sarteano, whose medieval past is attested by the 15th-century castle that stands out against the verdant massif of Mount Cetona.
Sarteano has a tradition of nativity scenes. Every year the village hosts the historic Nativity scenes of the five Contrade of the Giostra del Saracino, artisan-made presepi on display in five locations around the streets of the historic center and just outside the city walls.
In addition, there is the Museum of Nativity Scenes from Around the World, the idea of a local man who, after buying the first nativity scene in olive tree wood in the Holy Land, expanded the collection through his travels around the world.
A program of events and activities for adults and children complements the displays.
On a hilltop surrounded by thick woods in the upper Esino valley, Genga is enclosed within the walls of the medieval castle. It is especially famous for the Caves of Frasassi, one of the most spectacular cave systems in Italy. The largest, Abisso Ancona, has an extension of 180 x 120 m and a height of 200 m; it is so big that, it is said, the Duomo of Milan could easily fit.
The highlight of the holiday season is right in the Frasassi Caves: a living nativity scene, said to be the largest in the world of its kind, covers an area of approximately 30,000 square meters, and features about 300 participants, re-enacting the traditions and ancient ways of life of the area.
The idea originated in 1981 from a group of locals, who formed the ‘Amici del presepe’ association and have since organized two representations a year (this year on 26 and 29 December).
A renowned winter resort in the heart of the Majella mountains, within the natural setting of the National Park of Abruzzo, Lazio and Molise, Scanno is synonym with charm, thanks to its views, terraced houses, old staircases and arches.
On January 5, Scanno celebrates la Befana with the ancient popular tradition of ‘Le Chezette’: groups of locals dressed in traditional clothes, wearing black capes known as tabarri with characteristic hoods, sing under the windows of the local girls’ homes. Equipped with musical instruments, they serenade in the local Scanno dialect in order to obtain food, which they will then place inside symbolic socks. Once food has been collected, the community eats it together.
Do you know of any special Christmas and Befana traditions in villages around Italy?