You'll love the events taking place in Italy throughout February. John Bensalhia looks at what's happening - including Spring-related revelries, the hunt for the next Eurovision competitor and Valentine's fun!
February brings a breath of fresh air. While there's a generous extra day of miserable Winter tacked on to the end of the month, February is still about clearing away the cobwebs and preparing for the forthcoming Spring season.
Some events this month mark the oncoming season with plenty of colour and sound. There are also special days to mark classic patron saints, plus events that will satisfy fans of food, music and fashion. For all of the latest on the various carnival celebrations, check out this article.
And if that's not enough, it's also the month of (adopts deep, growling Barry White voice) lurve! Valentine's Day is celebrated with some style in Italy, whether you're part of a couple or all alone. So pull up the roses, eat some chocolates, and let's see what we've got in a fun-filled February!
SAMPLE A PIECE OF CHOCOLATE HEAVEN, Florence
If you're seeking the ideal chocolate fair, then this month sees the perfect destination.
Between 12th and 21st February, Fiera del Cioccolato will be showcasing some of the finest chocolates from all over Italy in the Renaissance city of Florence. Chocolate artisans will be displaying their offerings – among the exhibitors are Chocolate Cavalsani, Dona Malina and Croccanteria Bergamo.
In addition to the many stalls and displays, chocolate fans can enjoy a choice of other initiatives including meetings with experts, culinary experiences, and tastings. Youngsters can attend special workshops and take part in games and classes which include the art of biscuit making (at the end of which the kids can sample some of their creations).
Older visitors can look forward to classes that include becoming a Master Chocolatier for the day! A dedicated lab plays host to the class in which you can discover the art of creating delicious chocolates. Other events include a twin tasting for chocolate and grappa.
Now in its 12th year, Fiera del Cioccolato offers something for all chocolate fans and is sure to be another tasty proposition! It wil be held in piazza santa maria novella.
BRIGHTEN UP WITH BRUSCHETTA, Spello (Umbria)
The great thing about February is that it heralds a new phase in the year. It's out with cold, biting winds, gloomy grey skies, torrential rain and in with warmer weather, blue skies and that sunny Spring optimism!
Events like the Olive and Bruschetta Festival in Spello, Umbria offer you the chance to look forward to Spring. This event traditionally takes place on the third Sunday of February (meaning that it's pencilled in this year for 21st February) and is a joyous celebration of the Olive Harvest.
Visitors can sample new olive oil by drizzling it over equally fresh flat bread bruschetta. While sampling the culinary delights, attendees can also enjoy other food goodies, music, dancing and also a traditional parade in which local farmers drive through on specially decorated tractors.
VERONA IN LOVE – February 11th - 14th, Verona
It's appropriate that the city of Romeo and Juliet plays host to four days of romance-themed events. This year is especially important as it is the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare's death. In honor of the man who made this Italian city famous there will be numerous theatre plays, concerts and poetry devoted to the great writer of the English language. There will also be a Giulietta & Romeo Half Marathon for sports enthusiasts.
Also don't miss your chance to book online a Seal of Love, a promise of love in a parchment showing the two names hand written in Gothic style, bound and held together by sealing wax. You can then collect yours in the Cortile Mercato Vecchio, which is one of the squares in the heart of the town.
As well as these options, it's possible to enjoy the romance of Verona with a sizeable itinerary of other events. You can sample the delights of the scenery from the top of Lamberti Tower – if you don't have the head for heights, you can also do so with a raft along the River Adige. It's also possible to be a Juliet for the day by answering one of the many letters sent – and there's also the annual prize for the best letter sent to Juliet.
The local businesses are also getting in on the action over the course of the four days. Shops will be decking out their windows in appropriate love themed displays while there are also food tastings, homemade products and chocolate presentations.
All in all, Verona celebrates the Valentine's season in fine style! More info can be found here.
MARK ALMOND BLOSSOM, Agrigento (Sicily)
Another big plus point of Spring is the natural environment. While Winter only offered bare trees, leaves on the floor and dried flowers, Spring brings a renewed sense of full bloom.
With that in mind, the annual Almond Blossom Festival celebrates the season. As the pink-white almond blossoms herald Spring, Agrigento in Sicily is due to play host to the festival on 7th February. The festival is designed to acknowledge the first almond blossoms of the season in Sicily and does so with appropriate style and gusto. There will be plenty of music, a procession and an international folk dancing festival – all designed to put a big Spring in your step!
LISTEN TO THE MUSIC, Sanremo
February time means that it's the moment to prick up your ears for the annual Sanremo Music Festival which this year will run between the 9th and 13th of the month.
The 66th annual festival will be staged at Teatro Ariston in Sanremo, Liguria. The music event will again see line-ups of established and newcomers performing live. The newcomers roster comprises eight acts including Francesco Gabbani, Mahmood, Michael Leonardi, Cecile and Miele.
Meanwhile, the Big Artists sector of established acts consists of 20 performers including Irene Fornaciari, Annalisa, Elio e le Storie Tese, Rocco Hunt and Clementino. The victor of the Big Artists line-up will go on to represent the country at this year's Eurovision Song Contest.
BE A DEDICATED FOLLOWER OF FASHION, Milan
Last month a trio of fashion events looked at what to wear for men and kids along with the latest in knitwear styles. This month, it's Milan Fashion Week, which runs in the final few days of the month between 24th and 29th February.
Collections for the coming Autumn and Winter seasons of 2016 will be showcased at this event from Italian designers including Gucci, Armani and Dolce and Gabbana. If you're out and about in the areas such as via Mercanti, via Croce Rossa and Piazza Cordusio and you're a fashion fan, then you can see the events unfold at the show courtesy of special video walls.
CELEBRATE ST AGATHA'S FEAST DAY, Catania
Even those who don't consider themselves religious are said to sample a piece of the St Agatha's Feast Day experience that takes place every February in Catania.
St Agatha is the patron saint of Catania, a Christian saint and virgin martyress who lived between 231 AD and 251 AD. Her fate was sealed during the persecution of Emperor Decius when she was put to death for her loyal profession of her faith.
One of the most spectacular and large-scale religious processions in the world, St Agatha's Feast Day is honoured over a run-up to the day itself on the 5th February. Notable events include a procession of Il Candelore, candle-like structures, a fireworks display at Piazza Duomo and the centrepiece procession of the statue of St Agatha which requires the might of 5000 to take the silver carriage through the massed crowds.
In addition to these, there are plenty of other attractions and events to sample including an international cross country race, decorations, sweet stalls and musical performances.
HONOUR A HOLY HELPER, Fiuggi
One of the 14 Holy Helpers, San Biagio (AKA St Blaise) is honoured this month in Italy. The country will unite in celebrating the saint in various imaginative and immensely enjoyable ways.
But just who was San Biagio? In addition to being one of the Holy Helpers, he was also a patron saint: both of cereals and crops, and also that of healing ailments of the throat.
On 3rd February, San Biagio Day takes place. In addition to the events, special delicacies are prepared to mark the occasion. Bearing in mind that San Biagio was connected with healing, in Lettomanoppello it's customary to consume tarallucci, which are miniature doughnut cakes that contain anise seeds. These cakes are said to protect people from sore throats and illnesses. It's also traditional in areas such as Milan to eat specially preserved Christmas panettone which is washed down with a glass of wine to bless the throat.
A notable event occurs in Fiuggi every year with the cremation of Stazze. Big piles of wood shaped like pyramids are set on fire to mark the miracle of Fiuggi from 1298. It's said that San Biagio was responsible for an appearance of flames to fool two flanking troops of the Cajetani family.
Another miracle took place in Salemi in 1542 when an invasion of locusts threatened to harm the population. But as the people prayed to San Biagio, the threat vanished. Today, that miracle is marked in a special ceremony in which the people of Salemi dress up in medieval costumes and attend church, bearing gifts.
FEEL THE LOVE, Terni
It's that time of year again when millions of hearts melt and equally when countless others are broken. Card shops, chocolatiers and florists rub their hands in glee at the thought of selling their wares to loved up couples looking for that special gift or quaking singletons selecting a token that will secure an all-important first date.
Italy caters well for both lovers and sobbing singletons. The Umbrian town of Terni is a particularly good place to go for a romantic date – highly apt given that Terni's patron saint is St Valentine.
All of the familiar Valentine's Day trimmings are served up including copious amounts of chocolate, reams of poetry to woo with and magic spells to cast for a long, happy future. It's a perfect destination for couples to exchange vows and commitments – all to the backdrop of all kinds of music you could wish to hear, whether pop or classical. And sports romantics can also attend events such as a Valentine's Marathon or a cycling race.
But on the other side of the coin, St Faustino is there for those who ended up all alone on the sofa with an industrial size tub of ice cream and a copy of the Bridget Jones DVD. St Faustino is said to be the patron saint for single people and is honoured (along with fellow patron saint of Brescia, St Giovita) on 15th February.
The Feast Day of St Faustino and St Giovita offers equal lashings of quiet reflection and buoyant fun. There's a service that's held for both patron saints and the laying of laurel wreaths to mark their memories.
Meanwhile, there are plenty of food stalls offering goodies such as fries, sandwiches and local goods. Street vendors, musical acts and a fireworks display also contribute to a colourful spectacle that's guaranteed to help you forget about the loneliness of the previous day.