John Bensalhia shares the love to be found in Italy this month with an extra Carnival atmosphere...
The shortest month of the year manages to pack an awful lot into its compact timeframe in Italy. Two key factors in this – one is the fact that it's Valentine's Day! Which means many a celebration on or around the 14th of February. The other reason is that February is also Carnival season – Italy prides itself on offering some of the most colourful, innovative and fun carnival experiences.
Check them out – as well as other events – right here!
CARNIVAL SEASON – Throughout Italy, various dates
February in Italy means Carnival season!
There is a wealth of Carnival activities to be enjoyed throughout Italy. There's the world-famed Venice Carnival which begins today. Meanwhile, the Carnival of Ivrea is a hothouse of activity, most notably the Battle of the Orange, a tradition dating back to the middle of the 1800s. The story goes that in the middle of a tyrannical threat from an evil baron, a miller's daughter called Mugnaia organised a revolt among the people of Ivrea. The Battle of the Orange pays homage to this uprising as two teams do battle – one team throws from the ground while the other team takes aim from the cart (the former symbolises the rebels while the latter echoes the baron's guards). In addition to this, there are fancy dress parties for children, a historical pageant and Fagiolate rionali (bean feasts), all summoning up a colourful and memorable carnival tribute to the past.
The Verres Carnival in the Aosta Valley remembers the time when Caterina di Challant (the Lady of the Castle) came to Verres' main square to dance and charm the crowds. There are open air plays, dances, music and a sumptuous costume ball that takes place in the halls of the castle. The enjoyable historical event affords the opportunity to wear period costumes and to remember a piece of history. The festivities conclude in the town square as the town crier utters his Proclamation of the Citizenry.
Carnevale di Viareggio is one of the most renowned not just in Italy but in Europe. This celebration of Mardi Gras has taken place since 1873. It is marked out by parades of large floats and masks, some of which are designed with papier mache. It's fun spotting the various caricatures of celebrities, politicians and sportspeople. In addition to this, there are celebratory firework displays, masked balls, and food and drink. And of course, the official mascot Burlamacco is bound to put in an appearance!
ST. AGATHA'S FEAST DAY - Catania, February 2nd - 4th
It's said to be one of the biggest religious processions across the globe – this tribute to martyr and patron saint of Catania, St. Agatha, is a truly spectacular experience, spanning three days (stay tuned for our slideshow). The centre of attraction is undoubtedly the procession of the statue of St. Agatha which is placed on a silver carriage (which is said to require the pulling strength of around 5000).
Among the events on the 3rd of February are the midday procession with candle-shaped structures known as Il Candelore, an international cross country race in the streets of the town centre and a fireworks event at Piazza Duomo. The next day sees the main procession take place, a genuine spectacle of awe and wonder, and the celebrations continue into the evening with music, stalls selling sweets, fireworks, decorations and bursting coffee bars packed full of people celebrating this special day.
SAN BIAGIO DAY – Various locations, February 3rd
The problem with February is that it's still part of a season that dishes out colds, sore throats and flu with nonchalant ease. So with that in mind, it's apt that the patron saint linked with healing ailments of the throat is honoured on the 3rd.
San Biagio – also known as St. Blaise – was one of the 14 Holy Helpers, and is also the patron saint of crops and cereals. This patron saint is honoured throughout Italy in a number of unique and very special ways. For example, it's traditional in Fiuggi to burn large pyramid-shaped piles of wood known as Stazze. This is in honour of the miracle that happened in Fiuggi in February 1298 when the two flanking troops of the Cajetani family were tricked by the appearance of flames (attributed to San Biagio). Thinking that the opposing patrol had done its work, both sets of troops left, unaware that no one had been harmed.
A special costume display takes place in Salemi marking the Miracle of Locusts of 1542. When the area was threatened by an invasion of locusts, it is said that the people prayed to San Biagio to save them from evil. Their prayers were answered, and today, that miracle is acknowledged as the people, clad in medieval dress, make their way to the local church to take gifts and receive blessings.
Food plays a central part in San Biagio Day – a common tradition is the eating of specially preserved Christmas panettone which is eaten in places such as Milan with a glass of wine to wash it down to bless the throat. In Lettomanoppello, the faithful are blessed with crossed candles by the local priest and in addition are given tarallucci – small doughnut crackers which contain anise seeds. These are taken home to friends and family to ward off sore throats and seasonal ailments.
It's also traditional to prepare miniature loaves with the representations of locusts (cavadduzzi) and the throat of San Biagio (cuddureddi).
MILAN FOOD AND WINE FESTIVAL - 7th -9th February
It's a common saying that the best way to your partner's heart is through his or her stomach. So why not put that to the test with a trip to the Milan Food and Wine Festival?
Boasting no less than 19 chefs and 300 wines, this year's Milan Food and Wine Festival is all set to tantalise the taste buds with a healthy dollop of information and education thrown in as a bonus. Guests such as Enrico Bartolini, Antonio Borruso, and Alice Delcourt will be on hand to give presentations on a wide range of foods including Thai dumplings, risotto and eggplant. The Convivium Lab will also play host to special cooking meetings and presentations: discover the origins of bubbles, witness the world championship of pesto or even indulge in a bit of praline meditation!
There will be the chance to meet and greet wine producers with a sample of wines from regions such as Abruzzo, Sicily, Lombardy and Tuscany. If you love food and drink, then this is the festival for you!
SANREMO MUSIC FESTIVAL – February 10th - 14th
If you've been reading the music section of this magnificent magazine, then the odds are you'll have chanced upon the odd bit of history of Italian pop (penned by a certain festival writer and bidet-meister called John Bensalhia). One of the common themes of the articles was the presence of the Sanremo Music Festival, one of the most important music events in the Italian calendar.
It's back this month, with a pool of recently announced acts vying for that all-important spot in May's Eurovision Song Contest. The initial 20 will be whittled down to 16 for a shot at winning this year's competition. The line-up includes Annalisa, Dear Jack, Il Volo, Chiara and Marco Masini.
VERONA IN LOVE – February 12th - 15th
It's appropriate that the city of Romeo and Juliet plays host to four days of romance-themed events. Verona In Love has expanded its special tour package so that visitors can enjoy the sights and sounds of this charming area in lots of different, quirky and, most of all, enjoyable ways.
Tours can be seen at faster speed – running and cycling tours take care of that, while to slow the pace down a bit, there are more traditional tours including a classic look around the key areas of Verona as well as themed tours with actors, a night-time tour to provide a bit of moonlight magic and a deluxe package that includes a special hot chocolate to warm the heart and an equally special ebook souvenir of the experience. Singletons can also get in on the action with a murder-themed tour while a treasure hunt adds extra intrigue.
As well as these tours, 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!
VALENTINE'S DAY – Terni, February 14th
When it comes to Valentine's Day, the Umbrian region of Terni really goes to town. And quite right too, given that its patron saint is St. Valentine.
Indeed, February is a spectacle of sound and vision as Terni celebrates St. Valentine with all sorts of special initiatives and events. Music concerts encompass the spectrum from rock through to the mellow sounds of jazz and classical compositions. There are parades of vintage cars and sports events such as cycling and a special Valentine's Marathon.
Every aspect of the romantic day is celebrated in Terni in its very own special way. Chocolate is tasted, poetry is spoken and even magic spells are cast for loved ones. And of course, hundreds of couples exchange promises of commitment and love to each other at the basilica for the Feast Of The Promise.
FEAST DAY OF ST. FAUSTINO and ST. GIOVITA, Brescia – February 15th
While Valentine's Day is the day tailor-made for couples, spare a thought for the girl who got stood up at the restaurant or the man sitting on his own nursing a lonesome beer while listening to a compilation CD of break-up songs.
It's said that there is a patron saint for such single people – St. Faustino, and following the Valentine's Day rush, the next day traditionally celebrates this saint. Christian martyrs, St. Faustino and St. Giovita are the patron saints of Brescia, and this town celebrates in style with music, food, street vendors and fireworks.
In addition to the festivities, there's the opportunity for solemn reflection as a laurel wreath is laid at the monument of patron saints and a service held at the Basilica of Saints Faustino and Giovita. Brescia also recognises its talented workers with a Ceremony of the Brescianita Prize which has taken place since 1971.
This Feast Day boasts a wealth of colour and splendour with stalls selling foods such as pork sandwiches and fries and local produce, plus the finest sounds around.