Here at Italy Beyond the Obvious, every now and then we get a traveler open to anything. They say:
I can go to any place in Italy, any time of year. When and where should I go?
I’d suggest planning a trip to coincide with one of the five unique Italy experiences below. Culturally significant and only available in Italy, each one happens only at a specific time and place each year. Any of them will give you memories to last a lifetime.
The Verona Opera Festival (June, July, August)
The Roman amphitheater in Verona seats 20,000 people and hosts operas six nights a week (not Mondays) between June and early September every year. The operas are long, so plan to stay overnight in Verona – you won’t be able to get a train to anywhere after the performance. And trust me, it’s worth splurging on the poltronissima seats, so you’re sitting on a cushion (as opposed to a rock) during the 3-hour show. The reason this is pretty easy to plan is that there are many, many tickets, which you can buy online, the shows run practically the entire summer, and there is so much to see in the area (Venice, Lake Garda, Verona, Palladio’s villas, the Veneto region, and more) so it’s somewhere you’d want to visit anyway.
The Infiorata (May or June)
Infiorata is simply flower petal art – or more eloquently, a flower tapestry – on the streets, and is held in various places across the country, though two of the most famous are in Spello Umbria and Noto Sicily.
Artists start with a chalk drawing and arrange flower petals on top to create absolutely stunning designs on streets and in front of churches and abbeys. The creations take about 2 days to prepare, and often a religious procession walks along the flower petal carpet after they’re done. Infiorata are usually on the Sunday of Corpus Domini, 9 weeks after Easter.
Carnival (Jan, Feb, or Mar)
The final party before Ash Wednesday and Lent, Carnevale is held around February every year, though exact dates vary. The celebrations start about 3 weeks beforehand, when people hit the streets to celebrate dressed in opulent costumes and masks. In Venice, carnival means more crowds, lots of tourists, (more) expensive hotel rooms, and packed-to-the-gills trains. I’ve had a fabulous time at Venice’s carnival both times I’ve been. But for a more cultural experience with fewer tourists, consider spending carnival in Acireale, Sicily – the town is known for having the best carnival on the island.
The Palio in Siena (July and Aug)
This incredible horse race attracts huge crowds, and must be booked well in advance. Siena’s main square or campo is covered in dirt to become a racetrack just twice a year. The race is highly competitive as each horse represents one of Siena’s 10 neighborhoods or contrade. And even though the actual race lasts less than 2 minutes, the preparation and competitive energy last all year. The Palio happens twice each summer, on July 2nd and August 16th, but if you’re in Siena another time of year, you can take a guided tour of the Contrade or neighborhoods to understand some of the history and culture.
The London-Venice-Rome or Rome-Venice Orient Express Train
Make no mistake about it: you can take the train between Rome and Venice for a tenth of the price of a ticket on the Orient Express. But that’s not really the point. A couple times a year, the Orient Express departs London for Venice, and 2 days later leaves Venice for Rome. Tickets are a few thousand dollars per person, not including Venice accommodation.
Any of these unique Italy experiences are worth planning a trip around – which will you choose?
Venice carnival photo and Verona Opera photos by Sanjay Jhawar.
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