For some January is the month of detox, diets and denial as the New Year’s hangover subsides and resolutions kick in. But for those of us who love Italy it’s often a great time to dust off our passports and get packing for an Italian trip as there is plenty to see and do without peak-season prices. Perfetto! So if Italy is calling you this month why not check out some of these suggestions. Happy travels – Buon Viaggio!
Sunday 3rd January – Free entry to over 300 state museums
If you’re travelling on a budget, make sure to book for the first Sunday of each month, not just January, as over 300 state museums open their doors for free under the #DomenicaAlMuseo national initiative. Free venues include gardens, monuments, archeological sites and some big name museums such as the Accademia in Venice or the Museo di Palazzo Vecchio in Florence. More information including the list of museums and calendar for 2016 can be found here.
6th January – Celebrating the Festa della Befana and Epiphany
In the Christian story of Christmas January 6th marks the date when the 3 wise men finally arrived in Bethlehem bringing their gifts for the baby Jesus. Today, while British families like mine are taking down their decorations for another year, Italians continue to celebrate marking Epifania and the arrival of La Befana, an old witch who brings presents for children who’ve been good.
The religious side of the day is celebrated with processions, nativities and masses around the country. In Rome the faithful process to St Peter’s Basilica, dressed in medieval costume and bringing gifts for the Pope who then leads morning prayers. In other towns and cities you might see live nativities, or presepi viventi, and re-enactments of the arrival of the 3 kings, often followed by free concerts so keep your eyes peeled!
As for La Befana, many consider her bigger than Santa Claus, who is a recent import, with the old crone bringing the presents rather than the red beardy one. And different regions welcome the witch in different ways. In Venice men dressed up as La Befana race up the Grand Canal to the Rialto Bridge. Meanwhile in Rome they celebrate with a market selling toys, sweets and sugar coal in Piazza Navona between Christmas and Epiphany. Romans even believe that La Befana will appear in the window of one of the palazzi in the piazza at midnight between the 5th and 6th January and go, hoping to spot her. But if you don’t see her there make sure to keep a look out for her crossing the midnight skies on her broomstick!
7th January – Giornata Nazionale della Bandiera Italiana (National Day of the Italian Flag)
Celebrated mainly in Reggio Emilia and Rome January 7th marks the birth of the Italian flag or Tricolore. Formal changing of the guard ceremonies take place in Piazza Prampolini in Reggio Emilia and at the Quirinale Parliament building in Rome. Meanwhile around the country public buildings and businesses will fly the flag with just a little more pride than usual. It’s not a big celebration but if you happen to be in Rome or Reggio Emilia, might be worth a look.
11th January – Festa della Radicchio, Mirano, VeniceItalians love food and love to celebrate the seasons too so January sees the festival of the radicchio, a white-stalked red-leafed cichory grown in the Veneto region. The vegetable has a bitter taste but this mellows once its cooked, usually by grilling in olive oil, roasting as a poultry stuffing, chopped into a risotto or alongside pasta. Its roots can also be mixed with coffee.
The festival itself brings 30-40 local producers together in Mirano, a little mainland town around 21km from Venice. Musicians, street performers and artists provide the entertainment whilst the radicchio, in all its different varieties, is celebrated alongside other typical local products. Don’t miss the chance to taste this traditional Venetian dish.
More information in Italian click on the festival website here
23rd January to 9th February – Venice Carnival
Venice carnival is famous around the world and draws in thousands of visitors over the duration of the festival. The origins are thought to go back to the pagan rituals of the ancient Romans but the current traditions are firmly linked to Catholic traditions from the 12th century and the lead up to Lent and Easter. Before the faithful start the frugal, fasting 40 days of Lent, carnival enables them to feast and party like there’s no tomorrow to use up all the forbidden foods like meat and sweets. And no-one does it better than Venice!
More information is available here but the main Venice Carnival 2016 dates to look out for are as below
Saturday 23rd January – 6pm Opening of the Carnival with a water show along the Rio of Cannaregio and an encore at 8pm
Sunday 24th January – 11am Boat procession along the Grand Canal from Punta della Dogana to the Rio di Cannaregio.
Saturday 30th January – Carnival Parade of Marie to St Mark’s Square
Sunday 31st January – 12pm Flight of the Angel in St Mark’s Square
Sunday 7th February – 12pm Flight of the Eagle; final of the Best Mask 2015 competition
Tuesday 9th February – 5pm Flight of the Lion, proclamation of the Mary of Carnival 2015.
Note : the date for Carnival changes depending on when Lent and Easter fall so always check before you book to ensure you catch the main attractions each year.
For more information check out the official website here
27th January – International Day of Commemoration in Memory of the Victims of the Holocaust
On this day in 1945 the gates of Auschwitz were finally thrown open by the Allies and the full horror of what had gone on behind them was discovered. 27th January is a United Nations designated day of memorial for the people who lost their lives during the holocaust and as in many countries in Europe and around the world Italy will mark it with ceremonies and events. Last year Bologna, Turin, Milan, Venice and Rome, amongst others, programmed exhibitions and events illustrating their histories at the time so look out for similar events to mark this. (As and when I get more information I will update this page).
This year will also mark the 500th anniversary of the foundation of the Jewish ghetto in Venice on the 29th March. And the ghetto in Rome was formed just 40 years after Venice, so make sure to check them out when you visit the cities to discover their unforgettable histories and fascinating futures. Oh and make sure to pop into one of the kosher bakeries for a bagel or biscuit – yum!
29th January – Fire at the Fenice 20 years ago today
At 20:58 on January 29th 1996 the Venice Vigili del Fuoco, Fire Brigade, received the phonecall that they dread saying smoke had been spotted pouring out of the historic Fenice Theatre in the heart of the city. Over the course of the next 2 days the fire roared through the building sending plumes of smoke over the rooftops as the firemen battled to bring it under control. Sadly, though, the fire destroyed the stage, seating and ceiling leaving just the brick shell.
This wasn’t the first time La Fenice, appropriately meaning the phoenix, had burnt down but Venetians are nothing if not determined and straight away vowed to find the culprits, which they did, and to rebuild “where it was, as it was”. And after years of planning, 650 days of round the clock building by a team of hundreds of workmen and an estimated €90 million the theatre re-opened, as good as new, on the 14th December 2003. If you want to see what Venetians can do with a bit of blood, sweat and tears, why not take the tour of the opulent, gilded theatre or take in a opera. You won’t be disappointed!
More information available on the Fenice theatre official website
29th, 30th & 31st January – I Giorni della Merla
I giorni della Merla or the “Days of the Blackbird” isn’t so much a festival or event but a time of the year to avoid for Italians who consider these 3 days the coldest of the year! Bbbrrrr!!!!
If you’re visiting around these dates, make sure to pack an extra jumper or scarf just to be on the safe side!
31st January – Mercatone dell’Antiquariato del Naviglio Grande monthly antiques market, Milan
Milan in north-west Italy is famous for its designer fashion houses, but if you prefer vintage or antiques don’t worry as the monthly canalside market in the Naviglio district is perfect for a Sunday morning’s shopping. Over 2km of canal path is packed with 400 stalls laden with collectibles, antiques and all manner of vintage treasures including books, paintings, nic-nacs and furniture. Open from 9am to 6pm on the last Sunday of every month (except July) this is one market not to miss. And if you need a snack or lunch to keep you going why not pop into the Mercato Metropolitano for a tasty pause!
Average temperatures for January in Italy
Italy is a diverse country with warm southern beaches in Sicily providing a contrast to the snow-covered, craggy Alpine and Dolomiti slopes in the north so its difficult to give general advice, but here goes!
Popular cities such as Milan will generally avoid the snow with daytime temperatures around 7-8 degrees centigrade (44’ F) whilst Rome might hit 10-12’ C and Palermo is positively basking in 15’ C. Obviously the ski slopes in the northern Alps or central Apenines will be considerably colder as is the countryside and locations at higher altitudes will usually have snow this month. And finally if you’ve booked to go to Venice pack an extra jumper as the watery city can be very chilly in January.
So, there you have it. Hopefully I’ve given you some inspiration to get up and out this month to beat the winter blues! If you know of any other events in January please leave me a comment below so I can add them to the calendar or tell me about your favourite January entertainment! In the meantime, happy New Year everyone & happy travels!!!