Home-grown tradition in South Tyrol
Organic is the word on everyone’s lips this year, at the traditional Trentino and South Tyrol markets: no chips or plastic toys, but wooden houses, lights with a low environmental impact, traditional dishes prepared using local ingredients only, organic produce and arts and crafts.
The festival will begin on 29 November, when, at exactly 5 o’clock pm, the Christmas trees will be lit up in the five cities involved (Bolzano, Merano, Bressanone, Vipiteno and Brunico) and will continue until 6 January, with the exception of Bolzano (26 December).
Surrounded by fir wreaths and traditional music, in addition to choosing original and responsible Christmas presents, you can watch the maxi advent calendars being opened (in Brunico, Bressanone and Vipiteno, where, at around 5 pm when the calendars are opened, a little event has been organised: a treasure hunt that will enchant both children and grown-ups), have that slightly retro experience of writing real postcards, available free of charge (in all cities, from3 pm to5 pm), and participate in cake- and decoration-making workshops.
This year, it is even easier to move from one market to another, thanks to the mobilcard which, at a highly competitive price, allows you to travel around for three or seven days using all forms of public transport, including trains and funicular railways. Another card is also available which combines the advantages of the previous one with entrance to 80 museums and collections, including the South Tyrol Museum of Archaeology, where you can see Otzi, the oldest mummy in the world, an experience that children will certainly enjoy.
Children can also get involved in workshops, activities and readings in an area dedicated to them, in Piazza della Borsa in Bolzano. They play a leading role in Brunico, which organises games in the square on Sundays, and who would not want to be in the square on 5 December in Bressanone, to await the tumultuous arrival of St. Nicholas, with his angels and devilish companions (Krampus), or on 7 December in Merano, to watch the great parade of ‘scary’ devils.
In keeping with the atmosphere of a Nordic fairy tale, you can sleep between wooden walls and continue to enjoy tasty South Tyrolcooking, created to warm you up and flavoured with herbs and spices, staying in one of the charming 'masi' farmsteads nestled in the silence of the mountains.
Spaccanapoli, blending tradition and irony
Christmas markets are not just a Nordic tradition. Known throughout the world, and rightly so, is the nativity scene market in Via San Gregorio Armeno, in Naples. A tour of the shops along Spaccanapoli is a magical, entertaining experience, as is strolling around the stalls set up outside and choosing what to buy, for the whole month of December. Do not miss a visit to the San Martino Museum, which houses amazing historical nativity scenes with extraordinary craftsmanship.
Visitors wanting to relax and enjoy the genuine Neapolitan tradition, with a touch of imagination and a particularly charming setting, will find what you they are looking for at Il cortile, an 18th century residence with a romantic courtyard surrounded by bougainvillea, enclosed between walls that protect the rooms and the sophisticated restaurant from the noise of the city, all under ten kilometres from Naples.
The atmosphere of the Nativity, in Petrignano d’Assisi
Fascinating and mystic, the live nativity scene in Petrignano d’Assisi, one of the oldest in Italy, will leave a lasting impression. In the narrow streets of the medieval village and on the banks of the river Chiascio, more than 100 volunteers recreate aspects of everyday life and work from two thousand years ago. The performances will be staged from 25 December to 6 January and all proceeds will, as usual, go to charity.
The simple beauty of the Umbrian countryside and the inherent magic of ancient, mystic places such as Assisi make this a special place to spend the holidays, even better if welcomed by the familiar warmth and ancient flavours of a remote farmhouse set amidst the snow-topped hills, or a stone’s throw from the narrow uphill streets of a medieval village.
Honey in Lombardy and Torrone in Faenza
Finally, here are two events to delight the palate with delicious tastings. On Sunday 25 November, the city of Casteggio (Pavia) hosts the Truffle and Honey Festival: a location where visitors can meet the “truffle farmers”, who will be glad to offer their newly “discovered” truffles. Together with the truffle, other traditional produce from the Oltrepo Pavese area and local food and wine specialities will be on show: first of all honey with its organic producers, then Varzi salami, sausages, cheeses, fruit and vegetables, cakes and preserves. The 2012 edition will also showcase wine farms in the Oltrepo Pavese area which, in addition to offering tastings of their wines, will also have gift boxes available for the holidays.
Moving to Faenza, on the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, Saturday 8 December, the historic centre of the city comes alive, giving visitors with a sweet tooth the chance to sample the ‘torrone’ nougat, not only the traditional variety but also versions with a thousand original flavours and experience a day surrounded by perfumes, Christmas lights and coloured stalls.