Christmas in Italy. The markets, regional seasonal delicacies, and participating in Italian Christmas festivities. This dream vacation is on my "bucket list," so I've been jotting down notes and websites pertaining to Christmas in Italy for a while. Last week, I said to myself, "I'll share this information with you, here. Easy." Well, if I had the notes in one, and not 4 different, notebooks it would have been a little easier. Also, narrowing down the numerous events in Italy's 20 regions is about as easy as deciding which Italian cities to visit and which you'll have to save for the next trip.
The majority of the Christmas markets, called Mercatini di Natale, are in the Trentino/Alto-Adige, just south of Austria, but these festivities go on throughout the boot. Typically there are wooden chalets selling Christmas decorations, hand-crafted goods, seasonal food and drinks. The piazze turn into dream villages with lights, Christmas trees, music and merriment. Manger scenes, called presepi, wooden, ceramic and sometimes live versions, are everywhere. Scents of baked Christmas sweets and spiced wine fill the air. That old hag La Befana and even Babbo di Natale (Santa Claus) enchant or scare the children. There are usually rides - even live animals - for the children to enjoy. There can also be rides for the adults. Maybe a romantic horse-drawn carriage or a tiny train, taking you through the medieval village and beyond the ancient walls to nearby parks and castles.
Below is a list of some of the Christmas markets and events throughout Italy along with links to the official sites, when I found one. Many of the sites are only in Italian, with the exception of the multi-lingual South Tyrol. Starting the end of November or early December, the markets continue through Christmas to January 6 (the religious holiday of the Epiphany). Then La Befana, the witch who brings candy to good kids and coal to bad ones, makes an appearance. If you're traveling to Italy around Christmas, these markets have something for everyone.
Val d' Aosta
Aosta Mercatino di Natale - December 3 to January 6, 2011 in Piazza Caveri
Piazza Caveri turns into an alpine Christmas village with real Christmas, trees, lights and wooden houses (casette) selling local artigianal products and food.
Mostra Mercato di Natale (Christmas Show Market) - December 5, 12, & 19 - 9am to 8pm in Piazza Chanoux - Over 70 exhibitors will have local hand-crafted gifts for sale
Turin - December 3 to 23 in Piazza Borga Dora and the surrounding area
The piazza also becomes a Christmas village with a huge Christmas tree in the piazza and many exhibitors selling products and food. On Dec. 5, 6,7,8,12,13,19,& 20 there is a free shuttle bus that leaves from the center at Piazza Castello to Piazza Borga Dora. Restaurants in the surrounding area will be offering special Christmas menus.
Milan - December 5 to 8 at Castello Sforzesco
The Oh Bej, Oh Bej Fair (Milan's dialect for "How beautiful, how beautiful") is a fair to honor the patron saint of Milan, St. Ambrogio. The fair will have over 400 stalls selling Christmas items and food.
Trentino Christmas Markets Site - This is the site for all information on Christmas markets in Arco, Andalo, Levico, Pergine Valsugana, Rango nel Bleggio, Rovereto, and Trento
Arco - November 19 to December 23 in the historic center (centro storico)
Special events at the festival: December 7th is the Festa d' Immacolata and there will be a fireworks display from the castle. December 11 & 12 there will be a showing of an Italian verson of Dicken's A Christmas Carol. They will have a little train (trenino) to take you around the city. You can check here: Complete Arco Christmas Program for all events and times.
Andalo - December 3 to 24 in Piazza Dolomiti
Bolzano (Bozen) - November 26 to December 23 in Piazza Walter
One of the most photographed cities in the Dolomites, Bolzano, sits in the valley surrounded by rolling hills and the Dolomite mountains in the backdrop. At Christmas, Bolzano and the valley may also be carpeted with snow. Along with the traditional market, there will be an artisan one (hand-made crafts) at Piazza Municipio and Notte dei Musei where evening entrance into certain museums will be free.
Bressanone (Brixen) - November 26 to January 6, 2011 in Piazza Duomo
The market takes place in the main cathedral's square. The Cathedral (Duomo) has an 800-year old Gothic cloister. There will be a presepi exhibition at Episcopal Palace.
Bruncio (Bruneck) - November 26 to January 6, 2011 on the Nuovo Piazza Municipio
Another gem situated at the foot of the Dolomites, you can add a ski vacation to your trip. The ski resort Kronplatz is just outside the town.
Levico - November 20 to January 6, 2011in the Parco Alburgico
Along with the traditional Christmas Market, food will be a huge theme of the celebrations with a Polenta Fest (11/28 - 12/8) and a Cheese Fest (12/5-12/12). In the park there will also be a Santa Clause 5K run - Santa suit is required for entry. A fireworks show will be held at 9:30pm on these Saturday evenings: 11/27, 12/4 and 12/11, and there will be horse-drawn carriage rides.
Merano - November 26 to January 6, 2011on the historic spa promenade
The 18th year of the festival in the spa town of Merano, its held along a beautiful riverfront promenade. Check out a huge gallery of previous Merano Christmas Markets photos. The website, with an English option, is full of information and pictures.
Rango nel Bleggio - December 5 to 19
Rovereto - November 27 to January 2, 2011 in Corso Rosmini
Along with local products there will also be Christmas items from North Europe.
Trento Christmas Market - November 20 to December 23 in Piazza Fiera
One of the more visited and famous of the markets of Trentino, it's also the busiest. The site brags that over 100 pullman buses come to the town each weekend. The piazza is next to the huge medieval wall of the city which adds to the medieval Christmas feel.
Vipiteno (Sterzing) November 26 to January 6, 2011 in Piazza Citta (Stadtplatz)
This medieval mining town, will have a mining exhibition along with the regular Christmas market.
Verona - December 4 to January 23, 2011 in Piazza Bra and the Arena
Verona's Arena, the sight for the summer opera festival, is illuminated and houses over 400 nativity scenes. A huge star arches from the Arena out and onto Piazza Bra where the Christmas market and its vendors are. Christmas treats include Pandoro (a sweet Christmas bread) and Nadalin (star Christmas cookies).
Bologna - There are two festivals that celebrate Christmas. Fiera di Santa Lucia, also a celebration of the saint, is the bigger of the two.
Fiera di Santa Lucia - November 20 to December 26 around Church dei Servi
Fiera di Natale - November 20 to January 6, 2011 on Via Altabella
Genoa - December 7 to 19 at La Fiera di Genova - Piazzale Kennedy
Almost any kind of gift you could immagine will be at this Fiera a Natale. There will also be a food and wine section with products from Liguria and lessons on making traditional Christmas food.
Florence Noel - December 4 to 12 at Stazione Leopoldo - Entrance = 7,50 euros
The Leopoldo Train Station houses this festival. Along with stalls selling gift items, chocolate and other foods, there will be Santa's house (Casa di Babbo Natale ) where children can meet Santa, write, and post letters to him.
Mercato Tedesco di Natale - December 1 to 19 in Piazza Santa Croce
This will be a traditional Christmas market with wooden houses selling hand-crafted products and food and wine.
The 18th annual festival bills itself as the biggest show market for gastronomy and artigianal products in the region. Its main location is the 16th century fortress, but there will also be food and wine stalls in the historic center and craft stalls in Piazza Italia.
Pesaro - December 4 to 8 in the nearby town of Candelara
An illuminated Christmas Market. At certain moments during the event, the city will be illuminated only with candles. Along with the traditional market and via dei presepi (a manger exhibit), there will also be ice sculptures of manger scenes. There will be free shuttle bus service from Pescaro (several central locations) to the town of Candelara.
Fano - December 1 to 31 in various locations throughout the city
The traditional Christmas market will be in Giardini Amiani. There are many festivities during the month of December. The Tempo di Natale events include a nativity exhibit along via Mura San Gallo, an afternoon market in the centro storico at Piazza XX Settembre, and several concerts.
Piazza Navona Christmas Market - November 26 - January 6, 2011 in Piazza Navonna
Vatican City - Along with the presepe display, huge Christmas tree in the piazza, and midnight mass on December 24, there are a number of religious celebrations througout the month of December.
100 Presepi Display - November 26 to January 6, 2011 in Piazza del Popolo - Entrance = 5,50 euros weekdays and 6,50 euros weekends/holidays
Frascati - "Natale a Frascati" will be from December 3 to January 5, 2011 in the town center (centro)
Frascati, one of the towns of the Castelli Romani, will have 40 wooden houses selling products and food, and both Santa Claus and La Befana will make appearances.
Via San Gregorio Armeno in the historic center
This is "Christmas Lane" all year long, selling the Presepi Napolitano, but in December the street becomes even more festive.
For presepi on exhibit, these churches/monasteries have them:
Basilica Santa Chiara - via Santa Chiara 29
Certosa di San Martino (Saint Martin's Charterhouse) - Largo San Martino 5 in Vomero
Pontecagnano - From November 17 to December 19 in the Gardens (Giardini) of Piazza Sabbato
This town near Salerno is kicking off its first "Christmas Market" this year. Modeled after the Christmas markets in the north of Italy and of those in Northern Europe, it will have a Southern Italian feel featuring local products, food and wine.
Caltagirone - On weekends from November 6&7 to December 11&12 in Piazza Umberto
A Christmas market with the requisite wooden stalls and presepi but also Sicilian crafts and sweets
Catania - December 7 to 22 in Piazzale Sanzio
Cagliari - from December 10 to 19
The market will have hand-crafted items along with Sardinian food and wine products
How fun it will be to see Christmas festivals throughout Italy, from ones in the snow-covered South Tirol to those surrounded by palm trees in Sicily. The magic, romance, wonderment, SHOPPING, and SWEETS! My plan is to go next year; however, after putting this list together and seeing all the photos and videos, like the one below, I've seriously thought about changing my plans. Should I forego my planned trip in March and make a Christmas trip this December? What do you think?
Have you been to any of the Christmas markets in Italy? Do you know of a great Christmas market or festival not listed?
Video provided by the South Tyrol Tourist Board: