Italy: Festivals for culture, food and fitness fans

Italy: Festivals for culture, food and fitness fans

You've tried the fabulous food and seen the glorious scenery, but visit Italy during one of its festivals and you'll get a really memorable break.

Read on for highlights of Italy’s festival calendar...

Venice Carnival

When: February 6-16 2010

What is it? Thousands flock to Venice every year to take part in its dramatic and colourful carnival, which marks the start of spring.

The city’s labyrinth of narrow streets and network of canals provide the perfect backdrop for the masked and costumed models who pose mysteriously on bridges and in piazzas.

Look out for live music shows in Piazza San Marco on the carnival’s penultimate night, Martedi Grasso (Shrove Tuesday) when revellers dance in the central square, enjoying an impressive midnight fireworks display.

Kirker Holidays commercial and product director Andrew Layard said: “Carnevale is one of the most atmospheric times to visit Venice. The party on Shrove Tuesday is a once-in-a-lifetime experience as the atmosphere is intoxicating.” 

Why is it special? You won’t find floats on the back of trucks in Venice. Carnival floats glide along the city’s canals while gondolas are specially decorated for the occasion.

Where to stay? For accommodation as grand as the city, stay at the four-star Metropole Hotel.

What else can I do there? Must-see sights include St Mark’s Square and Basilica di San Marco. Relax in one of San Marco’s plush coffee houses.  

Sample product: Kirker offers three nights’ bed and breakfast at the Metropole Hotel from £715 per person, including flights, transfers, and free entry to some attractions. (020 7593 2283)

Cioccolato festival, Turin

When: March 2010

What is it? This festival sees visitors stuffing their faces with 30,000kg of chocolate. Competitions and tastings take place in Turin’s Piazza Vittorio Veneto and cafes.

There is also a programme of cultural events. Willy Wonka wannabes can watch the chocolate-making process at a factory in the central piazza.

Why is it special? Turin is rich in chocolate history, beginning in the 16th century when the city became the capital of the kingdom of Savoy. In celebration, the new ruler served his citizens with cups of hot chocolate and cafes serving chocolate began popping up all over the city. It became a major centre for chocolate production in the 19th century.

Where to stay? The Turin Palace Hotel is near all the main attractions and has a restaurant that serves up regional dishes.

What else can I do there? Turin has a lively cafe culture and nightlife, as well as a host of palaces, designer boutiques and galleries.

Sample product: The Italian Connection offers three nights’ bed and breakfast at the Turin Palace Hotel, from £479 per person, including flights and transfers. (01424 728 900) 

Festival del Fitness, Florence

When: May 19-23

What is it? Hailed “the biggest gym in the world”, this festival offers activities for the whole family, including running, jumping, climbing, dancing, walking,
skating and rowing.

Taking place in the beautiful Fortezza de Basso, just spitting distance from Florence’s main attractions, this festival offers participants the chance to get toned up in time for the swimsuit season.

What’s special about it? The fitness festival is the largest of its kind in the world.

Where to stay: Unwind after a sport-filled day at the Norcenni Girasole Club, which offers four swimming pools with lagoons, a whirlpool bath and sauna in a countryside setting.

What else can I do there? After exploring Florence’s historical sights, such as the cathedral and the Uffizi Gallery, get out of the city and see the romantic landscape of Tuscany, alive with vineyards and medieval castles. 

Sample product: Keycamp offers seven nights’ accommodation-only in a two-bedroom Villaclassic mobile home, at the Norcenni Girasole Club, for £366 from May 19, sleeping two adults and up to four children. Flydrive packages or rail travel can be arranged by Keycamp at a supplement. (0844 844 0000,

International opera festival, Verona

When: June 19 to August 30

What is it? One of the world’s three surviving Roman amphitheatres provides the setting for this summer festival, featuring five operas. This year the operas include Carmen, Aida, Turandot and Tosca.

What’s special about it? The ancient setting. The 2,000-year-old Arena di Verona seats 22,000 people. During evening performances it is lit up by thousands of candles held by members of the audience – an amazing sight.

Where to stay: For five-star luxury in a 14th century setting, stay at Due Torri Hotel Baglioni in the historic centre. Numerous kings and even Mozart have stayed here.

What else can I do there? Flush with Roman sites and medieval architecture, this beautiful city was Shakespeare’s setting for Romeo and Juliet. Visit Juliet’s house to see the courtyard that inspired that famous balcony scene. Here you’ll find a statue of Juliet. Legend says men should rub her right breast for virility while women should touch her arm to find their Romeo. 
Sample product: International Festivals Bureau offers a hotel room and opera package, including one night’s accommodation in a four-star hotel in Verona and a ticket for a floodlit performance in the Roman amphitheatre, for £191 per person. (0870 247 1204)

Truffle Festival, Alba

When: October

What is it? Taking place over several weekends in October, this festival features truffle markets where the rare and aromatic funghi are sold and used to make treats that are served up in local restaurants. Prizes are awarded to the truffle pickers who bring in the best finds.

What’s so special about it? Visitors can follow a hunter as he searches for truffles on a scenic trail. 

Where to stay: Boutique hotel Relais San Maurizio used to be a 17th century monastery. what used to be monks’ cells are now plush rooms, while the one-time monastery’s cellar is a Michelin-starred restaurant.  

Sample package: Classic Collection Holidays offers seven nights at the Relais San Maurizio hotel for £1,198 per person, including flights and transfers. (0800 008 7288 )


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