This weekend there is more than skiing to draw you to the Aosta Valley. Aosta is an old Roman town in northwestern Italy with a dramatic mountain backdrop that includes the spectacular Monte Bianco (Mont Blanc), Cervinia (the Matterhorn) and Monte Rosa. Starting about the year 1000 the Fiera di Sant’Orsowas created to honor an Irish monk who began distributing clothing and sabot (wooden shoes) to the poor. Today the tradition continues with over 1,000 artisans and stands distributed throughout the town the final weekend of January.
Early morning until late at night on Saturday and Sunday artisans will display intricate wood carvings, sculptures baskets, ceramics and other forms of fine & folk art. Though this festival has been a showcase for the wood carving craftsment that display their wares, there is also a food and wine tent showcasing every local delicacy you can imagine: cheese, meat, jams, wines and more. The specialty “L’Atelier” tent has over 80 vendors selling a wide variety clothing, furnishings and housewares.
Sabot – Traditional Wooden Shoes
Wood Carving – Woman
Wood Carving – Horse
At night, stroll the streets while sipping warm, mulled wine and listening to spontaneous folk music and singing. Participate in some local food tastings or buy a grolla and share it with friends. La grolla is essentially a friendship cup; it’s carved out of wood, has 2, 4, 6 or 8 spouts and is intended to be filled with coffee, grappa and sugar. You might be able to spot one of these in use at a rifugio on the mountain or during apres ski. Buy one from a wood artisan and take it home with you, the perfect souvenir to bring with you to your next party.
The Venice Carnival festivities begin this weekend. Over a period of two weeks there will be costumed parades, masquerade balls and costume contests. There are more than 50 related events in Venice and nearby providing entertainment, live music and theater. The 2016 Carnival theme is “Creatum -introducing Arts and Traditions”; honoring the craftspeople that have kept traditions alive. The amazing colorful costumes and elaborate masks are a feast for the eyes. Traces of the festivities we see today began as early as 1192. The modern-day Venice Carnival was instituted in 1979, after many periods of stop and start, including being banned by the fascist regime of Mussolini in the 1930s.The mask-makers, called “mascherari”, traditionally had their own craftsmen guild and set of laws. One of the main highlights is the beautiful mask contest “la maschera più bella”. Held the last weekend of the carnival celebrations, entrants are judged by a panel of international fashion and costume designers.
Venice will play host to over 3 million visitors during the Carnival period. Depending on the size of your wallet, you can choose how much or how little to participate. Spending only your time, you can view the costumed boat parade through the Grand Canal, great people-watching, and mask or costume contests. Tickets were still available to some of the masqueraded ball events next week; they range in price from hundreds to thousands of dollars depending on which ball and which level of ticket you purchase. Costumes and accessories are rented by the day and range from a couple hundred to a thousand dollars depending on the type of character you want to portray, how fancy you prefer to be and if you want to pay for professional makeup.
If the Venice Carnival is on your bucket list, you will feel transported back in time to an age when putting on a dress took more than one person and your position in society was literally worn on your sleeve.
This weekend there are numerous feasts and religious celebrations throughout Italy honoring Saint Anthony, the patron saint of animals. Each celebrates with their own local spin but many have several things in common: blessing ceremonies for animals and pets, great food and bonfires. In the northern Lazio province of Viterbo, the town of Tuscania will celebrate Saint Anthony and hold its 46th “Sagra della Frittella” this Sunday, January 17th.
The day begins at 10:30 in the morning with a procession of cowboys, horses and animals brought by farmers to a blessing ceremony at the Church of Santa Maria del Riposo. Then it’s time for the frittelle. “Frittelle” are fritters that can be made up of a variety of foods. The frittelle at this feast are battered chunks of fried cauliflower (frittelle al cavofiore in Italian). A large frying pan will be set up in the old town center on Piazza Italia and local cauliflower will be fried up and served with salt or sugar while singers perform throughout the town. After the sun sets at 6:00 pm, a traditional bonfire is held at the edge of town, rooted in pagan tradition.
Photo credit: Pelagiodafro4 (Giuseppe D’Emilio) via Foter.com / CC BY-NC-ND
Tuscania also has an Etruscan museum, Romanesque Basilica Santa Maria Maggiore and the Fontana delle Sette Cannelle, a roman fountain made of medieval materials. Tuscania is about 2 hours by car from Rome and 3 hours by car from Florence, very close to the Tyrhennian coastline.