Category Archives: Italian Festivals

The Carnival of Venice 2014

Each year, the Carnival of Venice attracts over 3 million visitors. Have you ever thought about visiting it yourself? Maybe you are worried that it will be too expensive? From Cottages to Castles, we would like you to think about it one more time!

There is no extra charge to be in Venice for the Carnival (although accommodation can be more expensive and gets booked up fast!). Tickets for some of the most exclusive parties start from 500€, but you don’t need to splash all the cash to be able to enjoy the glamour of the Carnival. Many of the most fascinating events are free, and we would suggest staying in one of the many villas and cottages available in the surrounded areas and reachable by train in around an hour. It will be cost-effective and less stressful, as you can enjoy the hustle and bustle of the party AND some peace and quiet so you can sleep at night!

We recommend that, each day, you visit and linger around St Mark’s Square, where the most amazing costumes can be seen every year. The Volo dell’Angelo, one of the most well-known events, takes place on February 23rd. This year, organisers are hoping to bring some of the crowds away from St Mark’s and into the Arsenale. While not everybody has been happy about this change in tradition, we believe the Arsenale can also set a breathtakingly spectacular scene for some of the events scheduled for the next few days, which will surely deserve to be part of your to-see list.

Last but not least, do not forget to get your own mask! The Carnival is more fun when you are also taking part. While traditionally Venetians have preferred the plain white masks (called volto) you can get your own mask and go as extravagant and dramatic as you wish. Browse what’s on offer at some of the traditional mascarei of the city, hide your face and enjoy the Carnival of Venice 2014!

Read more in the official website!

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New Year’s Eve in Italy

Many countries follow different traditions when it comes to the end of a year and the start of another. New Year’s Eve in Italy is certainly a special day and it is celebrated in many different ways.

Vigilia di Capodanno or Notte di San Silvestro, as Italians refer to this night, is marked by fireworks and dancing as in many other countries in the World. But there is more to New Year’s eve in Italy than sparklers and firecrackers.

*Image: Wikipedia

*Image: Wikipedia

Italians traditionally fire a “Christmas log” on the last day of the old year in order to scare the bad spirits away from the house.

In some regions there are different traditions. For example, in Bologna a sculpture of an old man is burnt; in parts of Southern Italy, old pots, pans, and personal objects are thrown out of the window to make space for the New Year!

Another fun tradition is that every Italian will make sure they are wearing red underwear when the new year arrives as, apparently, this attracts good luck, happiness and love! For this reason, it is common for friends to give each other red underwear as gifts, wishing great fortune for the receiver. You can find red underwear in every Italian shop around this time of year, from your local corner supermarket to Armani!

We hope you have a great time tonight and 2014 is a happy, prosperous year!

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New Year’s Eve food in Italy

If you are still stuck over what to serve your guests for dinner tomorrow, when the last night of 2013 will mark the celebrations for a New Year starting, here we are to help you with some ideas straight from Italy’s collective cookbook!

Did you know that, in New Year’s Eve, one of the main ingredients of the lavish dinner will be…lentils? Lentils symbolise wealth, money and good fortune for the year that starts and are part of probably the best-followed traditional New Year’s Eve food in Italy.

Many parts of Italy also include as part of their dinner pork produce, such as cotechino (a large spiced sausage which boils on low heat for hours) or zampone (pig’s trotter stuffed with sausage). The richness of the pork dishes also simbolises the richness of life in the year that just starts; when these dishes are sliced, you can imagine each slice to have the shape of a coin. Sometimes these dishes are served with polenta and…more lentils!

Cotechino with lentils and polenta  *Image: Wikipedia

Cotechino with lentils and polenta
*Image: Wikipedia

Some regions prepare their own traditional dishes when it comes to this special night. For example, in Piedmont, risotto in bianco (white risotto) is served, with rice representing coins.

For desert, raisins are eaten for good luck  and having grapes ensures that your guests will be careful with their money-spending in the New Year. Italians would also ensure there is a cake on the table to symbolise hope and prosperity.

We hope we have helped you with some New Year’s Eve food ideas for your festive menu tomorrow!

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Christmas food in Italy

We hope that everybody has had a lovely Christmas Day and Boxing Day with the whole family! You might think that by now the last thing you want to hear about is Christmas food (turkey leftovers, anyone?) but we are sure that you will change your mind when we tell you more about the delicious items Italians will have eaten in the last few days as part of their stylish celebrations.

In Italy, as elsewhere, many traditions are kept and followed throughout the country, with some room for manoeuvre between different regions. One of the most important days in the calendar for Italians is Christmas Eve, which centres around the Christmas Eve meal. In Rome and many of the towns and cities to the south of the capital, the tradition is to eat a seafood-based dinner on Christmas Eve, for example a roulade of swordfish or salmon. This meal is shared by the family and is a very important custom.

Christmas Eve

The food is followed by the giving of gifts amongst family members. The children open the presents that they find under the tree, before the final act of the evening, which is to take a trip to church for midnight mass.

On 25th December, once all of the previous evening’s food has been digested and the family has woken up, it is time for another important meal. This one is eaten at lunch time and often involves a visit to the nonni (Grandparents), who put out their best silverware and find their biggest table for the event. Traditionally Christmas lunch is meat, such as beef or roast chicken, but of course customs and the exact dish that is eaten vary around country, in typical Italian style.

Next week we will tell you more about festive Italian food, including the delicacies eaten for New Year’s, so stay tuned!

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Bolzano Christmas Market

Christmas Markets have become part of the tradition of the season nowadays, with towns and cities across Europe transforming themselves into fairy-tale winter wonderlands. Although a white Christmas is rare in the UK, we still associate snow with the festive season. For this reason, the market at Bolzano, in the north of Italy is truly magical.

*Image of Bolzano: Wikipedia

*Image of Bolzano: Wikipedia

The town, located on the border with Switzerland, is normally covered with the white stuff at this time of year and the reflection of the lights on the powder is truly impressive. This mountain town has a market famous throughout the region. With a heavy German influence, wooden stalls are set up selling traditional gifts and culinary specialities from the area.

There is perhaps no finer way to get into the festive spirit than by drinking a glass of mulled wine to warm up on a chilly winter evening, with the Dolomite Mountains as your backdrop.

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Christmas markets in Milan

An ever-popular tradition and great place to buy handmade gifts for your loved ones, Christmas markets are a very important part of the festive season around Italy.

*Image: Wikipedia

*Image: Wikipedia

This year, one of the best markets to visit in the country can be found in the Indro Montanelli gardens in the northern city of Milan. A tradition that has been imported from Germany, this market has many stalls selling traditional Italian gifts and treats.

It is also a great place to warm up from the chilly weather, either with a glass of mulled wine or by taking advantage of the ice rink located at the market.

The market has been open every day since 30th November and will be around until January, when children will be able to enter La Befana’s house (we already told you about this good witch and her doings every year in Epiphany here) and fill stockings with treats.

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Torrone is just one of a series of delicious Italian treats that are traditionally savoured around the holiday season and is eaten from Christmas Eve until 6th January. It is best described as a type of nougat, as the mixture is made from egg whites, honey and sugar heated in a pan and then sliced into individual bars before being baked for a short time in the oven. Almonds are found in the centre for added flavour.

In typical Italian fashion, there is a slight debate over where Torrone originates from and which region has the best type. All that can be agreed on is that it is a very old type of sweet, which may have been brought to Italy from another country, such as Spain or North Africa, where it is also popular. There is variety in its preparation, as some regions make a soft and slightly creamy version, whereas in other areas Torrone has a hard and chewy texture.

It is argued that the best Torrone is found in the South of Italy, where they hold regular competitions between towns to judge who makes the best version of the treat. As with most matters, it is a question of personal taste, as there are so many different types and variations on the treat, including some that are covered in chocolate

However, this is surely the best part of it, as the existence of so many variations ensure that everybody will understand why the Italians are so in love with this mouth-watering treat.

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Italian Christmas Sweets and Desserts

There are so many delicious Italian Christmas sweets, cookies, cakes and desserts that we couldn’t pick just one for today’s post. If any of you are lucky enough to have spent Christmas in Italy, we are sure you will be feeling hungry just for thinking of all the delicacies and yummy treats that Italians eat on the holiday season! We have already talked to you about panettone, possibly one of the most famous Italian Christmas sweets, but here are just a few of the most famous ones:

– Pandoro: Milan has Panettone, and Verona couldn’t be any lesser… so Pandoro is Verona’s traditional Christmas cake, which never contains candied fruit (and some people prefer it for this reason). Pandoro really is almost too pretty to eat, with its generous dusting of powdered sugar making it look like a true Christmas-sy snowy mountain.



– Struffoli: these fried dough balls are first dipped in a rich honey syrup, then put together into the shape of a wreath and sprinkled with diavolilli – delicious! It is believed that this dessert probably dates from Roman times, as the use of honey as a sweetener dates way back!

– Panforte: originary from Siena, this rich mixture of honey, spices, candied fruit and almonds has been developed in many different ways over the centuries, and some of the most popular nowadays are Panforte Nero and Panforte Margherita, without forgetting the less traditional but delicious chocolate version!

– Caggionetti and Susamielli: both these types of southern cookies can be found anywhere south of Naples. Caggionetti are fried cookies and Susamielli are S-shaped and traditionally made by nuns. Both delicious and totally irresistible!

– Ricciarelli: these orange amaretti originary from Siena really are not to be missed if you are in the area for Christmas this year!

– Cartellate and Buzzolai: these cookies, from Altamura and Dalmatia respectively, are produced in different shapes and taste variations, and you won’t be able to stop yourself from having at least one of each!

And last but not least, we would like to recomend you try Ginetti if you visit Sicily in Christmas; they are some of the yummiest cookies you will ever eat!

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Christmas in Italy: Epiphany and La Befana

Opening the presents that Babbo Natale (Father Christmas) brings on Christmas day is becoming more popular during Christmas in Italy, but still the main day for giving presents is January 6th, when, according to Catholic beliefs, the Three Wise Men visited Baby Jesus to honour him with gold, frankincense and myrrh.

In Italy, though, it’s not the Three Wise Men who bring the presents but La Befana, a good witch who flies on her broomstick in the night and gets to people’s houses in order to ensure no good child is left without a gift on Epiphany day!

*Image: Wikipedia

*Image: Wikipedia

Where did the story of La Befana come from? There is a legend that says that, on their way to visit Jesus, the Three Wise Men stopped at the house of an old woman to ask for some directions and invited her to go with them and honour the newborn. However, the old woman refused because “she was too busy”. Later on, when she saw the great star on the sky, she decided to go on a trip and find Jesus to give him some items that had belonged to her child, who had sadly died. There is no happy ending to the story, as the legend says that the old lady got lost and never found the manger.

Now, she flies on her broomstick bringing gifts to all Italian children on the night of January 5th, but only to those children who haven’t been naughty!

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Christmas in Italy: Panettone

During the next few weeks, and as everyone is starting to get excited about Christmas, Cottages to Castles will be bringing you inspiration, information and ideas about what is like to spend Christmas in Italy. We are real Christmas enthusiasts and love all things festive, so what better way to get into the spirit of the season than sharing with our lovely readers some of our beloved Italian Christmas traditions?


You might have spotted it in the supermarket already; Panettone is one of the most popular Italian sweets that you can get your hands on in shops around the World. But did you know that Panettone is original from Milan, and one of the symbols of this city? It is so popular, that you can find it in different shapes and sizes, although the traditional cupola shape of 12 to 15 cm height is still the most widely spread around the World.

This fluffy cake contains candied orange and lemon zest as well as raisins, all of which give it the fruity taste that’s so characteristic. Other varieties, such as plain, or with chocolate chips, are also available.

We are sure that, by now, you will really be craving some delicious Panettone (we sure are!). And if you fancy eating it as a true Italian, we recommend serving it with a hot drink, or sweet wine if you are feeling a bit naughtier! Cut it vertically, in slices, and make some crema di mascarpone by mixing mascarpone, eggs, candie fruits and some amaretto. Enjoy!

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