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Winter Skiing and Beyond in the Italian Alps

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Winter Skiing and Beyond in the Italian Alps
Live Italy! Don't Just See It

Winter Skiing and Beyond in the Italian Alps

Italy’s peak travel season may be during the summer months, but thanks to a rich variety of natural landscapes that come alive at different points of the year, there’s still plenty of fun to be had even as the temperatures get colder. Whether it’s skiing at one of Italy’s first-rate Alpine resorts, touring the art cities with fewer crowds, or celebrating the New Year in a historic city square, a winter vacation to Italy offers plenty of unique experiences. The Alps, and the Dolomites in particular, are the perfect destination to admire winter landscapes and enjoy time in the snow.

Exploring snowcapped mountain ranges

It’s impossible to speak about snow and winter landscapes in Italy without mentioning skiing. In fact, Italy offers a plethora of ski resorts along the Alpine range, with special mention of the Dolomites, as well as areas in the south of the country. From Piedmont in the west to Friuli Venezia Giulia in the east, without forgetting Gran Sasso in Abruzzo and even the slopes of Sicily’s Mount Etna, there are places for every skier, regardless of skillset or preferred activity, to enjoy. When the skiing is done for the day, explore Italy’s characteristic resort towns filled with history or engage in après ski entertainment—the choice is yours!

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Spending time in top Ski Resorts

With approximately 3,600 miles of slopes throughout the country plus stunning scenery as far as the eye can see, Italy is a skier’s paradise. Travelers looking to enjoy skiing while in Italy, should keep several key areas in mind. We have outlined a few suggestions here below, yet truly each of Italy’s mountain havens offers something special.

Aosta Valley - Monte Bianco and More

Though it may be Italy’s smallest region, the Aosta Valley is not lacking in charm. This mountain hideaway is highly regarded for its jagged peaks, historic castles, and quaint villages. When it comes to skiing, the Aosta Valley is a great option for all skill levels thanks to a wide range of slopes.

In particular, we can mention Courmayeur, which is one of the region’s most beloved resorts. Located at the foot of Monte Bianco (Mount Blanc), the highest point in the Alps, Courmayeur is a top choice among Italian and international skiers alike. In addition to its slopes filled with remarkable panoramas, the historic center of Courmayeur is well-cared for and characteristic of an Alpine town. Off the slopes, travelers can spend time at the many artisan workshops as well as après ski destinations including restaurants and night clubs.

Another noteworthy resort in the Aosta Valley is Cervinia, which is located at the foot of Mount Cervino, also called the Matterhorn. Well-known for its high altitudes and lengthy slopes, Cervinia is a paradise for intermediate and expert skiers. The area’s cold temperatures and consistent snowfall result in a reliable resort year-round, parts of which are even accessible to skiers in the summer. Outside of skiing, other activities in Cervinia include ice climbing, exploring caves filled with remarkable ice sculptures, and visiting the historic castles located in the surroundings.

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Lombardy - First Class Slopes

Internationally renowned for its historic cities filled with art, Lombardy is also home to a varied natural landscape composed of lakes, plains, hills, and mountains. The region’s alpine towns, with their distinct culture and culinary traditions, offer a change of pace compared to the elegant streets of Milan or the historic architecture of Bergamo.

In terms of skiing, Livigno is among the top resorts in the area. A small town with a rustic atmosphere, Livigno is characterized by its charming center and historic structures, namely the baite, which are stone and wood huts located in the area’s scenic valleys. Due to Livigno’s position on an expansive plateau situated nearly 6,000 feet above sea level and surrounded by spectacular mountain peaks that often surpass 10,000 feet, the area’s scenery is reminiscent of far away destinations, earning it the nickname “Little Tibet” and making it the perfect destination for ski afficionados.

In addition to skiing and cross-country skiing, athletes of all types will enjoy Livigno’s varied offerings including snowboarding in one of the largest snow parks in Italy, paragliding, dogsledding, and fat-tire biking. The town’s status as a duty-free zone has attracted countless boutiques with plenty of opportunities for shopping after you’ve hit the slopes. Boasting a remarkable variety of restaurants as well as options for live music in the evenings, Livigno’s après ski scene is among Italy’s best.

Located in the Valtellina Valley, the charming town of Bormio is consistently ranked as one of Italy’s premier ski resorts. As an annual host of the Alpine Ski World Cup, Bormio is at the forefront of the international skiing scene and the “Pista Stelvio” is considered to be among the most technically challenging slopes in the world. Bormio is also the gateway to the Stelvio Pass, renowned for its winding road filled with hairpin turns and summer ski offerings.

Besides skiing, Bormio is perhaps just as famous for its thermal baths, which were favored by Ancient Rome’s aristocracy. As a small historic town with numerous buildings dating back to the Middle Ages, Bormio’s nightlife is not as developed as some of Italy’s other resorts, yet its intimate and casual restaurants and shops are perfect for those seeking a more relaxed experience.

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The Dolomites - Crown Jewel of the Alps

Shifting over to the eastern part of the country, Italy’s world-famous Dolomite Mountains are in a league of their own. Known as Dolomiti Super Ski, this ski area is composed of 12 distinct ski resorts that together amount to nearly 750 miles of slopes. Showcasing the best of the area’s scenery, these resorts offer plenty to explore.

First and foremost is Cortina d’Ampezzo, located in the northern portion of the Veneto region. A charming town with a rich history, Cortina d’Ampezzo has long been a destination for the jet set thanks to its superb ski slopes, variety of shops, and extensive après ski scene. In fact, some consider Cortina d’Ampezzo to be a winter version of Portofino. Both on the slopes and off, Cortina d’Ampezzo offers a wide array of activities and entertainment that simply can’t be beat.

Certainly worth a mention as well is Val Gardena, which is nestled in the South Tyrol portion of Trentino-Alto Adige. This area’s location has imparted Germanic influences and made it a melting pot of cultures. Featuring a remarkable history and gorgeous vistas, the skiing in Val Gardena is second to none as is the unique South Tyrol hospitality. Val Gardena is also known for excellent rock-climbing opportunities and woodcarving, a tradition that dates back to the 17th century.

The Dolomites are home to two unique ski circuits that give travelers a better understanding of the area’s geography and history. The first is the Giro della Sellaronda, which takes adventurous skiers around the Sella Massif. Highlights include characteristic valleys such as the Val Gardena, Alta Badia, Val di Fassa, and Arabba. Spanning a distance of almost 25 miles, this circuit is an excellent way to spend a day skiing in the Dolomites.

The second circuit is known as Giro della Grande Guerra. This unique tour through gorgeous mountain landscapes focuses on areas that served as settings for battles of World War I, when troops struggled to survive in the harsh conditions. In order to best appreciate both the beauty and history of this area, it is possible to arrange for a knowledgeable Alpine guide or ski instructor to lead you through the circuit.

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Coming Soon: 2026 Winter Olympics

When speaking about skiing in Italy, it is necessary to mention that the 2026 Winter Olympics will be hosted by the cities of Milan and Cortina d’Ampezzo. Numerous ski areas will be involved in organizing the various competitions including Bormio, Livigno, and, of course, Cortina d'Ampezzo. With an opening ceremony in Milan and the closing ceremony held in the historic Verona Arena, the 2026 Winter Olympics are certain to showcase the best of the Italian Alps.

Beyond Skiing

For those not interested in winter sports, there are plenty of other options to keep you busy in the Alps. For one, the culinary scene that has developed around the Alpine resorts is top notch. Visit tranquil mountain lodges or historic city center restaurants to truly get to know the specialties in these areas. There are also countless options for shopping from typical artisan workshops to classic Italian fashion boutiques. Lastly, many of the hotels located in the ski towns are well-known for their spas, where you can enjoy a bit of pampering in complete tranquility. Truly, it doesn’t get much better than relaxing in the thermal waters of an outdoor pool surrounded by the snowy peaks of the Alps.n your way!

Whether you have been to Italy before or you are planning a first-time trip, a winter vacation to Italy offers many opportunities for skiers, outdoor enthusiasts, lovers of food and wine, and those looking to simply relax amid the beauty of nature. With the Alps serving as a veritable winter wonderland, you certainly won’t be bored. If you would like to know more about Italy’s ski offerings, please click here.

5 Reasons to Visit Italy’s Art Cities in the Winter

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5 Reasons to Visit Italy's in the Winter
Live Italy! Don't Just See It

Discover the Best 5 Reasons to Travel to Italy in the Winter Season

If you are open to traveling when the weather gets colder, visiting Italy in the winter can be just as rewarding as a summer trip. Active travelers may flock to Italy’s ski resorts and mountain destinations during the winter months, but do not make the mistake of overlooking Italy’s art cities, which offer plenty of experiences unique to the winter season. Whether you are looking to supplement your ski vacation with some sightseeing, or this is your first time traveling to Italy and you want to make the most of your trip, there are several positive aspects to visiting Italy in the winter.

Setting your expectations for winter in Italy

Before planning a winter trip to Italy, you should have a reasonable idea of what the weather will be like. While Italy may be a Mediterranean country, it does have four distinct seasons and cold temperatures are the norm during the winter months. Do not expect to lay on a beach at the Amalfi Coast or go swimming near the island of Capri in December or February; in fact, most coastal destinations either slow down or close for the season during this period.

So, just how cold will it be? Well, that depends. Naturally, northern destinations will have the coldest temperatures with good chances of snow, while southern parts of Italy tend to have more mild winters. Generally speaking, expect temperatures to be in the 40s for the majority of your trip, potentially bumping up into the 50s on sunny days or dipping into the 30s on cloudy days or at night.

Of course, some winter days in Italy can be beautiful, with crisp and fresh air, a bright blue sky, and plenty of sunshine. However, with the possibility of cold temperatures and less-than-ideal winter weather, it’s a good idea to stick with Italy’s art cities, such as Rome, Florence, Venice, Milan, Bologna, Naples, or Palermo in order to get the most out of your winter trip.
Now that you know what to expect, let’s discover a few reasons why Italy’s art cities can be excellent winter destinations.

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Better seasonal pricing

With a few notable exceptions like Christmas, New Year’s, and Carnevale, the majority of the winter period is considered to be low season in Italy. Compared to peak season in the summer, budget travelers can find the overall pricing on a winter package to Italy more appealing. If you can manage to avoid traveling during the winter holidays, you will likely find some of the best prices of the year for your travel package.

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Plenty of room to breathe

As the temperatures get colder, the summer crowds dissipate and the historic city centers of popular Italian destinations like Venice and Rome are reclaimed by the locals. There will be some travelers, but you won’t find large hordes waiting for hours to enter major sites, as is the norm during the summer months.

Winter days may have less hours of sunlight compared to the summer, yet with fewer crowds you won’t feel the need to rush from one monument to the next. You’ll be free to explore at a slower pace and become acquainted with the daily life of the locals—enjoy the nearly empty museums and monuments, savor the scents of roasted chestnuts and other street vendor winter treats, and appreciate the sounds the city in its natural state.

There is no better example of the difference between summer and winter in Italy than Venice. Located in the northeastern part of the country, Venice is certainly one of the colder places in Italy during the winter, and the definitely one of the most visited in the summer. During the winter, the crowds disappear and the city seems to breathe a sigh of relaxation making exploring Venice a delight.

With this being said, there is one caveat to visiting Venice in the winter. Late autumn and the winter months tend to be when Venice experiences the highest levels of rainfall. While it is a rare event, the resulting high tides can lead to a phenomenon known as Aqua Alta (High Water). The locals have adapted by placing platforms in low-lying areas when the tide increases in order to traverse the city and hopefully the new Mose project will protect the city from the very high tides. Of course, for intrepid travelers and photography lovers, there’s nothing quite like seeing St. Mark’s Square and the rest of the city center underwater at least once in a lifetime!

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Sales, Sales and more sales

Saldi (Sales) is a holy word in Italy. These nationwide end-of-season sales are characterized by steep discounts for clothing and accessories from budget to luxury brands. Typically, saldi occur twice a year: after the Christmas season in January for winter clothes and in early July for summer clothes. Locals and visitors alike will stand in long lines for the opportunity to purchase heavily discounted items from popular brands. When in Italy, shopping is a must and the saldi period is arguably the best time to visit Italy if shopping is on your to-do list.

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Comforting winter food

Many delicious staples of Italian cuisine, such as bruschetta topped locally grown tomatoes or a refreshing artisanal gelato, are associated with the summer. However, winter specialties in Italy can be just as remarkable. From street vendor offerings such as fragrant chestnuts and rich hot chocolate to polenta, risotti, and soups, there are countless new flavors to discover. During a winter trip, expect to find plenty of seasonal ingredients on your plate such as mushrooms, truffles, potatoes, legumes, cabbage, and artichokes. Popular hearty dishes to get you through the winter in true Italian style include northern specialties like pizzoccheri alla valtellinese and canederli as well as ribollita from central Italy and pasta e patate in the south.

Milder weather in Southern Italy

Speaking of Southern Italy, if the positive aspects of traveling to Italy in the winter have you nearly convinced, but the cold weather is holding you back, consider focusing your trip on the southern part of the country. Lovers of history and culture will have the time of their lives in Naples, a city whose illustrious past has resulted in a wealth of art and architecture rivaling that of other top Italian destinations. For reliably mild temperatures and sunny days, head to the island of Sicily where you can spend your time discovering the many treasures of Palermo and other historic cities like Ragusa while falling in love with Sicilian culture.

Taking into account the colder temperatures, a winter vacation to Italy’s art cities does have quite a few positive aspects. Winter sports enthusiasts should absolutely consider extending their trip to include sightseeing time in cities like Milan or Venice. Likewise, travelers who wish to engage with the local history and culture of Italy’s art cities will find plenty of authentic experiences even during the winter. From the elegant streets of Milan all the way down to the majesty of Palermo’s historic architecture, winter and Italy’s art cities are an excellent match.

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A Glimpse Back in Time: Neapolitan Nativity Scenes

Napolitan Nativity Scenes
Napolitan Nativity Scenes

A Glimpse Back in Time: Neapolitan Nativity Scenes

When asked to picture a nativity scene, what do you see? Most of us will conjure images of a humble manger with a few small statues: the Holy Family, the Magi, farm animals, and perhaps some shepherds. Generally speaking, these reverent representations of the Birth of Christ can be characterized as traditional with little variation. However, this does not apply to the nativity scenes in Naples, where over-the-top depictions and elaborate designs have flourished for centuries handcrafted by local artisans following methods that have been passed down for generations.

The birthplace of nativity scenes

Though the exact origins of Naples’ nativity scenes are unknown, historical evidence points to this craft being practiced in the city as early as 1025, approximately 2 centuries prior to St. Francis of Assisi’s first live nativity scene. Local artisans began crafting nativity scene statues as a proper art form during the 15th century and this is also when the first versions of nativity scenes set in rocky caves were created.

As the 17th century unfolded, the statues expanded from traditional sacred figures to a vast array of profane characters typically present on Naples’ streets and squares. The nativity scenes became a snapshot of daily life in Naples representing an entire city with tavern keepers, vendors, and cobblers interspersed among beggars, dwarves, and hunchbacked women. Frequently present were local outdoor markets outfitted with stands featuring butchers, vegetable vendors, fishmongers, bakers, and more.

Without a doubt, the golden age of Neapolitan nativity scenes peaked during the 1700s when the craft expanded from churches to the homes of aristocrats and the royal court of Charles of Bourbon. Small, yet intricate scenes blossomed into vast landscapes incorporating countless religious elements.

The nativity scenes created for the royal court featured statues posed on large rocks or cliffs made out of cork. Just one nativity scene could illustrate multiple events such as the journey of the Magi and the announcement of Christ’s birth to the shepherds with angels suspended in the air. The scenes became so intricate that at the Royal Palace of Caserta the ceiling of a room that once held a nativity scene was painted to look like the night sky.

Eventually, the tradition of the elaborate nativity scene as it was known in the royal courts faded over the course of the 19th and 20th centuries. Yet, still to this day, each Christmas the city of Naples gleams with grand nativity scenes composed in churches. Locals also create miniature versions in their own homes, typically with statues procured from the historic workshops of Via San Gregorio Armeno.

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Strolling through Via San Gregorio Armeno

Known as the “Street of Nativity Scenes”, Via San Gregorio Armeno is considered the hub of nativity scene workshops. The local artisans create statues with an eclectic mix of traditional characters and modern personalities (such as celebrities that may have become popular during the year, both for positive and negative reasons).

The street itself is ancient with Greek origins. At one point, there was a temple dedicated to the goddess Ceres where locals would place votive offerings in the form of terracotta statues produced in nearby workshops. Some believe that this history could be tied to the eventual development of the nativity workshops along Via San Gregorio Armeno.

Walking through this remarkable street in Naples’ historic city center, travelers will be amazed at the number of workshops filled with never-ending rows of pastori (meaning shepherds, which is the local term used to refer to the statues) all made by hand. Even more amazing are the natural backgrounds depicted in these scenes which can include running water and windmills powered by electricity. To learn even more about this tradition, some shops feature small exhibits of their work or offer demonstrations which provide remarkable insight into the process of composing a traditional nativity scene.

Christmas festivities

The workshops are open year-round for locals and travelers to peer into this fascinating world, however Via San Gregorio truly comes alive during the Christmas Period. Towards the end of November, shopkeepers prepare displays showcasing the season’s offerings plus a few “special editions” tied to that particular year.

On December 8, the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, Neapolitans set up their own nativity scenes at home with an assortment of statues and decorations. Great care is taken to properly set the scene with lights, starry backdrops, grass, and rocks. The final touch occurs after midnight on Christmas Eve when Baby Jesus is traditionally placed in the crib.

The celebrations wind down around the Epiphany, as Neapolitans take down their nativity scenes and the artisans begin preparing for the following year.

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Traditional symbolism

There is a great deal of symbolism tied to the specific statues and even to the scenery present in Naples’ historic nativity scenes. A few fascinating examples include:

  • Benino: a sleeping shepherd. According to tradition, the nativity scene forms in Benino’s dreams, and if you were to “wake him up” the nativity scene would disappear.
  • The street vendors: each of the vendors in the street market is associated with a month of the year. For instance, the butcher represents January and the tomato seller represents July.
  • The prostitute: meant to contrast the Virgin Mary, the prostitute also represents sinners who seek spiritual redemption. This figure is placed near the inn with her back to the rest of the scene.
  • The bridge: represents a passage between the world of the living and that of the dead.
  • Ruins of Greek and/or Roman architecture: meant to convey the triumph of Christianity over paganism

Making a modern nativity scene

Though the grand displays that once flourished in the royal court of Naples are no longer the norm, the nativity scene tradition remains tied to Neapolitan culture. The craft continues to evolve with young artists who offer new interpretations on classic themes. Some local artists have created miniature nativity scenes in unexpected places such as inside lightbulbs and on the head of a pin. Combining the nativity scene with Naples’ other great love, there is even a local pizzeria that makes a nativity scene out of pizza each year.

In the modern era, nativity scene artisans have let their creativity shine by designing statues that reflect the “characters” of their age from politicians to movie stars and soccer players. This year, artisans have kept busy making statues dedicated to the heroes of 2020: doctors and nurses battling the COVID-19 Pandemic.

Have you thought about making your own nativity scene? What figures or symbols would best represent your city? It does not need to be elaborate; with a cardboard box, a few statues, and handmade decorations you’ll be well on your way!

For Naples, the historic nativity scenes that flourished in the 18th century went beyond religion to become a representation of a people and their culture. Today this tradition persists giving curious travelers a glimpse into the city’s past and a better understanding of a culture filled with contradictions. If you would like to dive further into Naples’ chaotic beauty click here.

Meet Our Locals: Christmas Edition

Italy Christmas Local Traditions
Italy Christmas Local Traditions

Meet Our Locals: Christmas Traditions Around Italy

We hope you enjoy reading about Christmas traditions from our local guides featuring delicious food, rituals, and celebrations that are all characteristic of the holiday season in Italy.

Marco, Guide from Florence, Tuscany

Marco’s family upholds the Italian tradition of a meatless dinner on Christmas Eve. In the Roman Catholic Church, Christmas Eve is considered a “giorno di magro” or a “lean day”, during which one should abstain from eating meat. This custom is diffused throughout the country and a Christmas Eve dinner in Italy frequently consists of fish and vegetables. In some parts of Italy, seafood is featured in every course of the dinner, while in others a variety of meatless ingredients are incorporated into the meal.

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Tita, Guide from Catania, Sicily

In the city of Catania and its province, where Tita is from, “scacciata”, a flatbread local to Sicily, is always present on Christmas Eve dinner tables. In the province of Catania, the traditional filling features broccoli, onion, pecorino cheese, and sausage. It’s baked in the oven on large trays with two layers of dough, almost like a closed pizza. Usually, family members plan in advance who will bring the scacciata as well as other typical dishes such as fried artichokes, baccalà (dried and salted cod), and baked pasta. On Christmas Day, everyone meets again to enjoy the leftovers from the previous day.

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Virginia, Guide from Lucca, Tuscany

For Virginia, a native of Tuscany, it’s not truly Christmas without the legendary Torta di Cecco! This chocolate covered cake filled with dried fruit is pure bliss. Virginia and her family usually scarf it down after lunch on Christmas Day. Tuscany is also known for ricciarelli from Siena, which are almond cookies with a characteristic crinkled surface. A typical Christmas staple, these cookies are so delicious that Virginia has a friend who wakes up early every Christmas Eve to drive from Pisa to Siena so that he can bring them to loved ones as Christmas gifts.

Virginia was born in the small town of San Martino a Ulmiano between Pisa and Lucca. In this area, nativity scenes are quite popular and on the afternoon of Christmas Day locals go see the mechanical nativity scene. Built in 1951 by an ingenious artisan, the nativity scene is composed of 80 moving characters positioned on a surface of 860 square feet. The scenes recall several biblical passages including the Annunciation to Mary and the adoration of the Magi. This is all thanks to the imagination and skill of the animator who created a rich landscape with light effects that generate images of the guiding star and snowfall against the background of the sea.

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Luca, Guide from Venice, Veneto

Each Christmas, Luca and his family enjoy a water taxi ride at sunset, just like many visitors to his hometown have done. After boarding with all of their wrapped presents, Luca and his family ride along the Grand Canal to Murano Island where they meet with relatives at the family glass-making furnace. The family feasts together warmed by the heat of the ovens, which are also used to cook the fish for the dinner.

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Eva, Guide from Syracuse, Sicily

Eva loves sharing the local culture of her city with travelers who visit Syracuse. One particular tradition that stands out for the people of Syracuse is the Feast of Santa Lucia (St. Lucy). Each year on December 13, locals celebrate the martyrdom of Saint Lucy when, in the year 304, she was tortured and killed for her refusal to deny her faith in Christ. St. Lucy is the beloved Patron Saint of Syracuse and what is even more remarkable is that she was only 15 years old at the time of her martyrdom.

In Syracuse, St. Lucy is celebrated with a long procession featuring 48 men that carry a beautiful, massive silver statue on their shoulders from the Cathedral of Syracuse through the streets of the city. The procession lasts for about 6 hours until the statue is placed on the main altar of the Church of Santa Lucia al Sepolcro. Under normal circumstances, spectacular fireworks mark the end of this day of celebration and though things are a little different this year, Eva is certain that the light will return!

Sabrina, Guide from Manarola, Cinque Terre, Liguria

Sabrina takes great pride in being from the Cinque Terre village of Manarola, which is home to the largest nativity scene in the world. Composed of over 300 life-size figures and 15,000 lights, the Manarola nativity scene is a wonderful sight that extends across the hill above the town, lighting up the area. The original idea was born 50 years ago with Mario Andreoli who gave life to the nativity scene figures by reutilizing scrap materials. Thanks to solar panels, Manarola’s annual tradition has been eco-friendly for over 10 years.

In spite of these unprecedented times, Manarola has maintained its tradition and on December 8 the 2020 nativity scene was inaugurated with new figures. This year’s nativity scene is dedicated to all healthcare workers on the frontlines of the COVID-19 pandemic, in hopes that this difficult period will soon pass.

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Giulia, Guide from Cinque Terre and La Spezia, Liguria

Even outside of the Cinque Terre, the Liguria region is home to many fascinating traditions, as Giulia tells us. One example is the village of Tellaro, which is renowned for its underwater nativity scene. Each year on the night of December 24, divers emerge from the sea with a statue of Baby Jesus. The entire scene is illuminated with small candles (called lumini) placed throughout the streets of the town and the surrounding cliffs. Once on dry land, the statue of Baby Jesus is held up by the parish priest. At this point, the cheers of the locals are punctuated by fireworks and a choir. Then, the statue is taken across town to the parish church where Christmas Mass is held.

This year, the nativity scene will proceed, but in a scaled-back version. It will begin earlier in the evening and will consist of the divers emerging from the water and passing the statue of Baby Jesus to the parish priest who will hold mass. There will not be any fireworks, crowds, nor choirs, but the thousands of candles placed around the town and the cliffs will shine brightly in the night.

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Maddalena, Guide from Florence, Tuscany

Maddalena and her family like to breathe in the crisp air of Christmas while admiring the lights and decorations along the Arno River. She spends Christmas Eve with her extended family and shares Christmas dinner with her best friends and their children who over the years have become best friends with her children.

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Ardena, Guide and Tour Escort from Turin, Piedmont

Ardena loves to walk under the Luci d’Artista, which are Christmas light arrangements by contemporary artists, a tradition unique to her city, Turin. She also enjoys decorating the Christmas tree with her mom and sister using the same ornaments from when she was a child.

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Isabella, Guide from Lake Maggiore

The Christmas tradition that is dearest to Isabella is tied to her childhood in a small Piedmont hamlet called Pedemonte di Gravellona Toce. On Christmas Eve, everyone in the town follows a caravan of locals portraying the various characters of the nativity scene including the Virgin Mary, St. Joseph, the shepherds, and even Baby Jesus. After traversing the streets of the town, everyone walks to the top of a hill where the characters position themselves for the rest of the evening. The living nativity scene is followed by Christmas Mass.

This year, due to the global health emergency, the living nativity scene unfortunately will not take place in Isabella’s hometown. She is hopeful that next year the nativity scene will return. According to Isabella, you will never find mention of the small nativity scene of Pedemonte di Gravellona Toce in any guide book, however this hometown tradition holds a special place in her heart.

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Giulia, Trips 2 Italy Operations Manager from Colico, Lombardy

Giulia loves the atmosphere of the weeks leading up to Christmas even more than the big day itself. One of her favorite traditions is to visit Milan on December 7, which is the feast day of Saint Ambrose, the patron saint of the city.

As part of the celebrations, Milan hosts the Oh Bej! Oh Bej! Fair, a Christmas market near the Castello Sforzesco that starts on December 7 and lasts until the following Sunday. Giulia likes to visit the market to purchase a few small gifts. She then walks over to Piazza Duomo where she admires the Christmas tree in the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II as well as the festive window displays and lights of the designer stores—in particular the ones of the iconic Italian department store, La Rinascente.

December 7 is also the opening night of Teatro alla Scala’s season. The ladies in their elegant long dresses and the men in their dapper tuxedos that walk through the crowds to reach the opera house together with the lights, Christmas decorations, and aroma of roasted chestnuts all make this beautiful city even more magical.

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Viktoria, Naples Specialist, Campania

For Viktoria, Christmas adds a bit of extra sparkle to the lively city of Naples, where the Christmas spirit makes its entrance early. As Christmas approaches, the houses and streets are filled with the heady aromas of local sweets made fresh by moms and grandmas. As any Neapolitan will tell you, nothing quite compares to freshly baked Christmas specialties like the pastiera tart or delectable struffoli, fried balls of dough that are fun to make at home.

Walking through the streets of the city center, the ever-present bustle remains as locals rush to purchase last-minute gifts before the big family dinner. Via San Gregorio Armeno, home of the city’s nativity scene workshops, is the hub of Christmas shopping. In Naples it’s just not Christmas without a nativity scene!

On Christmas Eve, the whole family participates and prepares a large dinner with fish dishes that extends past midnight. Then, on Christmas Day various appetizers and baked pasta dishes are always present as is the traditional maritata soup and insalata di rinforzo, a cauliflower salad. Lunch concludes well past its usual time as families savor ciociole (dried fruits) and compete against each other during rowdy tombola matches.

Still, perhaps the best part about Christmas is the joy on the children’s faces as they unwrap their gifts from Babbo Natale. The city is filled with great happiness and family is the keyword, because, at its core, Christmas is when everyone gathers together.

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From the peaks of the Alps to the southern coast of Sicily, each Italian family celebrates Christmas a little differently. Yet several common themes hold true throughout the country, specifically the importance of family and sharing a delicious meal with loved ones. Near or far, Italians always find a way to celebrate together, proving that even the simplest traditions have the power to unite.

Struffoli Recipe

Struffoli Napolitan Pastry

Struffoli Recipe

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Originating in Naples, this sweet treat can be found in other parts of southern Italy as well, such as Calabria and Sicily, under different names and topped with other ingredients. Traditionally prepared during the Christmas Season, Neapolitan struffoli are served with honey and brightly colored sprinkles.

  • Prep Time30 min
  • Cook Time35 min
  • Total Time1 hr 5 min
  • Yield6 Servings
  • Cuisine
    • Italian
  • Course
  • Cooking Method
    • Frying

Ingredients

For Struffoli:

  • 4 tbsp (2 oz) unsalted butter (melted)
  • 400 g (14 oz) flour
  • 3 tbsp granulated sugar
  • 3 medium eggs
  • 1 egg yolk
  • 1 pinch of salt
  • Zest from 1 orange
  • 3 tsp limoncello or white wine
  • Peanut oil (for frying)

For the glaze:

  • ½ cup honey
  • Nonpareils sprinkles, as needed to generously cover struffoli

Instructions

1

Start by melting the butter then let it cool. Meanwhile, place the flour, sugar, eggs, pinch of salt, and orange zest in a mixing bowl. Add the melted butter once cooled followed by the limoncello or white wine.

2

Mix the dough with a large spoon to combine the ingredients then knead by hand until you can form it into a dense ball. Cover with a kitchen towel and let the dough rest for at least 30 minutes at room temperature. Meanwhile, line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

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3

When the dough is ready, cut the dough vertically into 6-7 even slices with a dough scraper or knife.

4

Roll out each slice into a long tube approximately 1 cm thick. Next, cut each tube into small round pieces about 1 cm wide. Place on the baking sheet lined with parchment paper (make sure the dough is evenly spread out otherwise the pieces will stick together).

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5

In a large Dutch oven, slowly heat the peanut oil to approximately 350 degrees (use a deep fry thermometer). When the oil is ready, lower the dough balls into the oil with a wire skimmer. To ensure the temperature does not fluctuate too much, only cook about 2 handfuls of dough at a time. Stir the oil with the skimmer to ensure even cooking. Fry for about 2 to 3 minutes then remove the dough balls with the skimmer, strain, and place on a baking sheet lined with paper towels to absorb excess oil.

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6

While the struffoli are cooling, pour the honey into a deep pan and melt over low heat. After about 1 to 2 minutes, add the struffoli and stir to combine. Turn off the heat and let the mixture cool a bit before adding the nonpareils sprinkles. Stir to combine.

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7

Place a glass jar in the center of a round serving platter (this will help shape the struffoli into a ring). Arrange the struffoli around the glass jar. When the honey has solidified, remove the glass jar and enjoy!

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Note: Instead of frying, you could also bake the struffoli at 390 degrees for 15 minutes then proceed with steps 6 and 7.

Merry and Bright: Italy’s Christmas Markets

Italy Christmas Market
Italy Christmas Market

The Holiday Season may look a little different this year, but that won’t stop us from dreaming of postcard-perfect snowcapped mountain landscapes and cups full of decadent hot chocolate. During this time of year, there are typically many fascinating cultural traditions occurring in Italy, with perhaps the most beloved by locals and visitors alike being the annual Mercatini di Natale (Christmas Markets).

A Little History

As the days grow shorter and snow begins to fall, Italians gather in the large squares of their cities and towns to celebrate the season and take in the sights and sounds of the annual Christmas Markets. Considering Italy’s illustrious history, the Mercatini are a relatively new tradition, yet one that is highly anticipated each year.

In Europe, the traditional Christmas Markets were initiated by Germanic cultures during the Middle Ages to celebrate the Feast Day of St. Nicholas. Today, the largest and most historic markets are located in Germany, Switzerland, and Austria. The jovial spectacles filled with music, lights, local handicrafts, and food, eventually made their way south to Italy’s Trentino-Alto Adige region, tucked away in the picturesque Dolomite Alps.

One of Italy’s earliest Mercatini di Natale modeled after the German markets was held in Bolzano’s sprawling Piazza Walther in 1990. From here, the Germanic-style markets spread through South Tyrol, Alto Adige, and the rest of Italy.

Traditional Wares

Specific characteristics of the Mercatini can vary from town to town, but there is one guarantee—all things Christmas related. The markets themselves consist of small stands set up in the city’s main streets and squares. Here local artisans sell Christmas decorations, culinary products, artisanal crafts, toys, souvenirs, and Christmas gifts. Timing can vary, though usually the Christmas Markets open at the beginning of Advent and end on or around the Epiphany.

To add to the festivities, the streets and squares that host the markets are decked out with all of the appropriate seasonal trappings ranging from large Christmas trees to tinsel, ornaments, and the characteristic lights that shine brightly in the dark winter nights. These marvelous sights are accompanied by traditional carols and festive choirs.

Many Mercatini may also feature performances tied to the season such as living nativity scenes or reenactments of the birth of Christ. Depending on the size of the market, you may also find interactive events such as cooking classes and games. Truly, these whimsical markets offer plenty of fun for the whole family to enjoy!

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Festive Food & Drink

Naturally, since these markets take place in Italy, there are many local culinary specialties to taste. As you enter a Christmas Market, the bright colors and sounds will likely catch your attention first, but then while walking from stand to stand many delicious aromas will greet you.

Though it will vary depending on what part of Italy you find yourself in, seasonal staples at the Mercatini include local cured meats and sausages, freshly baked bread, hot chocolate (the real deal made with milk and melted chocolate), and vin brulé (the Italian Alps version of mulled wine). Also on the menu are some of the very best local sweets ranging from apple strudel to panforte (a chewy dessert made with fruits and nuts).

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For Your Bucket List

Since nearly every major city and town in Italy hosts its own version of Mercatini di Natale, there are plenty of options to choose from! Below you will find a brief summary of the most evocative markets, though this is by no means an exhaustive list. Certainly, if you find yourself in Italy in December, you will have a phenomenal time no matter which Christmas Market you visit.

Trentino-Alto Adige

In addition to Bolzano, many cities, both large and small, in Trentino-Alto Adige celebrate the Holiday Season with Mercatini di Natale. Some of the largest and most important can be found in Trento, Merano, Brunico, Bressanone, and Vipiteno.

Many of these markets are renowned for their unique traditions. For example, one building in Bolzano’s city center (the former home of astronomer Max Valier) is transformed each year into a giant Advent Calendar implementing 24 of the building’s windows. As each day of Advent passes, one window is opened to reveal lights and a unique Christmas image.

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Aosta

The quaint Alpine city of Aosta transforms into a certifiable Winter Wonderland from the end of November to the beginning of January. Held in the city’s iconic Ancient Roman Theater, this celebration, called Marché Vert Nöel, features charming wooden chalets beautifully decorated to fit the occasion. There are plenty of handmade products on display from soaps and ceramics to wool and lace. Be sure to taste Aosta’s signature sweets and wines as well—you won’t be disappointed!

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Florence

For one full month each year, Florence’s iconic Piazza Santa Croce transports visitors to a delightful German village via the Weihnachtsmarkt German Market. Outside of Trentino-Alto Adige, this is perhaps one of the best intersections of German and Italian culture during the Christmas Season. All of the traditional culinary goodies and remarkable artisanal crafts can be found here in addition to beautiful light displays with the added bonus of a Renaissance backdrop.

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Milan

Milan’s Christmas Market is worth mentioning not only because it is one of the largest in Italy, but because its history is distinct from the Germanic tradition. Characterized as more of a Christmas Fair than a market, the event is called Oh Bej! Oh Bej! (How Beautiful! How Beautiful!) and it is held from December 7 until the following Sunday to coincidence with the Feast of St. Ambrose, the city’s patron Saint. The perfect place to celebrate the beginning of Christmastime and to purchase gifts, sweets, and treats (including roasted chestnuts), today the fair takes place outside of Milan’s iconic Sforza Castle.

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We hope that learning more about Italy’s Mercatini di Natale has brought you a bit of Holiday Cheer. Perhaps you may have even discovered a few new places to visit in the future. No matter how you will be celebrating this year, on behalf of the whole Trips 2 Italy team we wish you a peaceful Holiday Season.

Cioccolata Calda Recipe: Authentic Italian Hot Chocolate

Hot Chocolate Recipe
Hot Chocolate Cup in Italy

Cioccolata Calda Recipe: Authentic Italian Hot Chocolate

The quintessential winter treat, cioccolata calda (hot chocolate) is beloved by Italians for its rich flavor derived from the use of milk and melted chocolate. A delicious staple of Italy’s characteristic Christmas markets, cioccolata calda is also perfect for a quiet evening at home.

  • Prep Time5 min
  • Cook Time15 min
  • Total Time20 min
  • Yield2 Servings

Ingredients

For Cioccolata calda (Hot Chocolate):

  • 2 cups whole milk
  • 1 ½ tbsp unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1 ½ tbsp granulated sugar
  • 1 ½ tbsp corn starch
  • 4 ¼ oz dark chocolate 60% to 69% cacao

For Optional whipped cream:

  • 2 tbsp granulated sugar
  • 1 ½ tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 cup cold heavy cream

Instructions

1

For the optional whipped cream:  Pour cold heavy cream, sugar, and vanilla extract into a mixing bowl. Use a hand mixer or stand mixer to whip the cream. Continue to whip until peaks begin to form and stop periodically to test the peaks (medium to stiff peaks are best for this recipe). When the whipped cream is ready, place in the refrigerator and start preparing the hot chocolate.

2

For the hot chocolate: Roughly chop the dark chocolate. Set a medium bowl over a saucepan or pot of simmering water (the bowl must not touch the water) and put the chocolate in the bowl. With a whisk or spatula, stir continuously until the chocolate is melted and smooth. Put the melted chocolate aside.

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3

Pour the milk into a medium saucepan followed by the corn starch. Stir the mixture then add the cocoa powder and stir once more.

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4

Turn on the heat to medium-low and let the mixture heat up while whisking continuously. Add the sugar, then continue to whisk. Ensure that the mixture does not boil.

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5

Add the melted chocolate to the saucepan with the milk and cocoa powder mixture. Continue to stir until thickened to your desired consistency. Pour into a mug and top with homemade whipped cream.

Note: If the chocolate ends up being too dense, dilute with a bit of milk or more whipped cream.

Emilia-Romagna, Land of Culinary & Automotive Innovation

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Land of Culinary & Automotive Innovation
Live Italy! Don't Just See It

Emilia-Romagna, Land of Culinary & Automotive Innovation

While we love to look back and reminisce on all the great memories of past trips, we are also excited and look forward to the incredible experiences we will arrange once the rest of the world can join us again in Italy.
A prime example is the historic region of Emilia-Romagna. With charming cities such as Parma and Piacenza, or Ferrara, Modena, and Ravenna whose artistic treasures are enlisted as UNESCO World Heritage Sites, Emilia-Romagna offers excellent opportunities for those interested in history and the arts. In addition, Bologna, home to the western world’s oldest university, is a vibrant city with plenty to see resulting in days spent exploring grand piazzas, Medieval and Renaissance architecture, and historic markets. That said, there are two other
important reasons for why this less explored region is one of Italy’s most underrated jewels:
Slow Food and Fast Cars.

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Italy’s Culinary Capital: Emilia Romagna

Famous for being the gastronomic heart of Italy, Emilia-Romagna is the ideal place for anyone who enjoys unique culinary experiences and high quality traditional products. As Italy’s first region to adopt a strict criterion pertaining to the production of quality controlled food products, today Emilia-Romagna has the most certified PDO (Protected Designation of Origin) and PGI (Protected Geographical Indication) products in the entire country.

Local Products of the Highest Quality

Any food lover will immediately recognize some of the names on Emilia-Romagna’s long list of PDO and PGI products, while other tasty creations are just waiting to be discovered. Among these delicious products, you will find Parmigiano-Reggiano (nicknamed “The King of Cheeses”—and for good reason) as well as the fragrant Traditional Balsamic Vinegar of Modena and the sublime Prosciutto di Parma.

Another product certainly worth mentioning, which may not be immediately recognizable outside of Italy, but can hold its own among the region’s culinary heavyweights, is the Culatello di Zibello, a slow-cured boneless ham that is considered to be a prized rarity among Italians.

For the perfect pairing, consider tasting a nice glass of Lambrusco, one of Emilia Romagna’s superb DOC wines. This sparkling red wine is often featured on tables throughout the region in the company of local cheeses, cold cuts, and meat dishes.

After sampling the Emilia-Romagna’s best cured meats and cheeses, be sure to save room for the handmade pasta, which is nothing short of heavenly. As the home of so many internationally renowned pasta dishes, your most difficult decision will be deciding where to start.

In Emilia-Romagna, fresh egg pasta reigns supreme and a few of the most celebrated shapes include tortellini, cappelletti, and, of course tagliatelle, Emilia-Romagna’s iconic pasta shape traditionally served with ragù alla bolognese, a slow-cooked meat sauce that is also the star of the famous lasagne alla bolognese.

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Zoom Through the Motor Valley

Though there is so much delicious food to enjoy, travelers should be sure to dedicate time to Emilia-Romagna’s other great export: sports cars. Referred to as the Motor Valley, Emilia-Romagna is unique due to the high number of luxury car manufacturers, motorcycle manufacturers, race tracks, and car museums that are all located within a relatively small area. This region is also renowned for its constant innovation in the field of motorsports thanks to ground-breaking developments that are supported by continuous research.

The titans of the automotive industry that call Emilia-Romagna home include such famous names as Ferrari, Lamborghini, Maserati, Ducati, and Pagani. Each brand is inexplicably tied to this enchanting land from which so much inspiration has been drawn over the decades. Any car lover is sure to enjoy learning more about these automotive powerhouses, visiting the local racetracks (including the ones in Imola and Misano), and exploring museums dedicated to those who continue to push the envelope in technological advancement.

Reimagining the Museum

Italy may be known for its art museums, but the museums located in Emilia-Romagna that are dedicated to automotive brands and motorsports offer a whole new experience. Case in point, visits to the Lamborghini Museum, Maserati Museum, and Ducati Museum offer an up-close look at the history of these influential manufacturers as well as interactive exhibits plus the exceptional opportunity to go behind-the-scenes and witness the production lines.

Also worth visiting is the Pagani Factory and Museum, which may be the youngest of Emilia-Romagna’s automotive brands, but it certainly holds its own thanks to meticulously designed products. Furthermore, Ferrari lovers have two museums to choose from: a museum dedicated to the brand’s founder, Enzo Ferrari, in Modena, and the Museo Ferrari, located in Maranello, the brand’s headquarters.

For travelers with a need for speed, channel your inner Michael Schumacher and test-drive an actual Ferrari (or another super car, such as Lamborghini, if preferred) on the nearby Autodromo of Modena or even the public roads for a true local experience. Alternatively, during a visit to the Museo Ferrari it is possible to take a spin on the exhilarating F1 Driving Simulator.

As we celebrate past experiences and look to the future, this is just a small taste of what Emilia-Romagna can offer. Once things are back to normal, we cannot wait to share these experiences with you. In the meantime, let’s continue to dream. If you are considering adding Emilia-Romagna to your bucket list, click here to discover more about this region’s unforgettable treasures.

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