Italy and Events are synonymous with each other. With such a rich cultural and artistic history every region of Italy has a heritage worth celebrating. While much of our focus at Italian short breaks is on the magnificent opera heritage in Italy there are other events that should be on everyone’s bucket list.
This beautiful and unique city that is built around its canal system is littered with buildings that date back centuries reflecting the Roman, Byzantine and even Turkish influences.
Through the centuries the rulers ( Doges) and some influential families, for example the Tiepolo family from the 12th century, kept security and its position as a dominant maritime state in the Mediterranean.
This wealth is evident in the opulent buildings that adorn the Grand Canal in particular.
If you want to experience the city and relive some of its culture then the Venice Carnival is a must! It takes place for two weeks each year to coincide with it ending in time for the Christian celebration on Lent.
The city comes alive with events and to walk around Venice and see thousands of people dressed in historical costume is very special.
Although the carnival dates back to the 12th century it really only took off in the 16th century during the renaissance and was used as the flagship event to draw the nobility from around Europe to celebrate and keep Venice’s prestige relevant.
The Baroque period of the mid 1700s is the era that is celebrated each year. This was the time of Giacomo Casanova, Italy’s most famous lover who was a philosopher and spy and by all accounts an extraordinary man on many counts. He was the instigator of wearing masks at Venice Carnival Balls so that people could go incognito and this went hand in hand with a culture of seduction.
This heyday was not to last as the Holy Roman Emperor took umbrage to such debauchery and banned the use of masks and the Venice Carnival effectively ended.
It was really only reincarnated in the 1970s when the Italian Government, looking at ways to bring back the history of this great city, reintroduced the concept of Venice Carnival and the Venice Carnival Masked Balls followed shortly thereafter.
Three million people come to Venice over the 2 week period to mostly witness the spectacle, but for the privileged few there are the legendary Venice Carnival masked balls to take part in. The Ballo Del Doge, run by the leading Atelier Antonia Sauter, is voted Italy’s most exclusive event. Rub shoulders with celebrities on a wild night of extraordinary costumes, entertainment food and drink. The Mascheranda Ball and the Tiepolo Ball are also leading events set in a stunning Palace on the Grand Canal with super entertainment, and people from all around the world come to attend.
There are a range of packages to the Venice Carnival Masked Balls that make attending as easy and exclusive as possible.
Siena in Tuscany is not only one of Italy’s most picturesque cities it is home to one of Italy’s most internationally celebrated events – the Palio di Siena. This extraordinary bare back horse race lasts 90 seconds or 3 laps of the Piazzo del Campo and has a history dating back 500 years.
It takes place twice annually on the 2nd July and the 16th August and, as is traditional in Italy, is geared around key religious themes or date. The 2nd July celebrates the Madonna of Provenzano, a painting that is supposed to have miraculous curative powers, while the 16 August race is held the day after the feast of the assumption.
The day before the Palio race the final trials take place in the Campo and the evening before the Contrada of Siena hold open air feasts in anticipation of celebrating a win the following day.
Siena is split into 17 districts or Contrada and each has a symbol. From the Eagle to the Goose and from the Panther to the Tortoise these Contrada fiercely compete twice each year to have the bragging rights of winning the latest Palio.
To sit and witness the Mossa, the shenanigans that take place before the race starts, is a real insight into the beating heart of Italy; Passions rise, significant money exchanges hands and each horse and jockey jostles for the best starting position.
Thousands of people cram into the square each year for the Siena Palio making it a long hot day with not necessarily the reward of a good view.
However it is possible to also access the select grandstands, exclusive balconies and private windows (views out from private apartments ) for witnessing the Siena Palio, and the spectacular Corteo Storico pageant that take place beforehand in its full glory, and from a position of comfort.
If you want to peer into the soul of Italy, relish its rich heritage and be swept away in the raw emotion of an exuberant population then there is nothing to compare.
A Siena Palio break followed by spending some time in the beautiful hills of Tuscany, visiting Florence or attending the Puccini opera festival in Lucca allows you to experience some of the best that Italy has to offer.
With so many wonderful events to attend in Italy, turning how you get to Italy, (or return), into an event seems a natural thing to do and what better way than via the Venice Simplon Orient Express.
This ultra-luxurious, 18 wagon train, winds its way from Paris to Venice twice a week between the months of March and November enabling its guests the opportunity to step back to the roaring 20s and the Art Deco period by travelling in authentic carriages from this period that have been lovingly restored.
Agatha Christie’s famous novel, twice turned into a star studded movie “Murder on the Orient Express” is set on the Simplon Orient Express. Whilst the fate of some of the characters in the book is the subject of writers licence, what is not is the truly once in a lifetime experience that awaits. For 24 hours escape into a different world and time and enjoy the exquisite journey as you are pampered by an attentive crew on the Venice Simplon Orient Express.
If you are celebrating a special occasion like a big birthday or wedding anniversary then a combination of the Venice Simplon Orient Express and one of the leading Italian events like Verona opera, the Lucca Opera or the Siena Palio will leave you with memories that will endure the test of time.