Italy > Christmas in Umbria

Posted On January 5, 2007

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Experience the magic of medieval towns, traditional decorations and seasonal treats
Christmas in Umbria, Italy, offers a great experience.

At this time of year a stroll through the old towns of the region will enable you to better appreciate the rhythms of life in these ancient centers, the daily comings and goings of their inhabitants, their traditions and customs, but above all the traditional celebrations and events particular to every little village in Umbria. Street vendors, celebrations in local piazzas, nativity cribs and Christmas are only some of the attractions.

Celebrations begin in the first days of November at Giano dell’Umbria when the town opens the doors of its olive mills to the tourists who flock each year to participate in this exceptional celebration of the “Frantoi aperti sulla strada del Sagrantino.” During this event, the town organizes a series of guided tours and tastings of local produce, all with the intention of introducing the visitor to a unique variety of local flavors and products.

On Nov. 14 and Nov. 15 at Citta di Castello, they hold a fair in honor of Saint Florido in the historic center of the town. This traditional fair offers something for everyone, from an anchor to a thimble, and each year attracts large numbers of visitors.

At the end of November at Giano dell’Umbria visitors can experience everything to do with the production of olive oil in a wonderful festa of exhibitions, guided tours along the “vie dell’olio,” food tastings and cookery courses.

Also at Giano dell’Umbria, on the last Sunday in November from early afternoon to late evening, residents and visitors join in the “Festa of the Frasca,” an ancient custom to celebrate a successful end to the olive season and which takes place in country farmyards. The end of olive picking is celebrated in a particular way. Olive branches are decorated with small gifts, fruit and colored ribbons and people eat frittelle di pane (a type of fried bread), drink wine and dance the night away.

From 2:30 p.m. onward, you can enjoy a colorful parade of floats surrounded by people in traditional costume. The streets of the medieval town are packed with colorful sights and locals in medieval dress, all the way to the main piazza where everyone can enjoy bruschetta sprinkled with the new season’s olive oil as well as tasty local dishes and foodstuffs.

Over the Christmas period, even Spoleto offers visitors unforgettable memories thanks to a traditional Christmas market, and stalls and shops in the medieval center that stay open all day and offer wonderful ideas for presents, a never-ending array of Christmas decorations and above all stalls offering a sumptuous variety of Umbrian food and wine. Special events include the “Piazza dei Bambini” (Children’s Piazza), which is a buzz of activities for children — fairy tales, storytellers, Santa’s train, street theater. But the most important attraction is without a doubt the enormous nativity crib that is constructed in Citta della Pieve.

First created in 1966 and sited in the underground rooms of Palazzo Corgna, the crib covers an area of 400 square meters (440 yards) and differs each year according to the scenes that are represented. The fame of this particular crib is due to a combination of traditional and modern elements making it quite unique, with statues from the 1800s integrating with the most advanced state of the art lighting and special effects.

Not to be forgotten is the market in Perugia, which can be found in Piazza del Circo. Browsing through the stalls one can find all sorts of ideal gifts and decorations for the house and Christmas, of course, as well as toys, hand made leather handbags and “cocci,” the locally produced ceramics. Finally, in Gubbio from Dec. 7 to Jan. 10 you can admire the splendor of the world’s largest Christmas tree. The tree is created using 450 multicolored lights, an incredible sight that in 1991 claimed its place in the Guinness Book of World Records.

Discovering Spoleto

Spoleto is an incredible city with enchanting nooks and old buildings, a place where one becomes aware of the importance of man living in symbiosis with nature. Its history and surroundings make it a truly magical place.

Spoleto is a medieval city crawling with ancient alleyways that weave into each other under imposing buildings and enticing shops (some of which are craftsmen’s workshops). It is interesting that often these buildings back onto one street while facing another (Palazzo Comunale, Palazzo Rosari-Spada, Palazzo della Signoria) or that entrances for different floors may be from different roads. Everything is concentrated in a small area, so that with some artistic license one could sketch the town as being pine-shaped.

At the end of the last century, when Spoleto joined the kingdom of Italy, two more aspects affected the layout of the town: the construction in the section outside the walls (known as “bassa”) of a railway station (dominated by the huge Teodolapido by Calder) and the creation of viale Trento and Trieste (where you will find a sculpture by Arnaldo Pomodoro). They effectively propelled urban development in the outskirts and the opening of the Traversa Nazionale, a one-way steep hill that today connects piazza Garibaldi to the old center.

The focal point of the city is the Rocca (rock) and Ponte delle Torri (bridge of the towers), a monument of incredible beauty that overlooks it and overwhelms the visitor. Wandering the old alleyways is a real pleasure, up and down the stairways that connect the high and low parts of the town, stopping in at the wine shops for a glass of wine and a plate of cold cuts (salami, prosciutto, smoked pig and cured sausage) and the local bread made without salt. The autumn and winter seasons are quite cold and at times rainy but this doesn’t hold back most of the tourists who flock to the town center.

Norcia, Home to Some Excellent Cold Cuts

Norcia is a small town in the heart of the Sibillini Mountains, the most mountainous area of Umbria behind the Parco Nazionale dei Monti Sibillini (national park). It is one of the most spiritual towns in central Italy, where natural beauty, works of art and great cooking reign supreme.

Ideal for an amble on horseback or on foot, the territory surrounding Norcia offers a number of travel itineraries that depart from the confluence of the Fosso Tissino and Nera rivers, near the town of Borgo Cerreto. One of these winds its way along the main road following the Nera River all the way to Triponzo. The path then leaves the Nera River and follows the banks of the Corno. If we stay with it, we reach the small town of Serravalle, surrounded by green.

There are numerous other itineraries that pay particular attention to culinary points of interest. One of these begins in the Parco Naturale dei Monti Sibillini and carries on up along the Terni-Macerata road. From here you get to an intriguing valley that lies between Mount Ventosola and Mount Serra and finally to Norcia where you can try the salami and truffles. Heading northward to Preci you should try the famous pappardelle pasta with boar sauce. Finally, we descend southward along the river Nera reaching Borgo Cerreto.

There are a number of local events worth watching out for in the winter season like the “Festa dei Fauni” celebrated on Dec. 9 in the countryside that surrounds the city. Once night falls, and the sound of organ music and chatter can be heard, bundles of juniper are set afire in order to celebrate the feast of Madonna di Loreto. Like many religious festivals, it has pagan origins and, in this case, rituals linked with light that used to take place in Europe around the time of the Winter solstice.

On the Jan. 6, the “Festa delle Pasquarelle” is celebrated. It is associated with the Christian feast of the epiphany, which takes place all over Europe. The Pasquarellari, a group of people playing tambourines and singing songs in dialect, go from house to house.