Befana comes to town
Befana pays a visit on 6th January riding her broomstick. Her arrival is celebrated up and down Liguria with bonfires and parties. The story has it she gave shelter to the Three Kings a few days before Christ’s birth. They invited her to join them on the journey but she declined. Befana then changed her mind but could not catch up with them and is still searching for baby Jesus, along the way she leaves sweets for the good children and coal for the bad.
Hit the high note
The Festival della Canzone Italiana is Italy’s premier song contest and was the inspiration for the Eurovision song contest. It takes place in the elegant resort of San Remo. The festival launched the careers of some of the country’s biggest stars among the Eros Ramazzotti.
(Photo: The Festival della Canzone Italiana is held in San Remo © Photos Archive Agenzia In Liguria)
On your bike
The Milan–San Remo cycle race is the longest professional one-day race; at a breath-taking 298km, it’s a real test of endurance. The race began in 1907 and was organised by the sports newspaper La Gazzetta dello Sport. Eugenio Costamagna, the manager at that time, planned it without knowing that the race was actually physically possible and it was once even run in the midst of a snow storm.
A taste of spring
The weather in Liguria in spring is warm and sunny. Munch on artisan Easter eggs from Genoa’s top chocolate shops, lunch on the artichokes and lamb, then for dinner try torta pasqualina with a glass of Vermentino. The torta is made with 33 layers of pastry – one for each year of Christ’s life – and is stuffed with chard and whole boiled eggs. Holy week is an atmospheric event with ancient, colourful religious processions notably in Genoa and Savona.
Cooking up a storm in Camogli
On the Second Sunday in May it’s time to get Italy’s biggest frying pan out. Vast quantities of fish are fried up in this huge 4m wide pan. The festival began in 1952 and commemorates a night during the Second World War, when despite the risk from German mines the fishermen set sail as the townsfolk were starving. Prayers were offered to San Fortunato and the men returned with a massive catch. Don’t miss the fantastic firework display the night before.
Genoa’s big day
June 23 marks the beginning of the celebrations in honour of Genoa’s patron saint, John the Baptist. The Festa di San Giovanni kicks off with fireworks and parties in the street on the night before the big day. In the morning of the 24th, a solemn procession begins from the Cathedral to the old port, where the Cardinal blesses the sea with saint’s relics, which were brought back from the Crusades to Genoa.
St Elmo’s fire
The strange lightning-like phenomenon of St Elmo’s fire, which some sailors regard as bad luck, is associated with St Erasmus (another name for Elmo). On the last Sunday in July in Arma di Taggia, you can sunbathe on the beach and catch some local colour. To celebrate the feast of Sant’Erasmo, an effigy of the saint is carried out to sea and placed on a traditional boat, a ‘gussu’. The statue is then pushed out into the sea to bless it and hopefully keep the fishermen safe.
A piece of cake
The flags are flying in Lavagna on 14 August, to celebrate the anniversary of the wedding in 1230 of the local bigwig Opizzo Fieshi to a noblewoman from Siena. On the actual wedding day, the town’s citizens were presented with a huge cake and every anniversary since they have baked a massive cake to commemorate the event. These days, it’s actually a mountain of small cakes but still weighs 15 tonnes. Two identical series of numbered cards, pink for women, blue for men are sold. It’s up to you to find your partner and when you do you can cement your relationship with a slice of cake.
Take to the hills
The warm balmy autumn sun makes September an ideal month to explore Liguria’s wonderful mountains. This is the season for wild mushrooms and truffles. The place to try them is in the tiny town of Sassello on the Piedmontese border. The damp air brings out the snails and you can taste them at the Sagra della Lumaca in Molini di Triora.
One of the world’s great boat shows takes place every October in Genoa, a city with a rich maritime history. At Salone Internazionale della Nautica over 2500 sailing boats and luxury yachts are on show. Liguria is world famous for its shipyards and the luxury sailing craft they produce and is also Italy’s premier boating region.
Mad about olives
Vendors fill the streets of Imperia selling the new season’s olive oil, made from the delicately flavoured Taggiasca olive. Stalls are weighed down with whole olives in brine, olive paste and everything you could possibly imagine that could be made with olive oil and the wood from local olive trees.
Christmas cakes and cribs
During the festive season in Liguria, there are lots of street markets and in many towns along the coast a burning bay tree is a key part of the celebrations. Nativity scenes, known locally as presepe, are popular and peopled with lovely little models of ordinary people, some of them life size. The Crib in Manarola is the biggest lit up crib in the world. Try the local festive dish, pandolce, which is traditionally prepared on the 23rd December. An olive branch is placed on top of the cooked loaf as a sign of devotion to God and traditionally the oldest member of the family is the first to cut the loaf.