Visiting Italy is always a thrill, no matter how many times you’ve strolled across the Ponte Vecchio in Florence, devoured a gelato in Sorrento, or tossed a coin into the magical Trevi fountain in Rome.
But some of my recent trips have been even more memorable by coinciding with a city’s “White Night” or La Notte Bianca festival.
Started in 2005, La Notte Bianca festivals are art and cultural celebrations occur in cities all over the country. Usually museums, art galleries, shops, restaurants and bars stay open very late into the evening, and you can catch music, special ceremonies and firework displays as well.
I’ve gone to two La Notte Bianca celebrations, both by complete coincidence. My first took place in Torino during the 2006 winter Olympics. Despite the frigid temperatures, the entire city seemed to be outside, with throngs of people wandering the main piazzas and pedestrian streets, soaking up the evening’s many art and music events. We bundled up and slowly walked with the crowd as big snowflakes fell, taking in the colorful fountain displays and doing some late-night shopping along the way.
I encountered another La Notte Bianca in Santa Margherita Ligure, a beach town on the Italian Riviera, in early September 2010. My husband and I were traveling with my parents and some friends. When I first spotted the signs announcing the upcoming “white night,” I was pleasantly surprised and immediately started looking forward to the evening.
Although Santa Margherita is considered a small community, stages of all sizes were erected on nearly every other street and piazza around the town. The enormous crowds were well-dressed, well-behaved and generally out for pleasant evening. All genres of music were performed — from live disco, rock, and pop — to jazz quartets and traditional Italian music. One of our favorites was a lively trio called the ‘3-Gs,” – a Bee Gees cover band with a charming hint of an Italian accent.
Suddenly, a 1970’s Volkswagon mini-bus, splashed in tie-dye psychedelic colors, roared into a nearby piazza and skidded to a halt by the beach. The side door slid open and inside was a rock band – a drummer, bass player and guitarist. The group, “The Love Bus Experience,” immediately launched into American rock and roll songs, mesmerizing the crowd with Bob Dylan’s’ “Like a Rolling Stone,” and some of their own groovy tunes.
Anyone living in Santa Margherita that night really had no choice but to come outside, join in the fun, and stay out late with everyone else — as raucous bands were in full swing until hours after midnight. My only slight disappointment of the evening was that the promised beach fireworks never materialized, without reason or explanation. But hey, it’s Italy after all, so you just “go with the flow.”
As 2011 marks the 150th anniversary of Italy’s Unification, the entire country is celebrating with events throughout the entire year. That’s great news for travelers, as you may come across more festivals, celebrations – and White Nights — that commemorate this occasion.
Venice will hold their next White Night festival on June 18, 2011, with art galleries keeping their doors open until midnight and a free concert in St. Mark’s Square. Rome’s White Night celebration is scheduled for September (official date TBD). Visit www.festivalpig.com for updates.
Before you go, plan wisely. White Nights tend to be very crowded and traffic is gridlocked. Consider arriving early or the day before and take public transportation. Parking can be challenge as many streets are blocked during the celebrations.