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Valentine's Day in Italy

Some places lend themselves well to romantic vacations – and Italy is definitely one of them. You might not be planning a honeymoon in Italy, but if you need a way to impress your sweetheart then perhaps whisking them off to Italy for Valentine’s Day is a good solution.
Valentine’s Day is now essentially an imported holiday, with pink and red hearts and special confections designed to be gifted to a special someone on February 14th. But there are historic links between St. Valentine’s Day and what we now call Italy. We’ll get to the history in a moment – first, let’s talk travel.

How Italy Celebrates Valentine’s Day

As mentioned, Valentine’s Day is basically an imported holiday, so you can expect to see the same kinds of iconography associated with the day that you’re used to at home. There are chocolates to be exchanged, flowers to be presented, romantic dinners to be booked, and heart-shaped cards to be bought.
Even the famous Perugina chocolate maker produces a special Baci candy each February that has a cherry in a liquid center instead of a hazelnut and comes in a red wrapping.
In other words, although you’ll find evidence of Valentine’s Day throughout much of Italy leading up to February 14th in shop windows and whatnot, you won’t necessarily find it to be a uniquely Italian celebration of the holiday.

Where to Go for Valentine’s Day in Italy

You can probably make just about any destination in Italy a romantic one if you’re with someone you love, but if you’re looking for places that are popular as romantic spots in Italy then here are some suggestions:

  • Venice – It may be crowded and expensive more often than other Italian cities, but Venice can also be unbelievably romantic if you know how to approach it. And in mid-February when the weather is more likely to be damp and cold, it’s all the reason you need to cuddle up close with your lover during those evening canalside strolls. There are some spectacularly romantic hotels in Venice, too – although you’d better be prepared to pay for them.
  • Lake Como – All the Italian lakes are beautiful, but the town of Bellagio on Lake Como is one of the most popular. There are plenty of cozy and romantic hotels to choose from, too, many with lake views. Here are some listings for hotels in Bellagio and hotels in Como to start your search.
  • Amalfi Coast – The Amalfi Coast is beautiful, and it’s a regular stop for many celebrities when they go on holiday. While you might want to wait until the weather warms up to book a trip to the Amalfi Coast, you could certainly promise the trip as a Valentine’s Day surprise.
  • Verona – Verona is the setting for Shakespeare’s “Romeo & Juliet,” and although you don’t want your story to end like theirs did this pretty city in the Veneto region remains a popular place for romantic vacations in Italy.
  • Tuscan or Umbrian Hilltown – You can almost take your pick from the many hilltowns in Tuscany and Umbria, basing your choice on what you want to do for day trips and how easy it is to get in and out. Many of the smaller and quieter towns are ideal for a laid back romantic vacation where “nothing to do” is the best thing you’ve heard all day.

Italian Ties to the History of Valentine’s Day

Not even the almighty Wikipedia shows a concrete line between one particular Catholic Saint called Valentine and the romantic holiday we know today – there are multiple Saint Valentines, and none of them are known for any love-related acts. But two Valentines who are historically tied to February 14th were both martyrs in what is present-day Italy.
Going back even further, ancient Romans celebrated Lupercalia from February 13-15 – it was one of Rome’s most important holidays, as it honored the origins of the brothers who founded Rome. Taking part in the celebrations was supposed to make women more fertile. There are no connections between Lupercalia and modern Valentine’s Day, however, other than the date.
(And really, I can’t exactly recommend the old Lupercalia tradition of running naked through the streets of Rome while onlookers beat you with strips of skin from freshly-slain animals as any kind of romantic Valentine’s Day activity. As much as it may not seem very Italian, stick with flowers and chocolate.)
photo by laszlo-photo