The Festival of San Giovanni

During a recent trip to New York, my parents’ Italian next door neighbors (whom I have known since childhood) mentioned how San Giovanni’s feast day usually calls for a big celebration with fireworks, festivities, and just good old fashioned fun. It’s not a holy day of obligation/national holiday here in Italy, so I never really noticed. (Note: San Giovanni is Saint John the Baptist.)

I returned back to sweltering Milan, and felt the urge to get the heck out of the city for the forthcoming weekend and surround myself with nature, so I contacted my friend in Monterosso, one of the Cinque Terre towns, and was like, “I need to be by the sea, are you around this weekend?!” She said yes, and mentioned that it’s San Giovanni Day (24 June) and there would be fireworks. Seemed like it was meant to be, no?

Festival of San Giovanni Monterosso Cinque Terre Monterosso
Monterosso is still pretty even under a gloomy gray sky.

I returned to my daily grind, and took care to check the weather all week. Milan was forecasted for 97 degrees on Saturday, while sunshine and low 80s were on the books for Monterosso. I couldn’t wait. Saturday morning (San Giovanni Day!) rolled around, and off I went on the 6.10 train from Milano Centrale.   As the train journeyed south towards Genova, the sky grew darker by the minute while clouds masked the usually green hills. I just shrugged it off as a passing storm because my iPhone weather app had predicted sun, sun and more sun a mere 12 hours ago. Turns out it wasn’t passing….clouds had somehow snuck into the forecast sometime during my slumber, but I wasn’t going to let it get me down. In the end, I got in plenty of beach time, but I just didn’t manage to get as sun-kissed as I would have liked. But that’s okay! Summer is still young.

Anyway, by late afternoon the sun did appear, but even better: The water calmed, which meant the Monterosso would proceed with the San Giovanni festivities. I followed my friends’ advice for a solid vantage point and instead of going through the tunnel to the Old Town, I took the stairs on the right and watched the fireworks from above.

Festival of San Giovanni Monterosso Cinque Terre Monterosso celebration
The first few candles are sent out to the sea

From start to finish, the ceremony was simply gorgeous. Looking out over the water from Monterosso,  it’s so black, that it would be impossible to distinguish the land from the sea if it wasn’t for the lights of the other four Cinque Terre towns.

The celebration focused on my two favorite elements (fire and water!), both of which are associated with San Giovanni and began with participants placing hundreds of lit candles into the sea while a band played Abba. So yes, Dancing, Queen, Mamma Mia and Winner Takes it All were part of the soundtrack. (I love Abba!)

Slowly but surely, the candles floated towards the invisible horizon and multiplied by the minute.  These tiny little flashes of light gently bobbed up and down, illuminating the serene black water, and it was pure magic. And then, there was more magic: Fireworks over the sea! I don’t even know how to begin describing the spectacle, but I would say it was at least fifteen mesmerizing minutes of both colorful and loud explosions.  I already can’t wait to go back next year!

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There goes the candles!

On a side note, it was wise to leave Milano for the weekend. Everyone who stayed here said it was a scorcher and that they wish they had left, too. Here’s some photos of the fireworks, though I will say fireworks don’t photograph well. It’s hard to get a good shot, and I’m afraid I didn’t succeed….this time! Here’s to next year.

Festival of San Giovanni Monterosso Cinque Terre Monterosso candles fireworks 2



Festival of San Giovanni Monterosso Cinque Terre Monterosso candles fireworks 1Festival of San Giovanni Monterosso Cinque Terre Monterosso candles fireworks 2



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