Friday, 7 June 2013

Unmissable Mid May Madness in Ferrara

Summer is the time of Palios when the six hundred year and more tradition of competing neighbourhood battles in Italian cities brings the pageants onto the street. Probably everyone has heard of the Sienna Palio with the famous horse race around the piazza, but not everyone knows about Ferrara's Palio which culminates in a similar race and is preceded by a blessing which brings nearly 2,000 costumed citizens onto the night streets, parish by parish, to enact each a special mummery, bang drums, toss gonfalons high into the air, breathe fire and sound fanfares.

Ferrara has the enormous medieval moated castle of the Dukes of Este right in the middle of town, a stunning cathedral and old houses and towers, together with just the right mix of cafes and shops. It is surrounded by almost complete ancient bulwarks around which you can cycle or walk for the most part in open country.

Settle down in the early evening for a Manhattan in one of the little café cabins facing the Duomo and you will be regaled by a platter of tasty bites - mini pizzas, fritatas, piccolo sandwiches, bits of local cheese and other bonnes bouches - all included. If you are feeling truly peckish, order up a pan of Cappellacci di Zucca - pumpkin and sage filled ravioli glistening in butter sauce brought in a copper pan to your table.

The Palio blessing starts at dusk and you can't miss the sound of drums beating you away from your table into the large square behind the castle where the revels are held.

Just to see the costumed women is a splendid sight in itself. Then add drumming and trumpets and fire-eating....

And should you be concerned that your significant other might find this all too jaw-droppingly tedious to be worth a visit - simply say the magic words - Mille Miglia - or, who do you think put the Ferrar into Ferrara?

Because right through the night - or at least until about 3am, the 1000 mile classic car race progresses right under your nose through the centre of Ferrara. Ferraris, of course, Lamborghinis, Aston Martins, Jaguars, Rolls Royces, Alfa Romeos, Hispano-Suizas (I'm showing off - I haven't a clue about the others!) by the 100s all come to take a bow.

I can't say I'm mad about cars, but even these cars had me drooling - just a little - and Richard? Well, he was welded to his camera and I couldn't get a conversation out of him that didn't reference the cars for some days. He had a great time. And there is a bus that takes you direct to the centre of Ferrara from Bolgna airport. You must see Ferrara in 2014!

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