A festival for lovers: Terni

If you like to celebrate Valentine’s Day, and you want an entire city to help you do it, you won’t have to look very far. Located just 45 minutes from Rome, Terni claims a special right to make a big deal over St. Valentine, not just because he is the city’s patron saint, but also because he was born here. Turning the festival of lovers into a five-day event, Terni celebrates every year with a variety of activities and attractions, and people flock from around the world to enjoy the sights, tastes and spectacles of the festival. Couples in particular come to join in the tradition of exchanging promises of love inside St. Valentine’s Basilica, built to commemorate the Saint’s final resting place. Disciples recovered and returned his remains to Terni after he was executed in Rome for performing Christian marriage ceremonies against the wishes of Emperor Claudius II in the 3rd century.

At the Valentine’s market and in the town’s many artisanal shops you can sample the delicacies offered by the master chocolatiers and confectioners who gather in Terni from the 10th, or better yet, learn to make your own by participating in a chocolate- or pastry-making class. A miniature chocolate reproduction of the city’s main sights–from Palazzo Spada to the Santuario di San Francesco and the Basilica di San Valentino–will also be on display, and if you’re here on the 14th you may even get even the chance to eat a piece of it.

At the
CAOS Center, home of the Architectural Museum and the Aurelio De Felice Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art, visitors can peruse exhibits while enjoying the typical Ternian sweet panpepato, a local delicacy made of chocolate, dried fruit, and spices that the museums serve for the occasion. Outdoor and indoor dance, music and sporting events are also organized throughout the city. The festival concludes with a parade on 14 February, followed by fireworks in the evening.

If you come early in the day, you’ll also have time to visit the spectacular
Cascate delle Marmore, just a 20-minute drive from the city. This waterfall was constructed by Roman engineers in AD 271 as part of a project to drain the land above, and the unexpectedly beautiful result has been admired and maintained ever since. Several intersecting footpaths lead around and alongside the falls, and a 45-minute climb to the top offers beautiful vistas of the cascate as well as the surrounding valley. On your way from Terni you may notice the facades of unusually small old buildings beside the road. No, these are not the tiny homes of two-dimensional gnomes! What you are seeing is a set at the Papigno film studio, where Roberto Benigni shot his 1997 Oscar-winner Life is beautiful.

Where to Eat:
La Piazzetta,
Via Cavour, 9. Tel 074458188. Closed Sundays. www.lapiazzettaristorante.it
Ristorante Al Solito Posto, Vicolo Catina, 18. Tel 0744424668.
Pizzeria Semaforo Rosso, Largo Rossi Passavanti Elia, 6. Tel 0744431885.

How to Get There:
By car
Take highway A1 from Rome to Orte (40k), follow exit E45 towards Terni, (becomes SS675). Continue 25k.
By train Runs all day. €6.80–17 (each way) from Termini Station. See www.trenitalia.it for schedules.
By bus Departs 7:30am and 3:30pm; returns 9:05am and 5:05pm (buses limited on Sundays). €5 (each way) from Tiburtina bus station.

Cascate delle Marmore: €8. See www.marmorefalls.it for schedules, guided tours, rafting and overnight packages.

Caos Center: Viale Campofregoso, 98. Open Tue–Sun, 10am–1pm and 4–7pm. €5.