Monday, June 26, 2017

The Palio of Fossano: A Rich Tradition of Color, Ceremony and Camaraderie


Palio is an Italian word that describes a contest in which different groups, such as factions or neighborhoods of a town or city, compete against each other in contests. Palios are usually based on an historical event, which is reflected in the participants wearing costumes and playing roles over a series of days of celebration and ceremony leading up the palio. The winning group usually walks away with money and bragging rights for being the best of the bunch, at least for one year.

Chances are you’ve probably heard of the Palio di Siena. But, can you name a palio other than that? You probably couldn’t off the top of your head despite there being over 50 palios a year in Italy. Don’t feel bad, because we couldn’t either, at least until recently when we had the chance to experience the Palio dei Borghi e Giostra dell’Oca, or simply, the Palio of Fossano where seven borghi* compete on the second to the last weekend in June.

Palio di Fossano

Fossano is a charming Piedmontese town of about 25,000 people. It is considered one of the seven sister cities (sette sorelle) that are the most important in the Province of Cuneo along with Cuneo, Alba, Bra, Mondovì, Savigliano, and Saluzzo. The beautiful and compact centro storico of Fossano is the stage where several days of celebration play out leading up to the day of the palio. On that day, costumed representatives from each borgo make their way to the castle in an elegant and colorful parade called the sfilata del corteo dei borghi. Fossano’s castle, Il Castello dei Principi d'Acaja, is one of the most picturesque to be seen and provides the perfect backdrop for the palio.

We had been to Fossano three times before, including the castle, but this time it was really special with the palio and festive environment. It was amazing to see the area around the castle transformed into a horse racing circuit, with viewing stands. It was all well-laid-out. I guess Fossano has had some time to perfect their palio, the first was held in 1585 when Charles Emmanuel I, Duke of Savoy passed through Fossano with his new bride Infanta Catherine Michelle of Spain. They were married in March 1585 in Spain, and were making their way to Turin, the capital of the Savoy dynasty when they dropped in on Fossano. According to the Palio dei borghi site, the royal couple was treated to celebrations including fireworks. From that royal visit over 400 years ago, the palio of Fossano was born.

The Fossano’s palio involves two competitions: archery and horse racing. In the archery contest, archers (arcieri) from each borgo take aim at (fake) geese (oca/oche) on a moving track, trying to hit as many as possible. Each borgo provides three archers who shoot six arrows a piece for a total of 18 attempts. The three highest scoring borghi in the archery contest compete in the first horse race or heat (batteria), while the remaining four borghi compete in the second race. A third horse race is for the winners of the first two races. To be honest, I didn’t completely follow how the point system worked. And, in fact in this palio it got a little complicated as the archers were called back as a tie-breaker (spareggio) to settle the final placement of the borghi. The rules call for another horse race as a tie-breaker, but there was limited light and the archers therefore settled the question.

In the Palio di Fossano, the horses are ridden by professional jockeys (fantini). As you can imagine, good jockeys are in high demand there being so many palios across Italy. The jockeys wear a tunic (casacca) with the colors of the borgo they are riding for, but are not from the borgo (or it would be the rare case that they were). It’s the work of the organizers in each borgo to procure the best jockey and horse they can.

Borgo Spirit

A borgo you might say is part of city or town like a neighborhood, district, or hamlet that has some importance such as being a center of commerce, containing an important market or fortification. In Fossano, there are seven borghi: Borgo Vecchio, Borgo Salice, Borgo Piazza, Borgo S. Antonio, Borgo San Bernardo, Borgo Nuovo, Borgo Romanisio. The statistics provided by the Fossano comune site give us a hint at what we are talking about for numbers: each borgo is between 1,000 and 6,000 residents (Romanisio was not included in the data).

Each borgo has its particular colors and symbol, taken from zodiac signs. Here are three examples:

  • Borgo Vecchio’s colors are red and black, and their symbol is a pair of fish (Pisces). Borgo Vecchio was the winner of the Palio di Fosssano 2017. They hadn’t won in 52 years so it was a sweet victory for them.
  • Borgo Salice colors are blue and white, and their symbol is a scorpion (Scorpio). They seemed to be the least “liked” borgo. When I asked why Borgo Salice was the least liked, I was told they were arrogant, but mind you, it’s a small town and there is no real animosity that I sensed. In fact, there was an amazing amount of camaraderie within and between borghi. The palio is time for coming together and having fun while celebrating history.
  • Borgo San Bernardo’s colors are red and white, and their symbol is a balance (Libra). We were rooting for Borgo San Bernardo, which was the borgo of our hosts. Borgo San Bernardo by virtue of its name also has the San Bernard dog as a mascot. We saw many red and white t-shirts with pictures of San Bernard dogs, and during the palio, letters spelling SAMBY – referring to the cute stuffed San Bernard – were held up in the cheering section as can be seen in one of the photos below.

If Borgo Salice was the least “liked”, Borgo San Bernardo has to be the borgo that other teams poked fun of the most this year. Last year, San Bernardo won the palio, sort of, until they had the title revoked. The win was revoked because of horse doping. Apparently, the horse had a cough and the jockey requested medication from the veterinarian in charge who refused. However, after the 2016 palio, random checking of horses revealed a bronchodilator substance (with properties similar to doping) in the blood of the San Bernardo horse. In Italian, you can read about it here: Drogato il cavallo che ha vinto il Palio di Fossano.

Another integral part of the palio are the fans (tifoserie) for each borgo. While the courtly costumed folks from each borgo look stately and composed, the fans let it all hang out. They march through the streets in their coordinated fan (tifoso) clothing and face makeup, chanting and shouting. During the palio, their job is to make noise and be seen filling the air with colored smoke bombs and confetti, wave flags and banners, banging drums, chanting, and stomping their feet. Some wonderful photos from the point of view of fans are shown here. In the photos, you can see the excitement of the night before when fans are creating their props for the big day, their march to the palio, the cheering during the contests: euphoria in the faces of the fans whose borgo is in the lead, and discouragement in the face of the others. In particular, you can see the emotion of the fans of Borgo Vecchio when they learned they had won.

The pride of the fans supporting their borgo and the good-naturedness of the competition is evident in the photos and we can vouch that we also experienced it first-person. It’s interesting to us that the long tradition of the Palio di Fossano carries on year to year with many young people behind it.
How we were received. We were “blue” shirts in sea of red at after palio dinner. Not all borgo do it. San Bernardo does.

After the palio, the people retreated to their borghi to celebrate. For San Bernardo, there is a big dinner in the Parrocchia S. Bernardo. That day we were wearing blue (no particular reason) and there we sat in the after-palio dinner in a sea of red and white shirts. We survived, but note to readers: when attending a palio, read up on the appropriate colors for the team you’ll be supporting.

Glossary for the Palio di Fossano

These are terms you might find useful if you are planning to experience the Palio di Fossano.

arciere (plurale arcieri)
An archer.

batteria (plurale batterie)
A tournament or heat.

borgo (plurale borghi)

A borgo is a neighborhood, district, or hamlet of a city. Other words that you might see to mean the same thing include rione/rioni, quartiere/quartieri, frazione/frazioni, contrada/contrade, paese/paesi, borgata/borgate.

casacca (plurale casacche)
A tunic. The jockey’s wear tunics color-coordinated for the borgo they are riding for.

Castello dei Principi d’Acaja
The castle of Fossano, constructed between 1314 and 1332. “Acaja” refers to Principality of Archaea or Morea, the name of the Peloponnese peninsula during the Middle Ages. The word made its way into a title as an outcome of the fourth crusade, where it made it to Piedmont through marriage.

centro storico
The most historic part of a town in Italy, typically located near in the center of the modern town for towns not located near water. For towns located near water – be it a river, lake or ocean – the centro storico is usually closest to the water.

corteo (plurale cortei)
A parade or procession, usually leading to a festival or contest like a palio.

fantino (plurale fantini)
A fantino is a jockey. The word fantino is a diminutive of fante, which means a foot soldier or a jack (card).

giostra (plurale giostre)
In the historical sense of the word, it’s a battle between two horse riders, a joust. In the modern sense of the word, it’s an amusement park ride.

oca (plurale oche)
A goose. Today’s Palio di Fossano features fake geese. At one time, they were live geese.

palio (plurale pali o palii)
A palio is and Italian word that broadly means tournament. The specifics of palios vary, but generally include participants from different borghi of a city wearing costumes in parades and competitions involving horses.

Palio dei Borghi e Giostra dell’Oca
The official title of the Palio di Fossano, it translates roughly as the palio of the neighborhoods and tournament of the goose.

sbandieratore (plurale sbandieratori)
A flag thrower.

spareggio (plurale spareggi)
A tie-breaker.

sfilata (plurale sfilate)
A parade or procession.

tifoso (plurale tifosi)
A fan or supporter.

tifoseria (plurale tifoserie)
The collective group of fans or supporters of a team.

Saturday, June 24, 2017

Islanda: dei consigli sulle cose da vedere e fare

Siamo stati in Islanda due volte: novembre 2012 per 4 giorni (post) e luglio 2015 per 12 giorni (post). Nel 2012 abbiamo concentrato sulla Reykjavik e il Circolo d’Oro. Nel 2015, abbiamo fatto un giro dell’isola antiorario. La luce del giorno in luglio dura circa venti ore e quindi potete fare tante cose. Per il giro di 12 giorni, abbiamo prenotato una macchina “normale”. Un paio di volte siamo andato fuori asfalto su strade sterrate per raggiungere un inizio di sentiero.

Godetevi l’acqua geotermale
  • La Laguna Blu. Anche se un po’ turistico vale la pena di passare un paio d’ore lì. Abbiamo mangiato un buon pranzo in un ambiente raffinato in accappatoio. Posizione.
  • Se vi trovate a Reykjavik, c’è una piscina pubblico (Laugardalslaug) dove si può pagare poco per entrare. È divertente. Ci sono tante piscine da diverse temperature e diverse dimensione, tutto con l’acqua termale – niente artificiale. Si vive un po’ della vita di una cittadina. Vicino, c’è un campeggio.
  • C’è tanti poste termali sull’isola. Un altro che abbiamo visitato è Mývatn Nature Baths (segnalato: Jarðböðin við Mývatn). Posizione.
Le città/località

Intorno all'isola per regione

Regione 8 – Suðurland
  • Circolo d’oro
    • Parco nazionale Þingvellir – se poteste fare solo una cosa nel circolo d’oro, fate questo parco. Entrata principale è qui, ma ci sono altre entrate.
    • Kerið (posizione) è un cratere con un lago dentro.
    • Gullfoss (posizione) sono le più note cascate dell'Islanda sud-occidentale. Ricordiamo che nel ristorante lì abbiamo mangiato un buona zuppa di agnello.
    • Geysir (posizione) è il più antico geyser conosciuto; la parola geyser deriva da Geysir.
    • Skálholt (posizione) è un piccolo villaggio con una chiesa particolare.
  • Hveragerði parco geotermale (posizione) è dove ci siamo fermato per cuocere un uovo nell'acqua bollente che esce dalla terra. Si compra un uovo nella biglietteria.
  • Nupsstadur (posizione)- UNESCO, parcheggiate sulla strada e camminate nord for 5 minuti. Sembra di essere privato, ma si può entrare perché c’è una chiesa lì e tutte le chiese sono accessibile da legge. Foto: Bing.
  • Ci sono molte aziende offrendo i tour per andare a cavallo. Siamo andati con Sólhestar (posizione). Il cavallo islandese è veramente diverso degli altri cavalli.
  • Skógafoss (posizione) è una cascata che è facilmente raggiungibile. Inoltre, può essere l’inizio or finito di una camminata tra Þórsmörk e Skógarfoss. Si può camminare dietro la cascata.
  • Escursione a piedi tra Þórsmörk e Skógarfoss è descritto qui: blog post.
  • Escursione a piedi a Þakgil (Thakgil) “parco” è descritto qui: blog post.
  • The Geothermal Energy Exhibition a Hellisheiðarvirkjun (posizione) potrebbe interessare le persone che vogliono sapere dell’energia che cosa fornisce l’isola.
  • Vík í Mýrdal che è descritta sopra nella sezione le città/località.
  • Cose da fare nella prossima visita che potrebbero interessarvi:
    • Hafursey è nord di una pianura dei depositi neri di origine fluvioglaciale, un paesaggio impressionante.
    • Vistare con piedi o jeep in tour uno dei ghiacciai: Sólheimajökull oppure Myrdalsjokull.
Regione 7 - Austurland

  • Jökulsárlón (posizione) è il più grande e più conosciuto lago di origine glaciale dell'Islanda. C’è un sacco di cose di fare intorno questo lago. Abbiamo fatto solo un corto passeggio. Foto: Bing.
  • Humarhöfnin Veitingahús (posizione) è un ristorante. Passavamo di lì e ci siamo fermati per un pranzo in un posto caratteristico dove si mangia scampi.
  • Icelandair Hotels Herad (posizione). Un po' costoso ma si mangia bene. Abbiamo passato una notte qui. Mi è piaciuto tanto che c’era olio di pesce alla colazione buffet! A ciascuno il suo.
  • Cosa da fare nella prossima visita che potrebbero interessarvi:
    • Vistare con piedi o jeep in tour uno dei ghiacciai: Skaftafell

Regione 6 - Norðurland eystra

  • Hverfjall (Hverfell) Cratere (posizione). Piccola camminata. Foto: Bing
  • Mývatn (posizione) è un grande lago con tante opportunità per divertirsi.
  • Hverir/Hverarönd (posizione) è un’area geotermale che merita una fermata.
  • Mývatn Nature Baths (posizione) (segnalato: Jarðböðin við Mývatn) è simile alla Laguna Blu, ma a me è sembrato meno affollato.
  • Akureyri che è descritta sopra nella sezione le città/località.
  • Cose da fare nella prossima visita che potrebbero interessarvi:

Regione 5 - Norðurland vestra

  • Peccato, l’abbiamo persa e non la conosciamo.

Regione 4 – Vestfirðir

  • Peccato, l’abbiamo persa e non la conosciamo.

Regione 3 - Vesturland

Regione 2 – Suðurnes

  • La Laguna Blu (non il film!). Vedi la descrizione sopra.
  • Cose da fare nella prossima visita che potrebbero interessarvi:
    • Grindavík, un piccolo comune a sud della Laguna Blu.

Regione 1 - Höfuðborgarsvæðið

  • Inside the Volcano (posizione per parcheggiare) è costosissimi ma indimenticabile. Thrihnukagigur è il nome del vulcano (posizione).
  • Krýsuvík (posizione) è un’area geotermale si può visitare da solo.
  • Certamente Reykjavik che è descritta sopra nella sezione le città/località.

Questi quattro blog post (in inglese) forse sono utili per i lettori che cercano per cose da fare in Islanda, se non magari le foto vi inspirano:

Questi blog post (in inglese) sono altre cose che ci interessano su Islanda:

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

A Hike from Maresana to Selvino

Hiking route from Maresana to Selvino along trail 533.View of Salmezza from 533.
Left: Hiking route from Maresana to Selvino along trail 533. Right: View of Salmezza from trail 533.


Length: ~14 km (8.7 mi)
Duration: 5 hours one way
Elevation: minimum @Maresana (546 m) (1,790 ft), maximum @ Salmezza 1057 m (3,467 ft), total elevation gain 857 m (2,812 ft)
Location: Italy, Lombardy, Bergamo, Parco dei Colli di Bergamo and north

The Walk

A lot of our hikes start or end on Sentiero - Trail 533. It’s a major hiking trail that’s close Bergamo city center, easy to get to, and from the 533 you can connect up to the larger network of trails. Trail 533 connects Bergamo (Monterosso neighborhood / via Quintino Alto to be exact) to Selvino. We tried a week ago to do the walk but flopped and made it only to Monte di Nese (see A Short Hike from Bergamo to Monte di Nese). This time we got a lift to Maresana to cut the city walking out as well as starting out a little earlier in the day.

Trail 533 is relatively easy to follow. It’s not too steep and a large part of it is under the cover of trees. The trail drops you on the southwest side of Selvino. Once you reach Selvino, there is another kilometer or so to get to the top of the funivia (cable car) to head back to Bergamo. We, fortunately, got picked up by the partner of our hiking companion.

We drove around Selvino looking for a restaurant, which were all inexplicably closed on a Tuesday. We called it quits in Selvino and headed to the Oca Bianca Osteria in Treviolo. Oca is “goose” in Italian, and as you might expect, the menu featured a couple of goose-related dishes. All in all, a delicious dinner in a nice atmosphere made a great way to finish the hike.


You can take the number 6 or 9 bus to Quintino Alto and catch trail 533 from there to start the hike. From Selvino, take the funivia (cable car) to get down to Albino, and from there take the tram back to Bergamo. To get to the Oca Bianca from Bergamo, take a number 5 bus.


During the hike, we saw at least 20 plants we could identify. Among them, the usual suspects (clover, rose, and vetch) as well as four different types of orchids. Feeding on the flowers, we saw  [Zygaenidae] Zygaena filipendulae or the Six-spot Burnet moth, a black and red-colored day-flying moth.

[Family] Genus species – Common name in English (Common name in Italian)

[Asteraceae] Arnica montana – Wolf’s Bane, Mountain Arnica (Arnica)
[Apiaceae] Astrantia major – Great Masterwort (Astranzia maggiore)
[Asteraceae] Centaurea montana – Perennial Cornflower (Fiordaliso montano)
[Asteraceae] Cirsium erisithales – Yellow Thistle (Cardo zampo d’orso)
[Campanulaceae] Phyteuma sp. likely scheuchzeri
[Dipsacaceae] Succisa pratensis – Devil’s Bit Scabious (Morso del diavolo)
[Fabiaceae] Lotus corniculatus – Garden Bird’s Foot Trefoil (Ginestrino)
[Fabiaceae] Securigera varia – Purple crownvetch ()
[Fabiaceae] Trifolium rubens – Red Trefoil (Trifoglio rosseggiante)
[Geraniaceae] Geranium sanguineum – Bloody Crane’s Bill Geranium (Geranium sanguineum)
[Lamiaceae] Thymus vulgaris – Common Thyme (Timo commune)
[Liliaceae] Ornithogalum pyrenaicum – Spiked Star of Bethlehem (Latte di gallina dei Pirenei)
[Orchidaceae] Anacamptis pyramidalis – Pyramidal Orchid (Orchide piramide)
[Orchidaceae] Dactylorhiza fuchsii or maculata
[Orchidaceae] Gymnadenia conopsea – Fragrant Orchid (Manina rosea)
[Orchidaceae] Platanthera chlorantha – Greater Butterfly Orchid (Palantera verdastra)
[Plantaginaceae] Plantago media – Lamb’s Tongue (Piantaggine media)
[Rosaceae] Aruncus dioicus – Goatsbeard (Barba di capra)
[Rosaceae] Filipendula vulgaris – Dropwort or Fern-leaf Dropwort Filipendola)
[Rosaceae] Rosa canina – Dog Rose (Rosa selvatica comune)

Anacamptis pyramidalis. Dactylorhiza (either fuchsii or maculata).Gymnadenia conopsea
Orchids along the trail. Left: Anacamptis pyramidalis. Center: Dactylorhiza (either fuchsii or maculata). Right: Gymnadenia conopsea.

Dactylorhiza (either fuchsii or maculata).Dactylorhiza leaves. Platanthera chlorantha
More orchids: Left: Dactylorhiza (either fuchsii or maculata). Center Left: Dactylorhiza leaves. Center right and right: Platanthera chlorantha.

Arnica montana Arnica montanaCirsium erisithales
Left and center: Arnica montana. Right: Cirsium erisithales.

Aruncus dioicusFilipendula vulgaris
Left: Aruncus dioicus. Right: Filipendula vulgaris.

Astrantia majorAstrantia major
Left and right: Astrantia major.

Plantago mediaOrnithogalum pyrenaicum
Left: Plantago media. Right: Ornithogalum pyrenaicum.

Rosa caninaSecurigera varia
Left: Rosa canina. Right: Securigera varia.

Centaurea montanaZygaena filipendulae – Six-spot Burnet feeding on Succisa pratensis. Trifolium rubens
Left: Centaurea montana. Center: Zygaena filipendulae – Six-spot Burnet feeding on Succisa pratensis. Right: Trifolium rubens.

Geranium sanguineumLotus corniculatus
Left: Geranium sanguineum. Right: Lotus corniculatus.

Phyteuma (likely scheuchzeri) Phyteuma (likely scheuchzeri)Thymus vulgaris
Left and center: Phyteuma (likely scheuchzeri). Right: Thymus vulgaris.

Trail 533 - Nearing Salmezza. Trail 533 - Looking northeast over Selvino.
Views of trail 533. Left: Nearing Salmezza. Right: Looking northeast over Selvino.

Trail 533 - A steep part between Monte di Nese and Salmezza. Trail 533 - Near Ca' del Latte heading to Olera.
Views of trail 533. Left: A steep part between Monte di Nese and Salmezza. Right: Near Ca' del Latte heading to Olera.