Somehow elementary school paper hearts and candy became”oh, that’s tomorrow?”, and Valentine’s Day lost all significance in my Februarys. Then life in Italy happened and I learned of all these feast days where people have a holiday, so V Day piqued a new interest. It also turned out that I was super close to where it all began!
Terni is 1.5 hours north of Rome and celebrates love the whole month of February with events and a large festival on the 14th. Its patron saint and famous son is St. Valentine himself, who was martyred in 270AD, and is “buried” (explanation later) in a namesake basilica in town. His history is murky, naturally, but at its heart he’s all about “courtly love“.
There’s chocolate everywhere, of course, and Terni’s downtown has plenty to do and the festival covers a large part of it. You’ll see lots of people with their families or partners and it’s hard not to be swept up in the mood. The historic center also has cultural attractions but since it is a holiday they, and stores in general, are most likely not open.
The basilica is a 20 minute walk from the center and has services in Italian all day long, and visitors can catch a glimpse of the saint. Behind glass under the altar is a reliquary in Valentine’s image that holds several bone fragments. Other pieces of him (strange thing to type) can be found in other churches, and his skull is in Rome (even stranger to type).
Outside of the basilica is a market filled mostly with street food, fresh produce, and home goods. I suggest grabbing a porchetta sandwich and sitting in the nearby park.
The leisure of an Italian feast day is an excellent and low key way to spend Valentine’s Day, and I loved seeing this holiday through another perspective. Totally different than how I’ve spent it in the past, but I also don’t get to see saints fragments every day?
Planning Your Day and Getting There
I arrived in the early afternoon, unsure of what to expect (I’ve learned that things don’t always start on time here), but since the whole month is set up for celebrating there was something going on right away.
I suggest starting in the downtown area BEFORE 1pm to avoid the pausa (or the time of day in Italy where everything shuts down/lunch), and then making your way up to the basilica and market. When I came down from the basilica the crowds had thinned out, so I took walked around the empty side streets for a bit. Since it’s a holiday I didn’t see too many cafes open for coffee and the few open restaurants were also super busy.
Trains from Rome go direct to Terni, but if you’re coming from Perugia or Florence you may have to change in Foligno. Last year when I tried to visit for the festival the trains were running on holiday hours and I missed it, so I suggest buying your ticket ahead and planning that out.