31 Jan 2012

January is usually one of the coldest months of the year, when sunny days alternate with snowfalls. It sees the end of the Christmas Holidays and the beginning of Carnival with its sweets and parades. It is a good month if you want to travel on a shoe-string.

Tuscany in January

Tuscany in January

I have always wanted to write a post about what Tuscany is like at different times of the year. I get the question a lot from possible guests of our vacation rentals. So, I have decided this is my new “pet project” for the next 12 months, 1 month in Tuscany at a time! With a word of caution: every year things are slightly different and vary across Tuscany (no need to remind you that Tuscany is a big place, right? If so… please check my post about the various regions of Tuscany, thanks!). See all the posts in this series.

What is Tuscany like in January?

January is usually one of the coldest months of the year with February. However, there are usually a few days of winter sun, which are perfect for walks in the countryside or for visiting cities and towns!

Average temperatures range between 3°C and 10°C (37.4°F – 50°F) during the warmest hours of the day and between 0°C and 5°C (32°F – 41°F) at night. Occasionally, temperatures drop to -5°C – 0°C (23°-32°F) or below at night if we get a cold wave, like the one we have been experiencing for the past few days.

Tuscany in January

Days are still short: the sun goes down around 5pm. Trees are leafless (except for olive trees, cypres trees and some oaks) and so are vines.

Tuscany in January

Some restaurants and other tourism-related businesses might be closed after January 6th, because the second half of January is traditionlly a very slow time of the year. Of course this also means that you can get great deals, so if you decide to travel in winter, January might be a good time of the year to visit Tuscany without breaking the bank!

Tuscany in January

Once again, we would like to remind you to beware of the slippery icey roads after dark. Snow chains and winter tires are mandatory from November 1st on, so make sure your rental car is equipped if you decide to visit Tuscany in January.

Weather-related legends and popular beliefs

The coldest days of the month are usually the so-called “giorni della merla” (literally, the blackbird days), that is, January 29, 30 and 31. Snowfalls or cold waves are in fact quite common at the end of the month.

Tuscany in January

(Photo of our village under the snow by Alice Rossi)

The name of these three days comes from a legend.

The tale goes that a long time ago, January only had 28 days. Blackbirds were white then. They lived happily among the trees, and every winter they impatiently waited for the cold days to come to an end. One January, on the 28th day, a bold blackbird rejoiced and shouted to January, ” Lord, I don’t care about you anymore, winter is over!”. January was enraged by this disrespectful outburst and asked February to lend him three of its days and made them the harshest and coldest days of all! The blackbird scared and worried moved its family away from the trees to a stone chimney on the top of an old farmhouse. For three days of terrible ice and cold they hid in the chimney and when February 1st arrived with a warm sunshine, the blackbird and its family emerged no longer white, but black and sooty. This is why blackbirds are born black and February only has 28 days instead of 31!

This is not the only weather-related story as far as January is concerned, though. The first 12 days of the month are called the Calends. According to a popular belief going back to the Roman era and possibly earlier than that, you can predict what the weather will be like over the following months by looking at the weather of the first days of January. Each day corresponds to one month, so January 1st corresponds to January itself, January 2nd corresponds to February, January 3rd corresponds to March and so on. If the weather on that day is good, the weather in the corresponding month will be bad, and viceversa. I remember my great-grandmother used to mark these things down on her Frate Indovino calendar!

If you forget to keep track of the weather during the Calends, you can observe the weather on St. Paul’s Day (January 25th). There is another old saying which says “delle calende non mi curo, se a San Paolo non fa scuro“, that is, “I am not worried about the forecasts of the Calends, if the weather is good on St. Paul’s Day”. It means that if the weather is good on St. Paul’s Day, the year will be a good year.

Tuscany in January

(Photo of our village under the snow by Alice Rossi)

Another ancient tradition consists in placing 12 half walnut-shells filled with a pinch of salt on your window sill on the night between January 24th and 25th. Each shell corresponds to a month. The shell which, on the following morning, contains melted salt will indicate that the corresponding month will be dry and hot. The shells still containing salt will indicate humid, rainy months.

What is in season in January?

Not much I am afraid. If you like oranges and clementines, however, this is the best time of the year to find delicious citrus fruit, even though they are not produced in Tuscany.

Tuscany in January

As for vegetables, broccoli, cauliflowers, seakale beets, fennels, radicchio, spinach, artichokes and cardoons are all seasonal products. If you have a chance, make sure you try deep fried artichokes and cardoons or a cardoon pie (sformato di carducci).

The end of the Holidays

The first six days of the month are still festive: the Holidays officially end on January 6th, the Epiphany, which is a very important religious holiday in Italy. Traditionally, it was more “important” than Christmas Day itself. The characters of three Wise Kings were added to the Nativity Scene and presents were exchanged.

Stockings were hung by the fireplace and at night parents… no sorry… the Befana… would fill them with treats and small presents for the children. If they had been naughty, they would also get garlic and coal! I still remember the sugar coal that my mum used to place in my stocking…!

The beginning of Carnival

Soon after the Christmas holidays are over, the Carnival celebrations start. It depends on Easter of course: the earlier Easter Sunday falls, the earlier Carnival begins.
The towns and cities celebrating Carnival with pageant parades like Viareggio will start organizing events.

carnival sweets tuscany

Bakeries and pastry shops will start selling the traditional Carnival sweets such as cenci (or crogetti as we call them in our area), fritters, and bomboloni! Watch out for “naughty kids” celebrating because you could find yourselves covered in spray foam and confetti!

Comments

  1. Jenny Jarrett

    I am looking for a very affordable place for 4 ladies in September 2012 to stay, this is our first trip to Italy so we are very overwhelmed right now. We want to stay in the country but close to shops and resturants and also where there will be someone to tell us where to go and see things. I have contacted some agritourism places but some are very expensive. We want a nice rustic place with 2 bedrooms and 2 baths if possible. If you could help us it would be greatly appreciated. Thank you Jenny

    • Well, being in the countryside and close to shops and restaurant is not that easy! I guess if you base yourselves in Chianti, it is so touristy that you are never far from a place with lots of restaurants and shops, including Siena and Florence of course.
      If you choose the Val d’Orcia, also very popular, you will have to drive farther and towns are smaller and more sparse. But the landscape in my opinion is much more beautiful.
      If you choose an area like where we are, it is not touristy at all yet ideal to explore the most famous areas, but every village is about 10 to 15km from the others and has 1 to 3 restaurants and only basic shops. Siena and Grosseto are only a short drive away though.
      I could recommend La Guardiola, in the hamlet of Pari . The village itself is tiny but has two restaurants and more in the area. No shops though.

  2. Olga

    We will be a group of seven traveling from the Caribbean. Three adults and the rest children. We’ll arrive Italy for New Year \’s Eve. I would like to go to Tuscany for two days. What do you recommend? This will be the first week of January 2013.

    Thank you

    • Hi Olga, Tuscany is a big place. And there is so much to see. If you only have two days I would choose a city and visit that. Maybe Florence?

  3. Dear Gloria,
    my fiance and I are thinking about spending our honneymoon in Tuscany, and we are getting marryed, with Lord´s Grace, in January.
    We are brazilian, so we´re not used to really cold temperatures, but we really love Italy and specially, Tuscany.
    Do you think it´s a good idea vitisiting Tuscany around January, 10 – 20?
    Thanks a million,
    and a Happy New Year!

    • Hi Larissa, congratulations on your upcoming wedding! January and February get as cold as it gets here, so no, not a great time of the year for a honeymoon if you don’t like (even relatively) cold temperatures. You could consider postponing the honeymoon to April or May maybe?

  4. Hi Gloria,
    Great to read the details about tuscany in January. I and my girl friend are visiting italy for a week from Paris. We were thinking of renting a car from Pisa and then traveling only to the smaller places and skipping Florence and Siena. But then since it’s cold, we won’t be able to camp around in the smaller places and we think we will end up spending on the car as well as the accommodations. May be we chose just one or two smaller places and live there for a week. We are keen to enjoy just the scenery, walk in the woods, meeting some locals and knowing more their cultures. Any place you could suggest?
    Thanks
    Gursi

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  2. [...] Further reading:  Check out this well-written blog post from a local Tuscan describing what Tuscany is like in winter.  Tuscany in January [...]

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