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HOLIDAYS

‘Do the super bridge’: Why Italy is on its longest Easter holiday ever

Italy has just begun its longest spring break ever. Here's how you too can do the 'super ponte'.

'Do the super bridge': Why Italy is on its longest Easter holiday ever
Taking a break in Bari. Photo: Filippo Monteforte/AFP

Fare il ponte ('to do the bridge'), if you don't already know, is the practice of taking an extra day off when a public holiday falls on a Tuesday or Thursday – or, if you're particularly audacious, a Wednesday – instead of next to a weekend, in order to create one continuous break.

And this April and May are full of opportunities to try it out. Thanks to a late Easter falling closer than usual to secular spring holidays, many Italians will be bundling up their free days off into a break of up to two weeks.

READ ALSO: The essential guide to an Italian Easter


Photo: Mario Laporta/AFP

School kids are the ones who stand to benefit most from the 'super bridge', as it's been dubbed: while Good Friday is surprisingly not a public holiday in Italy and workers are only granted Easter Sunday and Monday (Pasquetta, or 'little Easter') off, state schools typically close from Thursday to Tuesday over the holiday weekend. Most kids began their break today, April 18th.

They could go back to class on Wednesday 24th… but the next day, April 25th, is Italy's Liberation Day, a celebration of the end of the Nazi occupation during World War Two and a national holiday. And by then it's practically the next weekend, so what's the point?

READ ALSO: What is Italy's Liberation Day all about?

Ok, but the following week it must be back to the grindstone, right? Well… look what's coming up on Wednesday, May 1st: International Workers' Day. Like most countries in the EU, Italy gives everyone the day off.

Those who really commit to the 'super bridge', hailed by the Italian press as the longest ever, are therefore beginning 14 days of holiday from now until May 2nd. Employees taking leave can get two weeks for the price of one, since only seven of those days are supposed to be worked. 


Having fun in Rome. Photo: Vincenzo Pinto/AFP

Not everyone will put their feet up, of course. Even aside from those who have to work, the Ministry of Education set some notably less generous term dates for state schools in the various regions of Italy, with unlucky pupils in Lombardy, Piedmont, Emilia-Romagna, Liguria, Tuscany, Lazio, Marche, Molise, Puglia and Sardinia advised to return to class on April 23rd.

Schools in Valle d'Aosta, Veneto, Friuli-Venezia Giulia, Umbria, Abruzzo, Campania, Calabria, Basilicata and Sicily are supposed to reopen on April 24th, while the lucky kids in Bolzano and Trento have been told not to go back until at least April 26th or 27th respectively.  

However, these dates remain advisory only: it's up to local authorities to decide exactly when each school opens and closes, so long as they fit in at least 200 teaching days throughout the year. Many institutions have announced they'll take one, two or even all three of the 'bridges' available.


Admiring the Boboli Gardens in Florence. Photo: Andreas Solaro/AFP

Thousands of workers will be hoping to join them. According to hotel owners' association Federalberghi, more than 21 million Italians are planning to travel over Easter and/or the May Day weekend, with 87 percent of them choosing to stay in Italy. If you're heading anywhere in Italy over the next two weeks, be prepared for higher prices, longer lines and booked-out B'n'Bs.

Q&A: What you need to know about taking part in the European elections if you're in Italy

But the 'super bridge' isn't the only chance to take a break, for kids at least: those whose schools are used as polling stations can expect a couple of days off around May 26th for the European elections and, in nearly 4,000 municipalities, mayoral elections the same day (as well as potential mayoral run-offs on June 9th). Unions are also threatening a general strike on May 17th that would see schools across the country closed.

Most workers, though, will have to wait until August for their next free day off: Italy's early summer public holiday, Republic Day on June 2nd, this year falls on a Sunday. 

After that there are no freebies until August 15th, Assumption day or Ferragosto, which in 2019 is mercifully… a Thursday.

READ ALSO: Everything you need to know about Ferragosto

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SUMMER

Gelato, iced tea and escaping to the hills: How to survive an Italian summer in the city

As Italy swelters in the early summer heat, writer Richard Hough in Verona shares his tips for keeping cool in the city this summer.

Gelato, iced tea and escaping to the hills: How to survive an Italian summer in the city
Photo: Tommaso Pecchioli/Unsplash

With the temperature in Italy soaring and this year’s first wave of the famed ‘caldo Africano’ sweeping the nation, a number of coping strategies can be employed to try and stay cool in the brutally hot Italian summer.

In Verona the temperature is now well into the thirties, and even through the night it rarely falls below 20 degrees.

I can’t remember the last time it rained, and there’s barely a breath of wind in the air. Even performing simple tasks, like putting on a pair of socks (to be avoided at all costs if possible), cause an alarming outbreak of perspiration. Anything as vigorous as cycling to work or going for a jog becomes an energy-sapping endeavour that inevitably results in an unpleasant sweaty drenching. 

READ ALSO: Fried eggs and sweaty underpants: 10 phrases for complaining about the heat like an Italian

With the effective use of blinds, shutters and air-conditioning, some of our neighbours and friends boast of being able to keep their house at a relatively stable 19 or 20 degrees, a feat of household management we’ve never quite managed to achieve.

Noisy, expensive and generally unsatisfying, we tend to use our air conditioning system only as a last resort and instead endure the heat of our apartment like some kind of mildly unpleasant act of self-flagellation.

Ice-cream, of course, is an altogether more pleasant way to confront the summer heat.

To my squirming delight, the local gelateria even offered me a loyalty card earlier this week. On closer inspection, I was somewhat dismayed to calculate that I’d need to consume €100 of ice-cream before I received any reward! When you consider that a cone costs as little as €2 a pop, you have some idea of the scale of the task that lies before me.

READ ALSO: How to keep cool like an Ancient Roman in Italy’s summer heat

Photo: Miguel Medina/AFP

Iced tea is another vital source of refreshment in these sweltering days. Before moving permanently to Italy ten years ago, I had always mocked the idea of cold tea. For me tea was brewed hot and strong with a splash of milk. The notion of ice-cold, sweet, peach-flavoured tea just seemed ridiculously self-indulgent. The first summer I spent it in Verona I consumed the stuff by the gallon. It remains one of the few things that can quench that insatiable summer thirst.

Another, of course, is beer. 

Verona is well-known principally as a wine-producing region, but in the summer months that intoxicating blend of barley, hops and water comes into its own, as the full-bodied red wines of the region momentarily take a back seat. Even my wife, who never drank beer before we came to Italy, is known to enjoy the occasional birra media in the summer months. 

Some of the best birreria in town even serve their beer in chilled glasses. If you can avoid getting your lip stuck to the glassware, this is a delightfully refreshing way to enjoy the ancient amber nectar.

As the popularity of locally-brewed craft beers has soared in recent years, a number of new bars have sprung up in Verona to cater for the seemingly insatiable demand. Amongst the best of these new arrivals is the Santa Maria Craft Pub, near Piazza Erbe. Perhaps I can persuade them to introduce a loyalty card?

READ ALSO: How to spot good quality gelato in Italy – and how to suss out the fakes

Verona’s Piazza Erbe. Photo: Shalev Cohen/Unsplash

The hills above the city also provide some respite from the stifling heat below, and the Verona Beer Garden in the Torricelle hills opens every year from May to September. The Beer Garden offers the standard range of German beers and simple fast food, as well as live music, crazy golf and beer-pong, in the blissfully cool surroundings of the Veronese hills. 

This year has also seen the launch of the Mura Festival which runs from June to October. Mura is Italian for ‘wall’ and this exciting new addition to the local events scene takes place in the green ramparts of the ancient wall that surrounds the city. With everything from yoga and children’s theatre to Thai street food and arrosticini abruzzesi (barbequed lamb skewers), it’s another refreshing place to chill out and cool down after a day under the fierce sun. 

Of course, the best strategy for avoiding the heat is to leave the city behind you and head to the beach. In recent years we’ve done exactly that, exploring Sicily, Sardinia and Elba when the heat of the city gets too much. The region of Puglia, famed for its pristine beaches and crystal-clear water, has long been on our list too, but this year we’ve opted to stay local. With the ever-evolving pandemic situation, we took the decision not to be too ambitious with our travel plans. 

REVEALED: The parts of Italy where Italians are going on holiday this summer

With three months of school holidays to contend with, many Italian kids have already been dispatched from the sweltering cities, often with their obliging nonni (grandparents). We too will soon be decamping, returning this year to Bibione, a popular beach resort to the east of Venice on the Adriatic coast, where we’ve enjoyed simple family holidays in the past. 

Like many families, we’ve opted for a ‘camping’ style resort, but will be treating ourselves to a luxurious, six-berth ‘leaf tent’, fully equipped with air-conditioning, fridge/freezer and the all-important mosquito netting, as well as two sun loungers and a parasol on the nearby beach.

The only slight cloud on the horizon is that I’ll have to tear myself away from the beach for a few hours to return to Verona for the second dose of my vaccine. As long as I’ve got a supply of chilled peach tea for the journey, I think I’ll be ok. And if all goes to plan, I’ll be back on the beach in time for a quick pre-lunch dip in the cool Adriatic.

Richard Hough has lived in Verona since September 2011 and writes about the region’s history, football, wine and culture. His new book, Rita’s War, a true story of persecution, resistance and heroism from wartime Italy, is available here. He is currently writing his next book about wartime Verona.

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