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Three reasons why you shouldn’t miss the San Giovanni Festival

If you are going to be on Lake Como during the weekend around 24th June, my suggestion is in no way to miss what is considered to be one of the most famous and most distinguished event of the whole of the lake, the “Sagra of San Giovanni”, in Ossuccio (Tremezzina), on the Western shores.

You are now most certainly thinking that, especially during the summer and especially in most tourist resorts, you can find events of this kind almost everywhere … why should this one be so special?
According to me, at least three things and, if you carry on reading, you will find out what makes this one event one of a kind.

1# A village party

It is not only the square, the lakefront and the sports field that comes to life, for the one day the whole hamlet of Ossuccio and all of its surrounding villages are literally stormed by the thousands of people willing to take part to one of the most famous summer events on the lake. For the one day, the whole village itself is transformed, as well as all its inhabitants. What is usually a peaceful and quiet place comes to life. It is very unlikely to being able to find a corner, an alley, a shore or a courtyard that is not given life to. There is great ferment, hundreds of people wander around the main road, the streets of the village are filled with stalls and markets, bars and restaurants are ready for the sold out, merry-go-rounds, street food and benches fill up the park in the centre of the village. The air is full of expectation, excitement, energy and you can most certainly feel it all. As soon as the sun starts going down, as ritual, the inhabitants light up hundreds of candles to illuminate balconies, terraces, windowsills, shores and courtyards. A beautiful spectacular effect, especially if you can see it from the lake. Therefore, everybody prepares and joyfully waits for the night to come and for the fireworks to begin.

2# The fireworks display

The fireworks are undoubtedly the most longed for moment of the whole festival. However, please, don’t think it is just half an hour of mere fireworks… what takes place here is a proper show, with its stage, its story and its amazing conclusion.
The actual shape of the village itself makes this a unique experience. Can you picture an amphitheater? In this area of the lake, the shores form a sort of an inlet, right in the centre of which lays the Comacina Island, the only island of the lake. The hamlet of Ossuccio spreads right in front of it, from along the shores up on the slopes of the surrounding mountains. This is how the Comacina Island becomes the stage where the fireworks display will take place, the waters surrounding it will be the parterre and the slopes of the mountains will become the bleachers from where to admire the show. Hundreds of boats and many steamers will position themselves in the forefront, in the bay right between the island and the village, illuminating the stage of this natural theatre. As you can well imagine though, it is not for sure that the best seats are the “front seats”. Even from the above, from where you can enjoy 180° views, the show is just as spectacular.
Only when the audience will finally settle, the show will begin. Only at this moment you will be able to realise that even the acoustics here are well worthy of a proper theatre! The surrounding mountains act as sounding boards and the bangs echo as never before, involving and stunning the whole public.
However, these fireworks are not just a simple light show. There is a whole story behind them, the story of the Comacina Island, of the Emperor Frederick Redbeard and of the wars that razed this strip of land to the ground. A narrator will tell you everything, while the fireworks will follow one another to the strains of engaging music. Then, when the whole island will glow in a red light, to recall the fire that destroyed it, you will feel to step back in time and to take part to something exceptional. This is one of the most evocative moments of the whole evening. The reason why this event is so overwhelming for the inhabitants of these shores is probably due to the reminiscence of the past of these lands … When the last bang goes off, a heartfelt ovation of applauses, motorboats horns and steamers roars, rises from everywhere to express everybody’s full appreciation!

3# The mass on the island

In spite of the fireworks being the highlight of the party, the festival actually carries on to the Sunday, when tradition comes to life again.
You go from the profane to the sacred, but the main character doesn’t change, it remains the Comacina Island. It is where the ruins of the Basilica of Saint Eufemia are, on the island itself, where the Holy Mass is celebrated in order to remember the saint who, according to tradition, appeared to one of the inhabitants and invited him to dig where the antique basilica used to be, unearthing the ruins of the church and the past of the lands. This is why the Mass is the occasion to bring the relics of the martyrs of the Parish of the Island on the island for the day. The Solemn Procession is an intertwinement of devoutness, folklore and history. A procession of decorated steamers, “lucie” (typical vessels) and boats bring people on the island. On board you can find the musical band, skilful flag wavers, boatmen wearing traditional clothes and walk-ons wearing period costumes. The sacred moment, celebrated in the open air, in the shade of the olive groves, among the ruins of the antique basilica, in one of Northern Italy’s most extraordinary archaeological sites is very evocative and very touching.
On top of all this, as if it weren’t enough, you can also attend the final moment of the festival, the “Regata of San Giovanni”, where teams of the various lakeside villages race against each other on board of the “lucie”. In this case, the skyrocketing competition and the strong parochialism of the inhabitants of the area are in full view and they are a fascinating show of their own. Not to be missed!

So, do you believe me now? This is a festival with a capital “F”, extraordinary and to live the full.

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