Redentore Festival in Venice

Everyone knows the allure of Venice. The name alone invites visions of romantic alleys, arches, and waterways. If you are not contrary to crowds, there is never a bad time to visit just to people watch from Piazza San Marco, dance around the Doge’s Palace, browse basilicas, or scamper through shops.

In this post, I want to recommend a particularly magical time to spend a weekend in this waterlogged wonder. Every third weekend in July, Venetians celebrate the Festa del Redentore (Festival of the Redeemer) to give thanks for the end of the plague of 1576 which killed over 50k people. The Doge at the time (Alvise I Mocenigo), promised to build a great church if the plague ended. When the plague finally perished, the Doge commissioned the construction of Il Redentore church on Giudecca. Since its construction, every year a temporary bridge is constructed connecting the Zattere waterfront in Venice to this little island.

For over 400 years (wowza!) this festival is celebrated with a pilgrimage to the church and fireworks on the Saturday night. The entire city gets decked out, from wooden tables set out in the street to lovely ladies lounging on party boats.

We went to experience this festival last year and it was something we will never forget. By sunset on Saturday, the streets were lined with rice paper lanterns and all the waterways were filled with party boats. Every free restaurant table along the water was taken with voyeurs wishing to enjoy long fantastic meals leading up to the fireworks.

We opted to sit and enjoy the event with a leisurely meal at a choice table. It felt very much like a new years celebration. Everyone was decked out and ready to party. Boats were constantly whizzing in and out of the ports with party hoppers and when the fireworks finally began (around 11:00 pm) the city was in full swing.

I honestly have to say these were the best fireworks I have ever seen! They are launched off pontoon boats near the island of San Giorgio Maggiore, but you can literally see them from anywhere in the city. The entire skyline lights up for a good hour. I always knew the Italians had a high standard of artistic excellence but this was beyond anything I could have imagined.

Once the fireworks end, boats start zipping around, with young people heading to the island of Lido to hang out on the sand and party until dawn. The next morning definitely had a very quiet and hung over Sunday feel to it, with many finally making the pilgrimage to the Il Redentore church. To top it all off, we also saw a regatta underway!


Practical Info

Here is some helpful info for anyone interested in checking out the festival for 2017. Venice is only a 2.5 hour drive from Ljubljana, Slovenia. I recommend putting Tronchetto into your GPS, parking there, and taking the Vaporetto to wherever you plan on staying. I also recommend packing light. You will be doing a lot of walking and weaving through a lot of crowds!

Redentore Festival in Venice 2017

Saturday 15th July 2017

7.00 p.m. opening of the bridge connecting the Zattere waterfront with the island of Giudecca; presentation of the Venetian regatta boat crews.

11.30 p.m. Festa del Redentore fireworks 2017.

Sunday 17th July 2017

4.00 p.m. Regatta of the Redeemer – Giudecca canal

7.00 p.m. Votive Mass of the Redeemer Festival in Venice 2017 at the Chiesa del Redentore on the island of Giudecca

Look for hotels, restaurants, and boat owners to offer special viewing experiences of the fireworks.

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Exploring Istria, Croatia

With a newborn and toddler in tow, and a four day holiday weekend ahead, we thought what better way to enjoy the lovely fresh spring greens of spring than a road trip through the Istrian peninsula which has often been called the Tuscany of Croatia.

The beauty of traveling throughout Istria is that you can enjoy both the rolling vistas full of medieval hilltop towns peppered with vineyards and the hip yet historic coastal towns, all within a 30-60 minute drive from one great destination to another. This makes for easy traveling, including the ability to decide exactly what you would like to experience on a given day without having to plan ahead. You can also just drive around until you happen upon somewhere you would like to stop and see.

Lodging Considerations

We debated what lodging would make the most sense for us and considered staying at a hotel resort which would give us ample amenities and proximity to a town of interest as well as an apartment in a town of interest which would give us proximity and space.

Ultimately, we decided that a third option made the most sense for us given our goal of seeing the region. For even less than a hotel room or apartment would have cost, we were able to rent a gorgeous and centrally located house on an agrotourism property. We got ample space (crucial for a family of four with a newborn and toddler!), the convenience and charm of delicious locally-sourced breakfasts and dinners, and a great central jumping off point to explore the region. This ended up being the perfect choice given our goals for this trip. The lower price point had nothing to do with the quality of the lodging but due to the fact that we were not staying in a tourist town. This just added to the charm!

During our four day trip, we visited the towns of Rovinj, Motovun, Bale, and Grožnjan. We even spent a day at an amusement park called Dinoland Funtana which is very close to the coastal town Poreč (stay tuned for a separately article on this town!).


Rovinj is one of Istria’s most beautiful fishing towns speckled with cobble stone streets and surrounded by 14 little islands. Originally, a Venetian/Illyrian settlement that was captured by the Romans, like most of this region, Rovinj has fallen under the rule of the Venetian empire, Austrian empire, Italy, Yugoslavia, and ultimately Croatia. Today the city is officially bilingual (Italian and Croatian) and an active fishing port. This means great restaurants and bars with Italian flare and delicious seafood and gelato.

Be sure not to miss the cathedral of Sv. Euphemia and the artists’ street of Grisia which has been described as Rovinj’s “Montmartre.”


Our next stop was the medieval hilltop town of Motovun in central Istria where you can walk the city walls and soak in the rolling vineyards.

Despite a small population of about 500 residents, Motovun is filled with charming artisan shops where you can find hand-made treasures (not cheesy imported knick knacks trying to pass as local souvenirs) and top-notch cuisine featuring fantastic views and amazing regional dishes utilizing Istria’s famous olive oils and tartufo (truffles)…and we happened to be traveling during truffle season (yum!). We even ate at a seemingly undiscovered restaurant (Mondo Tavern) tucked into the city’s stone walls that has been reviewed by the New York Times! Beware of tourist season, however, even though we were there during shoulder season, it was already starting to get overcrowded which of course takes away from the more relaxing aspects of strolling through the streets.


Bale is a tiny town that happened to be near the house we were renting. You could literally walk through it in 5 minutes. What was particularly neat about Bale was that the old stone buildings were mostly left empty and not renovated or kept up as much as other towns. As a result, you get a strong sense of walking through history, almost as if you are in a ghost town. Despite the quiet abandon you feel through the old town, there are a couple of great restaurants just outside the center.


While Motovun is more famous for its vineyard vistas, we found the views from Grožnjan even more spectacular.

This town is smaller than Motovun but larger than Bale. Every street corner feels like you are walking through a gorgeous photograph or painting of medieval buildings strewn with flower baskets and vines draping from doorways. There are a couple of nice restaurants and artisan shops. It also appears to be a pit stop for road bikers which is always fun to see. With the such gorgeous countryside, who can blame them for setting out to venture from town to town throughout the region?

(PS – This is a photograph by a local photographer during wisteria season, I can’t take credit for this one!)

Overall, Istria is incredibly beautiful and easy to explore by car, even without planning out a detailed itinerary. Be sure to take advantage of all the great wine, olive oil, and truffles to be had in the region as well as the medieval towns and crystal coastline with amazing seafood, people watching, and island hopping. We felt very fortunate to experience all of these spectacular treasures without any hassle. I have a feeling that it would have been a much different story in the thick of tourist season. It seems this region is best enjoyed before the crowds come in!

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Christmas Market Magic

As the days get darker and ever more frosty, there is nothing more uplifting a city can offer than flooding its central squares with cascades of local food and craft stalls, as music wafts through the air amidst the sounds of cheerful laughter and clinking glasses of gluhwein.

Living in Ljubljana, we have been fortunate enough to be able to access several spectacular Christmas markets within no more than a few minutes’ walk to a few hours’ drive.

Ljubljana, Slovenia Christmas Market

While you may not have read much about Ljubljana’s holiday market in the latest Condé Nast, locals rightfully refer to the last month of the year as “Happy December” where cheerful lights sparkle all the way from the foothills of Ljubljana Grad (city castle) through downtown bus stops and the famous Prešeren Square.

Along the banks of the Ljubljanica river, you will find no shortage of sidewalk cafes outfitted with heat lamps, hot wine, music and charming lights ready to warm up even the coldest nights.

Finally, you will find wooden stalls set up throughout various city squares filled with local artisan crafts including honey liquors (Slovenia is famous for its honey), handmade puppets (another important Slovenian specialty), knitwear, ornaments, as well as more tourist-centric treats.

Klagenfurt, Austria Christmas Market (1 hour 15 minutes from Ljubljana)

You likely have not heard of Klagenfurt, I had not, but it turns out to be a super charming little Austrian town near the border of Slovenia. The town is graced with a gorgeous central square (Neuer Platz) which gets decked out during the holiday season with traditional Austrian food and drink stalls (think sausages, sauerkraut, heaps of hot potato mash, mulled wine, and chestnuts, mmmm), ornament and artisan vendors, pony and train rides for the kids, and live music.

When traveling from Slovenia to Austria (or vice versa), don’t forget to pick up a vignette (the equivalent of a prepaid EZ-Pass valid for a pre-determined number of days) at any local gas station on either side of the border to avoid getting hit with a hefty fine.

Zagreb, Croatia Christmas Market (1 hour 15 minutes from Ljubljana)

If I had to pick one Christmas market to meander, this would be IT. Three things I love about this market: (1) Space. This market spreads throughout the main downtown parks and squares yet is easily walkable so you never feel overwhelmed by crowds (something you do not experience at some of the most famous markets); (2) Variety. The Zagreb Christmas market includes a nice mix of activities and crafts that appeal to all ages (for example: live music and performances from international artists; games, rides, and movies for children; a plethora of hot food and wine; and the most spectacular ice skating rink you can imagine (set up in King Tomislav Square)); and

(3) Atmosphere. I am a sucker for ambiance and I have to say that the lighting at the Zagreb Christmas market is just magical. While all Christmas markets have holiday lights, there is just something extra enchanting about the bluish white icicle lights draped along the garden gazebos and wrapped around the ancient city trees. The mood is electric at night with laughter and dancing abound.

I highly recommend you seek out and experience this Christmas market if you are in the region.

Salzburg, Austria Christmas Market (3 hours from Ljubljana)

As the birthplace of Mozart and considered one of the most charming small cities in Europe, Salzburg has been a well known destination for quite some time. The city boasts one of the largest and most famous Christmas markets in Europe and as a result, there is no shortage of shopping, singing, or strolling to be had.

If you are looking for glitz and glam, this market may be for you, but I must admit that I personally found it to be a little too overrun. As we walked through the main markets, which funnel people through narrow paths, I felt like I was stuck in rush hour traffic full of aggressive drivers.

Perhaps if I had started on mulled wine early in the day I would have felt differently! That being said, there are some great aspects of the Salzburg markets. For example, you will see the characters of Christkindl (Christ-child), St. Nicolas, and Krampusses (evil spirits punishing misbehaving children) throughout the city with no shortage of acting and singing performances. Also, one of the markets has a special area dedicated to children with warm wooden huts outfitted with arts and crafts for a break from the cold. Finally, I must admit that the artisan crafts are undoubtedly among the most beautiful I saw, particularly when it comes to Christmas decor if you are looking for something special to take home with you.

Other Nearby Christmas Markets

Next year I am hoping we will have the opportunity to explore more of the surrounding Christmas markets within an easy weekend’s drive from Ljubljana including: Nuremberg, Germany; Vienna, Austria; Ferrara, Italy (we drove by this town as they were setting up their markets and it was absolutely stunning and off the beaten path); and Trieste, Italy. I will plan on posting about those markets next holiday season.

In the meantime, I hope this article helped peak your interest in considering a trip to Slovenia and the region during the holidays!

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