Dream Day in Italy: Dance to Italian Pop in Sanremo

This is an excerpt from the new book Dream Days in Italy: 30 Adventures in the Italian Boot – get your copy for more dream days!

Sanremo in Northern Italy’s Liguria is a city on the Mediterranean coast, closer to France and Monaco than to much of the rest of the Italian peninsula. It feels more like Monaco than Italy with its palm trees, yacht-full harbor and elegant casino.

The single-most important week of the year for Italian pop music is the week of the Festival di Sanremo, also called the Italian Song Festival (Festival della canzone italiana) or simply “Il Festival.” This yearly event held in town since 1951 predicts many of the top songs of the year in Italy, but only one song is crowned queen. The winner gets to represent Italy on the Eurovision stage (think of it as the European Super Bowl of Music, watched by millions). The 2024 edition of the festival is happening RIGHT NOW beginning with all 30 contestants and ending with the finals on Feb. 10. Find out more info and how to watch at www.rai.it/programmi/sanremo

All performers at the Sanremo festival are welcomed to the stage with a bouquet of flowers since Sanremo is called “the city of flowers.” It is the home to some of the most beautiful blooms on the Italian Riviera, specifically carnations.

Travel down the Walk of Fame past the Ariston theater, home to the festival since the 1970s, and follow stars on the ground dedicated to winning songs and artists of years gone by, similar to the Hollywood Walk of Fame in Los Angeles. Perhaps you have never heard of the festival, but I promise you’ve heard some of its songs. “Nel Blu Dipinto di Blu” by Domenico Modugno, often called “Volare,” is one of the most popular Italian songs of all time and won the festival in 1958.

Fuel up for your walk by trying the Ligurian specialty, focaccia. My favorite is focaccia alle cipolle with thinly sliced onions on top of the thick, fragrant bread. Another popular topping is whole, pitted olives. My favorite spot in the center of town is Panetteria Barbruni (Via Gaudio, 56; 39 0184 638652). Their take on the Sanremo classic Sardenaira is heavenly: soft, fresh focaccia with tomato, anchovies, capers, garlic and olives.

Danielle Abbazia