Harrogate has been twinned with Montecatini in Italy, since the early 1960s and there has been a renaissance of interest and exchange visits between the two towns in recent times.
In addition to its spa heritage, another link with Montecatini, as well as Luchon is the association with road race cycling. Montecatini has a long association with the Giro d’Italia (Tour of Italy).
In 1961, in the council minutes, we see the expression of an idea to twin Harrogate with an Italian town. With the link of Luchon already in place, there had been a French week take place in Harrogate, and the hope was that in 1962, there would also be a European and an Italian week.
Apart from language exchange, the sharing of culture played a huge role in the twinning process. During Harrogate’s Italian week, shops would have Italian fashions, chefs, fashion shows and art exhibitions. As well as waiter and waitress races down Parliament Street, with the Italian and Brits competing.
Music has played a significant part in both the link with Montecatini and Luchon. Italian musicians would come across to perform in Harrogate. On the whole these were youth groups or groups from schools, but there was at least one adult group that come over who were known as the ‘Juggling Flag Wavers’. They came over to Harrogate in uniforms to perform and would dance to music in formation with flags which they threw into the air and caught again. The musical peak came in 1966 when the Italian Ambassador paid a visit to Harrogate. On that occasion, a concert was performed in his honour.
In connection to the music link, Montecatini is close by to the home of Italian composer Giacomo Puccini who was primarily known for his operas. Regarded as the greatest and most successful proponent of Italian opera after Verdi, he was descended from a long line of composers, stemming from the late-Baroque era. Puccini was born in Lucca in Italy in 1858. Lucca is located just 20 miles from Harrogate’s twinned town, Montecatini.
His most renowned works are La bohème (1896), Tosca (1900), Madama Butterfly (1904), and Turandot (1924), all of which are among the most frequently performed and recorded of all operas.
In Harrogate, there is a strong musical and arts heritage which is celebrated through the Harrogate International Festivals. With a diverse portfolio of festivals and events all year round, Harrogate International Festivals dramatically increase the cultural and tourism element in Harrogate and have done for many years, with its programme of events including the much loved Spiegeltent, Carnival, Berwins Salon North, Harrogate Music Festival, Fire & Light Experience, Theakston’s Old Peculier Crime Writing Festival to name but a few!