Bocce Ball, Italy’s Summer Staple, Goes Global
A European destination may still be out of reach for Summer 2021, even for those partial to transcontinental vacation spots. If you can’t get to a holiday getaway in countries like France, Spain, and Italy, you can bring the feeling of the Mediterranean lifestyle into your home. Recreate the Italian Riviera’s famous la dolce vita in any backyard with sun motifs, Negronis, Aperol spritzes, a Briscola card game, and most importantly, a bocce ball set. Nest Casa makes doing so look easy, curating five of the best sets on the market.
What Is Bocce Ball?
As Italians call it, bocce is a ball sport dating back to the Roman Empire, belonging to the boules family. Bocce, translated to English, is “bowls.” These heavy ball games are common fair-weather pastimes across Europe—including England’s bowls and France’s pétanque versions. Originally, bocce ball was exported via Italian emigrants to continents such as North and South America and Australia. Today, the sport attracts anyone who enjoys a social game of skill.
Games like bocce were the precursor to modern bowling. This sport traces back to sixth-century Greeks, who tossed stone balls in a measured manner. The Romans modified the game to include a target. This version was imported to Provence to become pétanque. The game eventually made its way further north: by the 13th century, English lawn bowls were recorded in the Royal Library at Windsor. The oldest surviving bowling green—the flat or curved grass playing fields—is in Southampton, England, and dates back to 1299.
Bocce was initially played with stones, then stone balls. Bocce ball sets are currently made from wood, metal, ceramic, and plastic. While as few as two people can play this game, it can accommodate up to eight individuals or teams (with a maximum of four players on each team). Differentiating between the teams is done with different patterns on the balls. While long, smooth patches of ground are suitable, proper courts do exist. These typically measure 13 by 91 feet and are made from grass, artificial turf, clay, or sand according to professional preference.
How Is Bocce Ball Played?
The game commences with the tossing of a smaller ball called the “jack.” In Italian, it’s the boccino (or, “little bocce”) or the pallino (or, “bullet”). The object is to land the jack in an area that’s more than 16 feet into the court but less than eight feet before the end of the court. The starting team gets two attempts. If this does not yield the proper placement, the opposing team can place the ball anywhere in the designated zone. Players can determine their own boundaries if the court isn’t regulation size.
Once the jack lands, the first team takes its turn to bowl, aiming to land as close to the jack as possible. The other team or teams follow. Instead of automatically alternating turns, the team landing its ball closest to the jack continues using all of its balls. (Presumably, this number is four but it is adjusted according to the number of teams.) Once this occurs, the other teams resume, also using their remaining balls. The ball gets tossed in an underhand manner. How well the player can control the accuracy of this throw dictates the skill level.
This rotation marks the end of one set with the ultimate object being to get as many balls as close to the jack as possible. During each set, the team that achieves this gets one point. Game length generally ranges from seven to 13 points.
Versions of Bocce Ball
There isn’t only one way to play the sport. Bocce volo uses an overhand throw with a short run-up and a metal ball—much like modern bowling. Boccia is a short-range game using leather balls on an indoor, smooth surface. It was designed for disabled players in wheelchairs. In 1984, it was introduced as an official Paralympic sport.
The French game pétanque was preceded by a boules version called jeu provençal (or, boule lyonnaise), in which players also did a short, three-step run-up. When it was introduced in 1910, it swiftly overtook jeu provençal as the preferred game in France.
Editor’s Picks: The Five Best Bocce Ball Sets
This centuries-old game has become a serious sport for both abled and disabled persons. You don’t have to be a pro to enjoy the game—or even a noble anymore (even if you live in France). During the reigns of both King Charles the Fourth and King Charles the Fifth, le roi declared the sport off-limits to commoners, which stayed in effect until the 17th century. Here at Nest Casa, we believe this universal game is perfect for anyone looking for a jovial summertime game. We’ve chosen five of the best sets on the market.
Consider your hostess gift conundrum solved for that beach weekend or summer getaway. This plastic-resin bocce ball set in a coastal color palette comes with a lightweight carrying case, making this set for two efficient to transport. Have balls, will travel!
If you are as serious about fashion as you are about bocce ball, these Chanel balls are the set to own. It’s also majorly exclusive as this set is only made for two players with one ball each. It is engraved with the iconic French house’s name on the balls and the famous double Cs on the jack. Nestled in a chic leather harness, these balls will knock the others off the court.
This family-run leather goods and design house in Lombardy, Italy, offers a set for a decent-sized group to play with. Up the ante on a two-team game by allowing for four balls in each round or set. Its refined leather carrying case is available in various colors and perfect for custom engraving.
This eight-ball set is the perfect introductory bocce game with a comfortable price tag. With four white balls contrasting against four black-and-white striped styles, remembering whose ball belongs to whom couldn’t be simpler. Arriving in a convenient carrying box, this set is a carefree, take-me-along anywhere summer staple.