I don’t usually pay a whole lot of attention to religious festivals, but, like many, I always like a good party, and when it comes to Carnival, Italy never disappoints – and Carnival in Venice and Viareggio are not to miss.It starts when you begin to see tiny tots dressed up as Snow White or Frozen stars as their parents go about their business, tossing colorful confetti around the nearest piazza they can find. But you always know that Carnival is just around the corner, when pastry shops, markets and coffee bars start pulling out the scrumptious desserts that define this time of year. In fact, sandwiched between the panettone and pandoro of Christmastime, and the Colomba cakes (shaped like doves of peace) at Easter, are the irresistible fried pastries you simply can’t get enough of, just prior to warding them off at Lent.
Deep fried dough, they’re called frappe or Chiacchiere (chatty) depending upon where in Italy you are, supposedly because – once you’re well-covered head to toe in powdered sugar after cramming them furiously into your mouth, they reveal to all your sin. It’s more popular now for waistlines to eat them al forno – or baked, although most claiming to be baked are still first fried and then tossed into an oven. My favorite? The kind dripping or dipped in chocolate.
Here's how to make a delicious Sicilian version (of course, with Marsala wine!)
The way to someone’s heart may be through their stomach, but the way to know that Carnival is just around the corner is through the desserts.
Another treat this time of year are the castagnole – basically, delicious deep-fried doughnut holes.
How to find a fabulous Carnival celebration? Well, most people know about Venice’s awesome celebration – It marked the one day after masks were outlawed due to nefarious practices going on anonymously – the costumes are over-the-top. Unfortunately for us, February often has a lot of rainy weather, which in Venice means high waters, making the effort all the more stunning. Every town hosts a festival of sorts, usually with performers, parades and loads of kids (and grownups) in costumes. Rome’s Carnival used to be a wild affair with debauchery and so on going up the main street (Via del Corso), until the church finally outlawed it once and for all. Nowadays, Carnival is celebrated in Piazza Navona, or with a scattering of fun events all around town.
My favorite is the Carnival of Viareggio – a town many have never even heard of. In Tuscany’s Maremma area, it's a stone’s throw from Lucca, Pisa or Forte dei Marmi. For weeks, their seaside promenade plays host to parades with immensely complicated artisan floats in all shapes and sizes. Some evenings end with a spectacular fireworks display. You have to reserve a ticket (or ask your hotel to do so), but it’s definitely worthwhile. While there, don’t miss out on a trip over to Carnival Village and the fantabulous museum of works.
Let us know and we can book a family tour and papier–mâché mask making workshop for the kids (or the whole family!).
While visiting Italy in February or March means, yes, perhaps inclement weather (although I am typing this in abnormally sunny Tuscany), the towns and museums will largely be yours alone, while the ski slopes are packed. But one thing’s for sure…all will be reveling in Martedi’ Grasso – or Mardi Gras. You won’t want to miss out on the fun! Ask us about booking mask making labs in Venice or Viareggio and more!Lisa @FamilyTravelItaly (FB/IG)
- More on Italy’s Year by Desserts here
- Everything you want to know about the Viareggio Carnival blog post
Where to sleep?
Grand Hotel Principe Di Piemonte
Located in the heart of Viareggio and just a 2 minute walk from the beach, the Grand Hotel offers 2 restaurants, a wellness center and a jacuzzi pool on its rooftop terrace with stunning views of the Versilia coast and the Apuan Alps. Most rooms offer a seaview, but be sure to ask for one when booking, just in case. Their Piccolo Principe 2-star Michelin restaurant is located in the veranda on the ground floor overlooking the sea promenade. The panoramic Maitò Viareggio restaurant is located on the rooftop terrace of the 5th floor. It serves local specialties, seafood, and pizza. A buffet breakfast offers homemade treats by a dedicated pastry chef, an eggs corner, freshly squeezed fruit and vegetable juices. Massages and beauty treatments are available with an extra cost.Grand Hotel Principe di Piemonte, Piazza Giacomo Puccini 1, 55049 Viareggio - Check the prices or make a reservation
60 mt dal mare
Excellent for families with small children. This cozy apartment is 2 minutes walk from the beach. Rooms come with balconies and free WiFi. The property features city views and is a 5-minute walk from Viareggio Harbor and is near to bars and restaurants, supermarkets and stores where you can find everything you need.
Easily accessible to the train station, you can be in Pisa and Lucca in 20 minutes, and Florence or Siena in about 90 mins. Pisa airport is only 30km from Viareggio and Florence airport is 80km. You can also take a boat from about 500m away to explore the Cinque Terre.