Allegorical float at Viareggio Carnival held February 23, 2014— Photo by marchesini62
Allegorical float at Viareggio Carnival held February 23, 2014— Photo by marchesini62

A highlight of travel to Italy in the first quarter of the year is Carnival Season or as they say Carnevale. Celebrations are held roughly 40 days before Easter which falls on March 31st this year.

The biggest, most elaborate Carnevale celebration always takes place in Venice, and if you hurry you may still have time to find accommodations there. If not, celebrating Carnevale in Tuscany’s Mediterranean coastal town of Viareggio (about 70 miles west of Florence) is a  great Plan B.

Carnevale di Viareggio parades will be held on Febraury 5, 12, 18, 26 and 28. This resort town goes all out for this annual carnival season with parades along its beachfront promenade featuring papier-mache floats similar to Mardi Gras in New Orleans.  Costumed revelers,  concerts  and  masked balls highlight the season when the town’s population of 64,000 swells by  an  additional  800,000 or so  from those dropping by for Carnevale.

As the main resort town in this northern Tuscan Riviera, Viareggio is ready for fun all year round, but pulls out all the stops for Carnevale, which it has been celebrating  annually since 1873. Over the years its festivities have come to rival those of Venice and surpass those of other places in Italy.

Accomodations in Viareggio include a number of choices in just over to just under $100 per night. The Hotel Tirrenia, Hotel Katy, and the Best Western Grand Hotel Principe di Piemonte  are all popular choices. One of the most popular restaurants is the Ristorante Gli Amici del Gusto, which only serves fish and only seats 35, so reservations are needed

Carnival of Verona— Photo by Logan81
Carnival of Verona— Photo by Logan81

Viareggio is conveniently located on the train line that runs along the coast between Rome and Genoa. It’s just off the A12 autostrada that runs along the coast from the French border. The closest airport is the Galileo Galilei Airport in Pisa about 15 miles away. You could also fly into Florence’s  Peretola  Airport  or Genoa’s Christoforo Colombo Airport.  If you have extra time to travel you may  even find your best fares from LAX to Rome and then take the train to Viareggio.
If the Carnival in Viareggio or Venice both seem a little overwhelming or maybe a little too conventional for a regular carnival reveler,  try the celebration in Ivrea about 40 miles north of Turin in Italy’s Piedmont Region. Although Ivrea has a notable carnival parade, the main event  is an orange-throwing battle that lasts for three or four days and  traces back to Medieval times.
This puts a whole new perspective on the Mardi Gras shout of “Throw me something, Mister.”  Wearing a red hat is protection from an orange attack, but to have something to talk about for years to come just take off the hat and get ready for the oranges to fly. Flights from LAX into Turin are around $469 to $499 and up each way.
Carnival of Verona— Photo by Logan81

Verona Carnevale is one of the oldest in Italy, going all the way back to 1615.  The Verona parade on Fat Tuesday usually has as many as 500 floats that toss out some 33,000 lbs of candy to onlookers. To combine the the craziness of  Carnival, with the  romance of Valentine’s Day Verona  just may be the ticket. Afterall, it was Shakespeare’s setting for Romeo and Juliet. On choose from a number of different airlines with roundtrip rates from LAX to Verona for around $1,000.
If you  want to combine a carnival celebration with a full slate of winter sports, visit the Italian  Alpine resort town of Livigno. Here Carnival means a procession of downhill skiers and an obstacle  race, as well as a traditional street parade.
One thing is for sure, no matter which Italian Carnevale one chooses it will likely become one of the most memorable events of the winter season ahead. Even for those who don’t associate carnival as the period of revelry prior to the Lenten season, it is still a good excuse  to be a little more theatrical, a little more mysterious and even a little zany…and to celebrate with  like minded people.
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