Getting Off the Beaten Path with Carnevale di Viareggio
But, I thought Carnival took place in Brazil? Yes, it does, but this is the one in Italy, on the Western coast of Tuscany in a beautiful beach town called Viareggio. The “Carnevale di Viareggio” actually takes place over an entire month with five days of processions each year. The processions are held on four Sundays and one on Fat Tuesday. The parades take place between the end of January and beginning of March, in the fours weeks prior to Lent. One of the appreciated aspects of this carnival is that it is more kid friendly than that of the “other” carnival in Brazil. All the events take place during the daytime hours filled with parades, music and dancing.
The floats are primarily made of papier-mâché and are all reminiscent of the “commedia dell’arte” figures. The Burlamacco is the main symbol for the Carnevale di Viareggio and in each of the parades. The Burlamacco is accompanied with a float composed of only female participants called the “Ondina” in honor of Viareggio’s tie with the sea and the summer (onda means wave in Italian). Typically, the floats are themed around current events and are almost always used to send a message about what is happening in the world at the time in a satirical manner. There is a competition amongst the floats and the winners are awarded at the end of the festival.
The Carnival of Viareggio started in 1873 with an inaugural parade of decorated carriages in the historic Via Regia, the heart of the old town of Viareggio. It was moved to the Promenade at the beginning of the twentieth century and has grown in size and popularity year after year. Nowadays, it is the largest Italian folk event with a budget of € 5 million (around $5.5M) per year.
In 1960, the area where the floats were built had burned to the ground, but failed to stop the Carnival. The people simply built elsewhere, until they could find spaces large enough to house the festive floats. For the past forty years, the float yards have been located in the hangars of Marco Polo street. Sixteen Hangars, where the allegorical floats are built, overlooks a giant elliptical square. In 2001, the new Cittadella del Carnevale, an extraordinary architectural complex entirely dedicated to the creation and preservation of the Carnival of Viareggio, was built. The Cittadella is also the place where the major outdoor events take place. There are two museums in the Cittadella, one dedicated to the history of the Carnival floats and the other to Carnevalotto, a valuable collection of works of art created by contemporary designers.
Most tourists find themselves heading to Italy over the summer months, but there is so much more to explore and learn about Italy when it is not engulfed with tourists. To me, the best parts of Italy are found when the locals are sharing their culture, not through museums, winery visits and art exhibits, but when they are living through their customs and traditions. The true understanding of Italy and it’s magic is through the people. Most of our villas are off the beaten path, hidden away from the hustle and bustle of the big cities, because we believe you get to know real and true Italy when you are lost in it…lost in the language, lost in the people, lost in the food. The beauty of this country lies off the well-tread paths and amongst the tiny villages.
There are a number of beach towns along the coastlines and islands of Italy. Most notably, we hear of Cinque Terre, the Amalfi Coast, Capri, Isola D’Elba and others, but the Versilia area of Western Tuscany is the most luxurious coastal front of beaches in Italy. The Versilia region runs from Forte dei Marmi in the North to Viareggio in the South and all the beaches in between are wide and seemingly, never-ending.
One of the little gems we found during our exploration and cultivation of our portfolio, was not far from Viareggio, called Forte dei Marmi, which means Fort of Marble. This town, literally, has marble walkways through this picturesque, upscale beach town that glides you from uber high end fashion to trattorias to a quaint merry-go-round, right in the middle of the main square. You may never have heard of Forte dei Marmi and quite frankly, the Italians might want to keep it that way, but we’re letting you in on a little secret. The streets are filled with Italians, who primarily summer here. You will be hard-pressed to find any tourists in this idyllic setting.
I know I am supposed to be writing about Carnevale di Viareggio, but it is hard not to digress into the beauty and allure of the Tuscan coastline. And if you do find yourself in Viareggio for the Carnevale, you’re too close to miss Forte dei Marmi.
So, try Italy at all different times and for different reasons. Try Carnevale di Viareggio in the Spring. Try the Brunello and Chianti regions in the Fall during harvest. But, if summer still pulls you, retreat to the stunning backdrop and solitude of the Mediterannean Sea to Forte dei Marmi for a luxurious respite…you will not be disappointed. You will find the beauty of the people of Italy there. You will taste the food they are so proudly and rightfully known for and your will find the piece of you that realizes the best part of this special country is where most tourists aren’t looking.