Top 5 Carnival celebrations in Tuscany

Streamers, silly string and satire

Mary Gray
January 30, 2014

Does the winter weather have you dreaming about day trips from Florence? Brighten up your dreary February by celebrating Carnevale. Carnival festivities will take place all over Tuscany throughout February. For specific dates and program details, visit the individual websites listed below. Confused about all the commotion? Carnival is a prolonged ‘last hurrah’ leading up to the somber liturgical season of Lent. The grand finale is Fat Tuesday, also known as Mardi Gras or Shrove Tuesday. Don’t miss out—pick your party mask, book your train ticket and toss your confetti—it’s carnival time!

 

1. Coastal gem Viareggio hosts the top carnival in Tuscany. In addition to the weekend events (February 1, 8, 15, 22 and 28), which include masquerade parties, comedy shows, costume balls and parades, there are plenty of shenanigans on Shrove Tuesday itself, which falls on February 17 this year. Come for the climactic parade at 2pm and you might even end up on national television—Rai 3 will broadcast the revelry live intertwined with images from the previous days of celebration. Papier-mâché floats will parade down the city promenade, with many featuring satirical effigies of politicians and other public personalities. In the past, plenty of the real-life figures have been spotted partaking in the festivities and getting first-hand looks at their likenesses. For more information, see viareggio.ilcarnevale.com.

 

2. Follonica Carnival is one of the top family February events in the upper Maremma, held on February 3, 16 and 23, and March 2. Take care when walking through the hordes of revelers—you’ll see many little ones tossing streamers and spraying silly string with abandon. Taste sweet treats such as cookies, pancakes and especially the traditional cenci, a fantastic excuse to indulge in fried goodness doused with powdered sugar! Listen to music or show off your singing skills at the various karaoke stands. And, of course, there’s a huge parade, led by the ‘Re Carnevale’ (Carnival King). For more information, see theflr.net/follonicacarnival.

 

3. Got a flair for the dramatic? You’ll feel right at home at Piombino’s carnival celebrations (February 10 and 12). In addition to offering the standard seasonal parades and parties, Piombino has a festival mascot: a giant papier-mâché mask called ‘Cicciolo,’ which is ceremoniously burned at the end of the carnival in front of thousands of onlookers. Before the mask-burning extravaganza, head to one of the many food and wine stands to sample local specialties from the Costa degli Etruschi and Val di Cornia wine trails. For more information, see carnevale.prolocopiombino.it.

 

4. Don’t miss the masquerades at the Carnival Santacrocese in Santa Croce sull’Arno (February 1, 8 and 15). The festival has its own special spirit: it began in 1928 as a way for bored locals to beat the wintertime blues. A small group of a dozen friends took close to 1,000 masks to the streets, and a local tradition was born. In addition to the masquerades and Sunday parades, in the past there have been plenty of concurrent theatrical productions and children’s entertainment. For more information, see carnevalesantacrocese.it.

 

5. To get off the proverbial ‘beaten path’ and witness some serious local pride, head to Bibbiena, the largest town in the valley of Casentino, for the Carnival of Mea. In the 13th and 14th centuries, Bibbiena became central to a regional Guelph–Ghibelline power struggle. To express disdain for their Florentine enemies, Bibbiena residents organized fabulous feasts, festivals and dances. Contemporary locals continue to honor this part of their history with parades on Shrove Tuesday. Adding to the local flair, the eldest resident of Bibbiena’s Fondaccini district traditionally lights a fire to kick off the evening festivities, which include singing, dancing and banquets. (no official website; events held on February 15 and 17)

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