Sure, everybody knows about Carnival in Venice, but did you know that Italy is teeming with spectacular 'carnevale' celebrations all around the regions?
We’ve included some of our favorites below, but if you can’t just hop on a plane to Italy, scroll down further to see how to bring Carnival to your own home with some authentic regional dessert recipes that spring up this time of year. We have also added this article as a free download from this page for your blog or similar..
#1 Italy’s most famous Carnival, Venice comes in at n.1.
Turn yourself into a living piece of art for the annual festivities. Buy a mask, put on a long cloak, and wander through the mists of the lagoon. Accommodations and events book up quickly, however, so be sure to prepare ahead of time, especially if you plan on attending one of the many gala dinners, masquerade balls, theater performances, or concerts going on.
#2 Perhaps second only to Venice, they take their carnival very seriously in Viareggio.
And not without reason, as it is one of the best and most famous in all of Italy. Visitors to this seaside town in Tuscany at other times of the year might stumble upon wire meshing and huge clowns' heads lying in back streets, in intense preparation for the all-important month of February. The carnival workshops of Viareggio even build floats for many carnivals worldwide, including that of Rio de Janeiro, so if you’ve already seen Venice or are simply looking for a similar option with less tourist traps, be sure to check out Viareggio.
#3 The Mamoiada Carnival is another favorite.
Not only due to its location on the beautiful island of Sardinia, but also for the devotion of the town’s citizens to ancient traditions. The shepherds, called Mamuthones, actually carry around 50 pounds of cowbells on their backs as they promenade through the streets, while the Issohadores represent invaders of the island and contrast starkly with their colorful costumes and white masks. These masks, hand-crafted each year by local artisans, are incredible to watch in the making and can be bought at different workshops in the area. While you’re at it, don’t forget to visit the nearby thermal baths, renowned for their purported healing powers since ancient Roman times.
#4 The next contender on the list would have to be the Acireale Carnival in Sicily, known for its gorgeous allegorical floats made out of flowers.
The celebration takes place against the backdrop of Acireale, which boasts a long history of Byzantine as well as Greek and Roman influences. No visit to the city would be complete without a stop in the library founded in the 1600s, as well as the many fresco-filled churches. But if these academic sites don’t interest you, at least go for a walk outdoors, because you’ll need to build up a large appetite for the local cuisine, including pasta reale, cannoli, and fresh seafood.
#5 Next up would be the Putignano Carnival, whose tagline can’t be beat: “Those who laugh, live longer.”
Their celebrations are some of the longest in the world, historically beginning on December 26th with the tradition of the Propaggine. It’s said that the practice began when farmers danced alongside the transportation procession of the Holy Relics from Monopoli to Putignano, which are still held today in the Church of Santa Maria della Greca. Don’t mistake the silliness for inferiority, however-Putignano puts on one of the best shows in the country.
#6 And of course we can’t forget the famous hometown of Romeo and Juliet, which hosts its own very unique style of Carnival.
Here in Verona, don’t be surprised if you see a king leading the procession with a life-size forkful of gnocchi. According to legend, when a famine hit Verona in the early 16th century, the nobleman Tomaso Vico handed out pasta to the poor and starving citizens of the city. After he died, a tradition sprung up from his will, ordering that from then on gnocchi be distributed to the Veronese inhabitants every year on the last Friday of Carnival.
#7 Moving East to the Piemonte region of Italy, we reach the rambunctious celebrations of Ivrea.
Here the town squares turn into battle grounds and any passersby run the risk of being hit by an orange. We do warn you to be careful, as it can be a particularly painful experience if the weather happens to be a bit chilly and the alimentary missiles become frozen! However, as long as you pay attention, you should be fine, since although the sport attracts up to 3,000 people, the event is well-organized and participants are divided up into nine different teams. Oh, and be aware that the holding up of a child in each of the four corners of the city indicates the start of battle!
#8 But if you consider the food fights of Ivrea to be child’s play, then you might be more interested in the darker carnivals of the Molise region.
In the town of Castelnuovo del Volturno, for example, theatrics focus on the mean-spirited Italian character of “Pulcinella,” who is typically shown capturing a man in deer costume and proceeding to ceremonially beat him. Or even more intimidating is the character of the Devil in chains that leads the celebrations in the village of Tufara, where he is eventually shot at. Perhaps it is only the cold winter weather inspiring such serious performances, but be prepared for more sobering antics if you choose this area as your Carnival destination this year.
#9 If you still like winter weather, but are looking for a carnival celebration that is a little more light-hearted, then you may want to choose Sauris instead.
Part of the mountainous Carnia territory of Friuli Venezia Giulia, Sauris is the highest town in the region and very cold at this time of the year. Not to worry, however, because the main protagonists at this festival are the 'Rölar' and the 'Kheirar'. The Rölar is a magically armed demon-figure whose role is luckily to warm everyone up for the evening's events. Other unique characteristics of the festivities include the wooden masks and walks along snow-filled paths in the local forest, accompanied by lanterns.
#10 Last but not least, we can’t forget to include the Offida celebrations of Le Marche.
This carnival pays strict attention to tradition, with a brass band exiting a 16th-century building every year on January 17th to officially announce the beginning of Carnival to the public. Theater performances are a major part of the festivities, attracting national and international visitors alike. The event’s organizers pay elegant homage to local history in in an atmosphere placed on the celebration of friends and family.
Our Carnival Recipes Selection:
Although the name of this dessert varies according to which region you’re from, they’re commonly called Cenci, Frappe, or Chiacchiere. Depending on how ambitious you’re feeling, you can create easy ribbons with your pasta, or get really fancy with some “Lover’s Knots.” While this recipe is made easier by using olive oil, traditional methods often call for actual lard to fry the dough in.
If you’re the type of person who feels as though you can never go wrong with mulled wine, then you’ll love these traditional Sicilian biscuits that make an appearance during Carnival. Very similar to the Tuscan Cenci, this recipe ditches the orange and lemon peels for the stronger taste of different wines. Instead of long strips of pasta, the Sicilian type creates a biscuit form instead, so be sure to prepare for an extra hour to let the dough rise. Don’t worry, though, it’s worth the wait! Giggi Eoliani recipe
Moving on to the Piemonte region, we find Castagnole. This recipe calls for rum or cognac in place of wine and creates a festive red color. They can also be served hot or cold, which makes them great for a party lasting into the night or just to have around the house. Although the Castangole form of fried Carnival treats are not as well known as Cenci, Italians fight over who can lay claim to their origin, which is generally a good voucher of their culinary worth.
Heading South down to Naples, we find Zeppole, which cannot be left out in the list of Carnival sweets despite the fact that you can also find them other times of the year. This recipe offers a lot of creative license as you can either fry them or cook them in the oven and then top them off with your choice of syrup, jam, chocolate, or Nutella. They are slightly more elegant-looking than the donut forms of other Carnival desserts, so you may want to save these ones for guests. If you happen to fall in love with Zeppole but get too lazy to make them every time, they can often be found in Italian-American neighborhoods in the States.
View Top 10 Carnival Destinations in Italy in a larger map