Carnevale in Viareggio, Italy

Viareggio is an Italian seaside city just northwest of Pisa. This decidedly leftist city has been a beach resort since the mid-1800’s. The adjoining village of Torre del Lago has become something of an Italian gay mecca, mostly during the summer season, with gay-friendly B&B’s, hotels, and restaurants and a drag bar.

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Viareggio has gained fame for its annual Carnevale which takes place in the weeks leading up to Fat Tuesday. I attended the Viareggio Carnevale at the invitation of my Tuscan friend, Andrea, several years ago. As a result I vowed that I’d return someday with Dale in tow.  This year, we’ll attend the event with our Toronto cruise friends Gord and Gilles.

During my visit, this small town nearly burst at the seams with thousands of people waiting for the parade. “Oh, this will be quaint,” I thought, picturing Italian men carrying statues of the Virgin Mary on their shoulders through the streets. Nothing could be further from the truth.  Let’s just say that this isn’t the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade!

Raunchy and Political Yet Relaxed

The parade features gigantic floats with animated, life-like papier-mache effigies. Some of the spectacular floats stand several stories. They are created by year-round employees working in a special industrial park called Cittadella del Carnevale (literally, city (or citadel) of the Carnival.)

The parade featured pointedly politically themed floats, each earning a roar of approval from the crowd.  Most of the satire targeted political leaders and the Roman Catholic Church. I felt a bit flabbergasted by the chutzpah of the Cittadella del Carnevale float builders!  Silvio Berlusconi, Italian Prime Minister at the time, received much of their ridicule.

There parade did not shy away from raunch or violence. The parade I saw during  the George W. Bush-era included one float picturing a jubilant Hillary Clinton cutting off W’s head and placing it in a garbage can!  On a less playful note, what we would experience as xenophobia and racism made more than passing appearances.

In the USA, a similar public display of political satire might foster an atmosphere of public drunkenness and even danger. Here, however, I witnessed virtually no public drinking. In fact, I observed a relaxed, family vibe among the parade’s appreciative audience. Scores of cute Italian children perched on the shoulders of their cute Italian papas.

A trip to this region might include Pisa, Livorno, the Cinque Terra and Lucca. It would make a terrific add-on to a cruise originating in Civitavecchia, the port for Rome. If you want to experience an extravagant carnival atmosphere without the congestion of Rio, and at far lower prices than Venice, you might well make plans for Cittadella del Carnevale.  The parade runs on several dates from February 5 through 28, 2017.

You’ll want to make hotel reservations soon unless you’ll be aboard your own yacht!  Buono Carnevale!