February in Tuscany is the month of Carnival and lots of towns celebrate this festive season with colourful float parades, masquerades and decorated streets. Here is a guide to Carnival celebrations in Tuscany.
Viareggio Carnival is the most famous of the lot, with five big parades throughout February. It's renowned for its satirical floats made of papier-mâché and if you haven’t seen a float before, you can’t even begin to imagine how big they are: the floats’ maker needs a special place to build them, called a hangar (like the ones used to house airplanes!). If you are lucky enough, they’ll let you in to see these handmade wonders.
The parades are not the only event during the month: there are also parties held in the various neighbourhoods of the city, called “rioni”.
In Versilia, there are other smaller carnivals near Viareggio, for example, in the town of Pietrasanta. The “Carnevale Pietrasantino” has taken place in the streets of the town centre since the early twentieth century.
During the parades, important historical moments for the town are remembered. Currently, the event includes masked parades with papier-mâché floats, which are usually held for three consecutive Sundays. There's also a Mardi Gras event dedicated to children in Piazza Matteotti.
A few days before the Carnival is held, you can also enjoy the Theatre Festival in local dialect at the Teatro Comunale di Pietrasanta.
The Carnevale di Veneri, a hamlet part of the Pescia municipality, also includes parades with floats, people in carnival costumes and folk groups for three Sundays full of fun� for the whole family.
The Carnival of Bientina dates back to 1939. Apart from people in masks, float parades and folk groups to the delight of kids and adults alike, usually there is a fireworks display that closes the festival.
The Santa Croce Carnival is an authentic folk festival where the creativity and imagination of the people create unique and beautiful masks.
The four masked local groups are committed with their sumptuous costumes covered in sequins, parading on "fossi" (the central square of the village) with choreographies.
The parade of Santa Croce dates back to 1928.
The Cecina Carnival was founded in 2010 and it is one of the most recent carnivals in Italy. Despite this, the festival aims to become a leading event in Tuscany.
The parades are just some of the events on schedule: the streets of the town centre will be brought to life by a number of side events and performances, making the carnival in Cecina truly unique.
Another important carnival festival in Tuscany is held in Piombino. The Piombino Carnival has strong historical roots and was restarted by the Pro Loco association of Piombino in 2008.
It has been held since 1927 and the central figure of this event is the "Cicciolo", a cardboard mask representing a man holding a glass of wine, which at the end of the event is burned in the city's main square (Piazza Bovio) in front of thousands of people.
Info: Carnevale Piombinese on facebook.com
The Follonica Carnival is called Carnevale Follonichese and began in 1910 with a ball. It currently boasts a packed program with a parade of papier-mâché floats, masked parades, tournaments, parties, exhibitions and music.
In the Maremma area of Tuscany you can also find the “Carnevaletto da Tre Soldi” in Orbetello, dating back to 1953. It is a parade with floats and masked groups along Corso Italia, where people throw candy and confetti on the crowds made of children and families.
There are also itinerant street artists who delight people with their performances. At the end of the parade, the best float is awarded.
Info: Carnevaletto da Tre Soldi on facebook.com
The carnival of Foiano della Chiana, in the surroundings of Arezzo, has been held since the Middle Ages and can boast of being one of the oldest carnivals in Italy! Here, the main character is the King of the Carnival, a fake figure with a mask made of hay and dressed in rags that is burned in a bonfire, the Rogo Giocondo, at the end of the event.
The Castiglion Fibocchi Carnival, also known as “Carnevale dei figli di Bocco” (or Carnival of the Sons of Bocco), takes place a few kilometres from Arezzo and it's an age-old event with participants dressed in costumes and papier-mâché masks.
During this Carnival you can find street performers, theatre, food stalls and colourful parades!
The Carnival of San Giovanni Valdarno is one of the oldest of Tuscany.
In addition to the masked parades, the village boasts the tradition of “Uffizi di Carnevale”, dating back to 1675. This ancient tradition of San Giovanni is celebrated in the five Sundays before Mardi Gras and has a religious meaning; that is, to celebrate the dead with offerings to the oratory of Santa Maria delle Grazie.
Even today the tradition is held in the Basilica with meals based on local recipes and typical stew of San Giovanni, preceded by a parade of the cart with pageboy in costume.
The Mea Carnival in Bibbiena is related to local history, but there are also masks, food, dancing and celebrations that evoke a dramatic story of war and siege that, in the fourteenth century, saw the city of Bibbiena at the centre of a dispute for power.
The “Carnevale Mugellano” in Borgo San Lorenzo is an event for all ages where everyone can have fun with lots of music, confetti and streamers. The program of events includes parades of floats, trains and boats.
Info: Carnevale Mugellano on facebook.com
The Carnival on the Two Banks (Carnevale sulle due rive) or the Spicchio and Sovigliana Carnival is famous for its floats of considerable size, which offer hospitality to all who love colours. In fact, children, parents and grandparents can actually ride on them, guaranteeing fun for everyone.
The masked parade carnival of Clove and Sovigliana takes place along Viale Togliatti and on Shrove Tuesday, the last day of the carnival, the parade takes place at night, followed by the traditional bonfire of the Carnival King and a fantastic fireworks display. Contour to the event is a market of typical food and handicrafts.
In Siena there are 17 carnival celebrations, one for each district (contrada). This is a special chance to immerse yourself in the spirit of this city. The afternoon is dedicated to children with games and the evening is for adults with masked parties and performances.
Do not miss the gastronomic events.
There is also the game of “pentolaccia”, shows of magicians, contests of jokes and live music. Mardi Gras is celebrated all together in the Piazza del Campo, a large open-air theatre (free admission).