Head to Viareggio this February and experience one of Europe’s best carnivals

Ask most people about carnivals in Italy and they’ll probably talk about Venice and the famous masks that are associated with it. In actual fact though, one of the oldest and largest carnivals takes place in the city of Viareggio.

The first Viareggio Carnival took place in 1873 and, although it attracts more people these days, the same traditions are still incorporated. It takes place during February and March (from 5th February – 3rd March in 2012) and involves music, dancing, and of course, the usual carnival parades – there are five over the course of the carnival, which take place over the five weekends before Lent.

The parades consist of huge floats and papier maché puppets, accompanied by a range of performers. The biggest floats carry about 200 people in costume who dance and throw confetti and sweets to the crowds, and can be anything up to 20 metres in height. Often the puppets satirise public and political figures and depict social issues, although they can also be traditional fairy-tale characters.

Aside from the parades, carnival time also offers an exciting programme of related events including shows, masked balls, musical and plenty of eating and drinking extravaganzas. The main event takes place on Martedi Grasso (Shrove Tuesday), when there’s a fantastic firework display and a huge procession to take part in.

Taking an Italian course in Viareggio during the carnival will give you a great insight into this age old tradition, and will assure you a fantastic time to boot. Courses currently offered in Viareggio are General, Individual, Combined and Academic Year Italian, which can be booked from beginner level up and for however long you wish. Please visit the Cactus Language website for full details and to book.

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