Italy by Campervan



We're preparing for Carnival with an all-Italian trip. Let's set off to discover Viareggio, which hosts one of Italy's most famous Carnival celebrations. Thanks to the spectacle of the enormous, brightly coloured allegorical floats, the Tuscan city welcomes a large crowd each year against the backdrop of its elegant Liberty-style palaces. Here's our suggested route for campervan owners.


Viareggio is known, first and foremost, as a beach resort and for its traditional Carnival , but the city offers a unique natural landscape with its pine forests, hills, Massaciuccoli lake, the Apuan Alps, tourist port and a significant 3km-long seafront that boasts shops, theatres and elegant period palaces.
The city of “Italy's Carnival” has its roots in the 16th century, when it was the only access point to the sea of the Republic of Lucca.
The city's oldest building and symbol, the Matilde Tower, dates back to that time, built as a fortification in 1541 in light of the constant threat of attack by Barbary pirates.
Once upon a time, a large part of the inland area consisted of marshland which was developed between the 17th and 18th century. To protect this inland cultivation, violently buffeted by sea winds, a barrier made up of pine trees was erected along the seafront. This is how Viareggio's pine forest came about, a lush green oasis inside the city that extends all the way to the areas of Massaciuccoli, Migliarino and S. Rossore.

During the course of the 19th century, fishing and building activities took over, the city expanded and certain members of the nobility and the bourgeoisie moved here, including Paolina Bonaparte Borghese, sister to Napoleon, who commissioned the building of a seafront villa in which she stayed for a length of time. It was the start of a new season for Viareggio, characterised by the use of the bathing establishments. Thanks to its advantageous geographical position, its beaches, and the hospitality of its inhabitants, the city started to become a renowned beach resort. From 1828, elegant and grandiose beach clubs were erected on stilts, including the Nettuno, Balena, Felice, Oceano... Noble palaces were constructed alongside the more modest fishermen's homes and city expansion moved from the the ancient area around Matilde Tower towards the sea and along the beach. At the start of the 20th century the city was already the "Pearl of the Tyrrhenian", a worldly centre of culture and tourism that was appreciated all across Europe and a destination for intellectuals and artists such as Lord Byron, Manzoni, Puccini, D’Annunzio. Of particular note is its architecture, suspended between eclecticism and Liberty-style and visible in the Grand Caffè Margherita, Balena beach club, Caffè Concerto Eden and in various other buildings decorated with varnishes, lacquers and ceramics, typical of the 1920s and 1930s. A walk along the seafront offers one pearl after another, just like the thread of a necklace, in a vivid, surprising collection.

The very first parade of festive floats along the historic Via Regia, in the heart of the city, dates back to 1873. This was the start of what is now the Viareggio Carnival. Since then, the Carnival has developed into one of the most beautiful, scenographic and grandiose events and the fame of the Viareggio Masked Parade has continued to grow, just as the allegorical floats have grown in size. When the parade moved from Via Regia to the seafront, at the start of the 20th century, the Carnival boasted extraordinary staging, which stimulated the fantasy and creativity of the float Masters.
Nowadays, the whole city transforms into a fun factory for an entire month with parades of papier-maché giants , evening parties, fireworks, dances and special events.

The Masked Parades along the seafront
Fired from out at sea, the triple cannon shot is the unmistakeable sign that celebrations in Viareggio are underway, and marks the start of the float parade. As if by magic, the enormous masks come to life and move along the seafront accompanied by music and dancing. It is always an exciting new show, divided into five events, or rather the Grand Masked Parades. Every Sunday from 7 February 2016 up to Saturday 5 March, the grand Carnival takes place, at the end of which the winners are declared and the event closes with the Grand Fireworks Display.

One of the most interesting places to visit is surely the Carnival Cittadella, the biggest and most significant Italian centre dedicated to masks. There is no other Carnival-related centre that is as big in terms of size, space or services. It is home to the laboratories in which the manufacturers' ideas take shape, the hangars in which the enormous floats are constructed and kept, as well as two Museums and a study centre. All facing onto an enormous elliptical piazza that, in summer, serves as a show arena.
Not to be missed here are the Carnival Museum, which recounts the history of the Carnival tradition to old and young alike, and the Carnevalotto Museum of Contemporary Art, which houses works linked to the event and the sculptures that are awarded to the winner of each edition.

Carnival Museum
The Viareggio Carnival Museum showcases an historic, artistic and cultural patrimony that dates back more than a century. Here you can take part in didactic sessions that explain the various phases involved in creating a papier-maché piece, or in workshops where you can use clay or paper to experiment with modelling a papier-maché creation.
At the heart of the exhibition is the city's mascot, the Burlamacco, created by futurist painter, and Viareggio native, Uberto Bonetti. Used in advertising material in 1931, it was ahead of its time and became the logo for the Versilia Carnival. The Burlamacco incorporates all of the features of the main Italian masks.
At the museum, a Study Centre collates and conserves materials that document the 100-year history of the Viareggio Carnival, with an archive containing all the Carnival construction projects of the last 50 years.

Carnevalotto Contemporary Art Museum
The art museum hosts the prestigious “Carnevalotto” contemporary art collection that includes works of art, sculptures and graphics created by the most important Italian and international artists from 1987 up until today. Each year many famous artists create a work that is symbolically awarded to the float that places first in each edition of the Viareggio Carnival. Over time, the Prize has become a prestigious collection of modern art works by the likes of Giò Pomodoro, Sebastian Matta, Pietro Cascella, Piero Dorazio, Gianni Dova, Concetto Pozzati, Emilio Tadini, Bruno Ceccobelli, Igor Mitoraj, Arnaldo Pomodoro, Joe Tilson, Hisiao Chin, Ugo Nespolo, Luca Alinari, Antonio Possenti, Medath Shafik, Giosetta Fioroni, Walter Valentini, Arturo Carmassi, Aldo Spoldi, Alessandro Mendini and Gianfranco Pardi, and Emilio Isgrò.

Useful information:

The Carnival Cittadella of Viareggio is located in Via Santa Maria Goretti (motorway exit: Viareggio nord), just a short distance from the motorway, and can be used as a convenient and free parking area for campervans during the masked parades. Buses run regularly from here to the city centre.

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