Living the dream! The Magical Venice Carnival

by Darya Boronilo

Visiting the Venice Carnival has been a long-held dream of mine. A few years ago, I learned that the event is a world-famous annual festival distinguished for the elaborate masks and incredible participants’ costumes. What makes it even more remarkable is that this centuries-old tradition takes place in one of the most magical cities in Italy.

Needless to say, I often imagined myself walking the streets of Venice, enjoying the exceptionally bright and festive atmosphere of the city, and meeting the characters that seemed so mysterious due to their “incognito” status.

Finally, my dream came true! The Carnival trip day approached, and we headed to Venice with a group of friends on an early February morning. With a sinking heart, I was waiting to see the wonderful atmosphere of my beloved city. I’ve been to Venice before but always in the Summer. It turned out that visiting the city in winter is much more pleasant. No heat or humidity, and fewer tourists. In addition, the weather was very sunny.

Friends smiling on a cafe

Oh, What to Wear?

Upon our arrival, we went directly to get some creamy cappuccino and charged ourselves with energy for the long day. Enjoying the soft sun rays and stirring the airy foam of my drink, I observed how lively the city was, reviving from the start of a new day. Despite the very early time, many were already in costumes. Young groups of people, children, and even elder members of the family chose to participate, wearing the original outfits for the event.

We discovered that the Venetian Carnival dresses are unique pieces; they are handmade one by one in the ateliers of the city. Those ateliers specialize in historical research on garment models and carefully implement materials of excellent quality with incredible attention to detail.

Some sophisticated pieces need months of work at the ateliers to be completed. Their number is limited, and if someone wants to rent a costume during the Carnival, it should be done a few months in advance.
people with costumes standing on the bridge during Venice carnival

Who’s Behind the Masks of the Venetian Carnival?

On this day, we decided to skip the tour of tourist attractions such as Doge’s Palace, St. Mark’s Basilica, etc. We wanted to just simply stroll along the festive streets to feel the vibe fully. The costume-clad characters took their mission seriously and got used to their roles wonderfully. They posed skillfully, showing the best sides of their outfits, and were either profound, cheerful, or arrogant following their character – be it the costume of the jester, the wizard, or the noble lady of high society.

However, what specifically attracted our attention was the masks! They were skillfully made, and each individually thought out, painted, and decorated with gems, feathers, and patterns. Masks have always been an essential feature of the Venetian Carnival.

As a result, mask makers even enjoyed a unique position in society. They belonged to the fringe of painters and were famous for paying extreme attention to the details when drawing “the faces.” Venetian masks could be made of leather porcelain or using the original glass technique. They often had symbolic and practical functions. For instance, people with different occupations used to wear different masks.
Hand-made mask for the Venice carnival

Always Take Time to Dine!

It was interesting to observe how all this elegant public lived ordinary Venetian life. People in lavish costumes and hand-adorned masks drank coffee at small tables in the squares, smoked pipes and played cards, fed pigeons, and swam in gondolas along the canals. It instead felt like “a lovely Venetian daily routine.” I think their slow-paced life was that unique touch to this event compared with all other types of Carnival worldwide.

We then decided to have lunch at a small fish restaurant. I took Spaghetti Alle Vongole,” Italian for pasta with clams, the refreshing rosé wine, and thoroughly enjoyed the panoramic view of the canal and the famous Rialto bridge. The Carnival was already in full swing. The colorful crowds of people were walking through the streets, listening to music concerts, and watching artistic performances.

Spaghetti Alle Vongole

When in Venice, Take Time to Learn From a Wise Gondolier

After the satisfying lunch, we took the gondola ride. Despite the city being busy with tourists, we were lucky to find an available boat quickly. The vessel was constantly heeled, and the side sometimes almost touched the water.

However, our experienced gondolier asked us to relax and enjoy the views. He turned out to be not just an experienced captain of our small water taxi but also a wonderful storyteller. From him, we learned some interesting facts about the Venetian Carnival.

Surprisingly the Carnival dated back almost a thousand years ago. Some sources claim that it started as early as 1094. It was a once-a-year opportunity when people could hide their identity, sex, and even social class. Masks allowed everyone, regardless of gender, to be and act the way they wanted.

In the usually stringent Venetian Republic, it was a social event that cleverly permitted people, including the ones from the most humble social classes, some time to devote to themselves. Allowing them to abandon every other day to joy, music, and dancing.

As we were learning about history, with the confident movements of the gondolier, we were moving along the canal, under the arches of lace-like light-looking bridges, along the beautiful houses with vaulted windows decorated with lush flowers.People dressed up on a gondola Venice Carnival

Sunset Within a Golden Hour

By the end of the day, we took pictures of the city from the water with beautiful light during the golden hour. Silhouettes of slender towers and rounded domes of Venice gently shimmered in the light evening fog. Thick seagulls soared above us, begging for treats. The day flew quickly, and soon it was time for us to leave. As people were headed to attend one of the many infamous Masquerade Balls, we went up to the ferry as much as we wanted to join them.

It felt sad that this enchanting celebration ended for us in a glimpse. The captain of our small ferry seemed to mention those thoughts of mine. Suddenly he offered me to take the helm. And there I was, turning the old wooden steering wheel, of course, under his supervision.
It felt the most responsible and, at the same time, the most exciting task! The sun shined upon the golden waves when we were leaving the Venetian Lagoon, and I thought, “Even though the day passed so quickly, I can live it again and again in my memories.”
Of course, I bought one of the hand-crafted masks at the Carnival in Venice! It is now an excellent decoration in our family’s living room. And yes, every time I look at it, I remember the sights of Venice and one of the most luminous days of my life!

Venice is a great destination to travel to with your friends and family. If you visit during the Carnival you can all come in costumes and become the main characters of the event! Read our recent blog post about that! But the city is also a nice place to visit on your own. Check our tips for Venice solo traveling.

dinner by the canal with gondola in Venice

Why See Italy?

When you think of traveling to Italy, what comes to mind? The Colosseum, the Leaning Tower of Pisa, the canals of Venice, one of the many Unesco World Heritage sites?

While these are all iconic tourist destinations, they only scratch the surface of what this wonderful country offers. To truly experience Italy like a local, you must go off the beaten path and explore its lesser-known regions.

That’s where we come in; we know it’s hard to find a travel partner that doesn’t just feel like another retail experience. You want authentic travel experiences!

See Italy is one of Italy’s premium travel luxury brands that specializes in providing an authentic Italian experience. We work with local guides and tour operators who know the country inside out. They can show you hidden gems that most tourists never get to see.

So if you want to travel to Italy like a savvy insider, join our newsletter, or follow us on social media. You’ll receive top tips from our travel experts. Like this one, when you work with us to travel to Venice!

4 Non-Touristy Things to do in Venice, Italy

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