Prepare for chills and thrills if you are visiting Venice in February with a few wet days, a hint of snow, and some acqua alta. It’s also the month that kicks off the Carnival festive season that goes on for over two weeks culminating in the weekend before Shrove Tuesday (or Mardi Gras).
Shrovetide marks the coming of Lent, during which Christians fast for 40 days, and was celebrated with much merriment drinking, eating, and sex. Today, although Carnival no longer has the religious connotations, the fun element is in full force!
In 2019, Shrove Tuesday falls on March 5th, and that means mid-February onwards is the perfect time to enjoy some traditional Venetian performances.
The season starts on the morning of Sunday, February 17th, with the Festa sull’Acqua. All along the Grand Canal, revelers can enjoy the parade of boats and savour traditional delicacies on offer by the stalls at the Rio di Cannaregio where the parade ends.
The following Saturday, February 23rd, is the day of the Festa delle Marie, one of the oldest events in Venice. It has its origins in the feast of the Purification of the Virgin, the day on which betrothed couples were blessed. The twelve poorest girls were chosen from these couples to be given dowries by aristocratic families and, on their wedding day, they were taken to Piazza San Marco. Today, the girls are selected by a jury and taken on sedan chairs from San Piero di Castello to Piazza San Marco.
On the same day, a dinner and a ball are held in Palazzo Vendramin Calergi, a beautiful mansion that today houses Casinò di Venezia. Due to the many requests, it’s customary now to repeat the party almost every night. It’s grand and must be booked.
The next morning, the spectacular Volo dell’Angelo (the Flight of the Angel) occurs at the Piazza San Marco. From the top of the Campanile, a young lady attached to a rope flies down onto the Piazza. This too has historical origins: in the mid-16th century, a young Turk reached the belfry of the bell tower walking on a rope from a boat and then down to the balcony of the Palazzo Ducale, paying tributes to the Doge.
Feeling like wearing a mask and a costume? Please do, and you may even win a prize if your attire gets picked as the best one in the city. If you like to get even deeper into the thick of the carnival, there’s a fun place for both kids and kids-at-heart, to make your own mask: just pay a visit to Ca’ Macana.
For those who still want to celebrate the Carnival but dislike crowds, beautiful Burano with its smaller scale Carnival is the place to be.
End your February revelry in Venice on a sweet note with frittelle, a traditional Carnival sweet. Try the different patisseries around the city, if you can, for their own versions of these delicious fried doughnut balls with raisin and pine nuts. Our favourites are Rosa Salva, Tonolo and Targa. Our Prontopia guide will be happy to bring you around!