Since 1873, people have flocked to the Tuscan coastal city of Viareggio to party during Carnevale , the one-month period before Lent begins on Ash Wednesday. It's a long tradition that has grown over the years, making Viareggio the lively, fun-loving venue of one of Europe's most famous and largest Mardi Gras-style festivals. In Italy, it's second to Venice as the most popular Carnival in the country. Millions of Italians tune in to watch Carnevale's Fat Tuesday parade, which is broadcast live on national TV each year.
Master of Puppets (Photo by: Giulia Creative Commons)
Viareggio, the main city along the Tuscan coast known as Versilia, is a resort town with a dual identity. On the southern side of the Burlamacca Canal that crosses Viareggio, there's an industrial port where the uber-rich build and fit their luxury yachts. On the northern side of the canal lies the elegant resort stretching along miles of wide, sandy beaches beloved by generations of Italians. In the summer, families bask in the sun on neat rows of lounge chairs, returning as they have for years to their favorite beach clubs.
Viareggio's broad seaside promenade is lined with grand buildings designed in what Italians call Liberty-style architecture that is similar to Art Deco, alongside fashionable boutiques, bars, nightclubs and seafood restaurants. Just a few blocks inland are acres of park-like pine forest— la pineta —where lovers stroll, children play and bicyclists and joggers get their exercise under the shady canopy of trees. Among Viareggio's frequent vacationers over the decades were the poets Lord Byron and Percy Shelley and opera composer Puccini, who lived nearby.