The Best of Venice Carnevale
Photo courtesy of The Bauers Venezia
Just when Venice seems to be languishing in the deepest depths of the low season—albeit in the loveliest of ways—the canal city snaps back to life for the 18 days and raucous nights of Carnevale, this year running from now through February 12. The equivalent of Mardi Gras in New Orleans and Carnival in Rio, this fortnight-plus party features pageantry galore, food and drink and more than enough sophisticated-yet-slightly-debauched revelry.
A time of freedom caught between the drudgery of New Year’s resolutions and the meditative asceticism of Lent, Venice’s Carnevale comes to life with glorious masquerades and multilayered costumes that recall the days of Casanova, when La Serenissima, as the city is known, sat at the center of the world as both a global power and a wealthy trading hub. That era may have passed, but Venice remains the heart of the action this time of year. Here, the inside track on where to be, what to wear and who to know to experience it all.
Emily FitzRoy, founder of Bellini Travel (a specialist in bespoke Italian sojourns), reports that the Gran Ballo della Cavalchina (lacavalchina.com) on Saturday, February 9, should impress this year. As always, la Cavalchina—in years past a tie-up with the Comité Français Pour la Sauvegarde de Venise, the French version of the nonprofit Save Venice—will take over the city’s iconic Teatro La Fenice opera house, this year hosting performances by José Carreras and James Blunt. For her guests, FitzRoy has arranged made-to-measure togs from one of the best costume shops in the city, then arrival at the ball via La Fenice’s secret and very private gondola entrance. 44-20/7602-7602; bellinitravel.com.
Over at the palatial Bauer Hotel on the Grand Canal, owner and Venetian doyenne Francesca Bortolotto Possati will present two decadent events with a seductive Bauerlesque theme. Saturday, February 2, sees a colorful, highly sensory Indian affair. The following week brings in stilt-walkers, clowns, magic acts and acrobats for a Circus of Desire costume extravaganza. Event tickets, $605; weekend stay (including admission for two to the week’s event), from $2,200; San Marco 1459; 39-041/520-7022; bauerhotels.com.
The old-world Hotel Danieli will mount a series of events from February 1 to 12, including balls with 18th- and 19th-century themes, teas and lunches (from $135) and a pop-up costume atelier. The Danieli can also secure tickets to the 20th anniversary outing of the popular Il Ballo al Doge (ilballodeldoge.com) on February 9 at Palazzo Pisani Moretta (from $940), arranging costumes from the atelier of Antonia Sautter (antoniasautter.it), the event designer serving as the ball’s creative head. Veuve Clicquot is the official bubbly. Castello 4196; 39-041/522-6480; danielihotelvenice.com.
The noir-ish, Philippe Starck–conceived Palazzina Grassi will host several soirees, including the city’s official Carnevale opening-night dinner on February 1. Sadly closed to the public, that gala meal precedes a more accessible fête ($40) sponsored by Veuve Clicquot. Other options include a (hopefully not-too punishing) Fifty Shades of Grey masquerade on February 7, complete with live (and as-of-yet unannounced) performances (dinner and performance, $228; after-party only, $54) and an invite-only Hollywood costume party on February 8 inspired by the recent “Hollywood Costume” exhibit at London’s Victoria & Albert Museum. Palazzina G San Marco 3247; 39-041/5284644; palazzinag.com.