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Masks at the ready... It's Venice Carnival

The city’s labyrinth of canals and streets of are lined with colourful masks and exuberant costumes. Late into the wintery night, party music and the scent of sweet treats fill the air, as the citizens walk the street in intricate masks and costumes… It’s a magical time of year here in Venice! 

The “Carnevale di Venezia” is an opulent celebration that lights up the city of Venice from Saint Steven’s Day to the first day of Lent. Carnevale is the Venetians’ last chance to enjoy the pleasures of rich food and wine before Lent’s 40 days of fasting and reflection.

The Carnevale is one of Italy’s grandest celebrations, drawing in thousands of visitors from all over the globe. From exclusive masquarade balls, to exciting boat processions on the canal, to the grand finale of fireworks for ‘mardi gras’, it’s definitely worth a visit.

How to join in....

Dress to the nines

Got room in your suitcase? Don't forget your costume. Whether you want to dress up as a princess, a cat, a pirate, a superhero, a masked Venetian... Anything goes. Many locals will just add a touch of something eccentric to their usual outfits. 

Join the crowds

There are loads of cultural events happening around town, most are free of charge! The celebrations begin with an extravagant parade on the Cannaregio Canal. 

In St Mark’s Square (Piazza San Marco), free events include the ‘Flight of the Angel’, when a costumed woman takes off from the bell tower and flies above the square, filled with cheering locals. Another unmissable sight is the ‘Festa delle Marie’, which evokes the old tradition of the Doge bestowing twelve local girls with dowries. 

You shall go to the ball! 

Feeling fancy? You could try and get your hands on a ticket for one of Venice's legendary masked balls... The most famous is the Ballo del Doge, but you're probably best off spending the eye-wateringly expensive ticket money on spritz, frittelle and cicchetti. 

Another option is trying your luck at the Ca’ Vendramin Calergi. Although the tickets cost €500 per person, there is a special 'gambling room' inside where you can try to win back your ticket money! (Which you can then spend on... spritz, frittelle and cicchetti.)

Spending Carnival at home?

“The Frittola puffs up and dances in the sizzling oil”

Frittole are one of Venice’s most important specialities, and Zamaria was the most famous “fritoler” (maker of frittole) in Venice. He would put up a shack in the street, where he sold cheap and delicious frittole for a penny each, served hot and covered with icing sugar. You might like to think of it as one of the donut’s ancestors.

Here’s his recipe from 1858, as he wrote himself: “In the evening, dissolve the yeast and prepare the dough ready for the next day; in the morning, you’ll see that the dough is beautiful and has risen. Put it in a glass of acquavite gagliarda and Izmir grapes, and knead vigoriously, before frying in plenty of the finest-quality oil.”

Bartolomeo Scappi, a personal chef of Pope Pius V, is credited as the inventor of these sweet treats. In his 16th Century book “L’arte del cucinare” (the Art of Cooking), he explains how to prepare the leavened dough balls. In his original recipe, no sugar is added to the dough, but many Venetians like to add a little for a touch of sweetness.  

How to Make Frittole at Home

This is a simple frittole recipe from our Cesarina host, Patrizia. She lives in a gorgeous apartment just a few minutes from St Mark's Square with her husband. Why not book a dinner or cooking class at her place next time you're in Venice

Patrizia's Frittole Recipe

Ingredients:  

  • 3 eggs  
  • 50g (1/3 cup) sugar  
  • 300g (2 cups) flour  
  • Small glass of grappa  
  • Grated lemon zest  
  • 3 apples, cut into small pieces  
  • 100g (1 cup) pine nuts  
  • 100g (1 cup) raisins, soaked in grappa  
  • salt  
  • 10g vanilla extract  
  • 1 sachet of yeast

Method:  

  1. Mix together the eggs, sugar, flour, vanilla, grappa and lemon zest.   
  2. Leave the dough to rest, then mix in the yeast, grapes, apple pieces and pine nuts until just combined.  
  3. Leave to rest in a warm, dark place, until the dough has risen until doubled in size.   
  4. To cook the frittole, form the dough into little balls and deep fry in plenty of very hot oil or lard.  
  5. As soon as they are golden brown, roll them in sugar and serve hot.

Buon appetito! 

Discover Venice through Food