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Celebrate Carnevale in Sicily

Festivals that celebrate Carnevale are held every year throughout Italy; some of the oldest and most spectacular on the island of Sicily! The city of Acireale has long been known to have one of the most beautiful Carnevale festivals in all of Sicily.


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Monstrous floats wind their way through Acireale's historic center

Venice may be the first thing that comes to mind when you think of carnivals in Italy, but one thing is sure about the people of Sicily, they absolutely know how to throw a party! Carnevale here brings together all the things I love the most about Sicily and its people; passion and flamboyance, culture and community, and an unapologetic zest for enjoying life. Read on to learn all about this amazing yearly celebration!


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What is Carnevale?


The origins of Carnevale in Italy are linked to pagan feasts, believed by most to be traced to ancient Greece and Rome. The history of the celebration in Acireale dates back as far as the 16th century. It’s come a long way from its beginnings, which included people dressing in costumes and throwing fruit at each other. Lucky for us, it has evolved over time and is now most well-known for its giant parade of floats that are decorated with thousands of flowers and feature colorfully animated, if not somewhat creepy, allegorical characters.


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Who doesn't love a gigantic evil pig?

In modern times, Carnevale is akin to Mardi Gras, as it falls at the same time and offers one last chance to indulge yourself in food and drink before lent begins. However, the celebrations in Sicily are very family friendly. There’s no bead throwing or topless girls here. What you will find is the street party of a lifetime, as you witness towering neon floats with flashing lights and billowing smoke, playing music that has thousands of people in the streets singing along. As you walk through the streets, be prepared to have your head on a swivel, as children throw paper confetti at anyone who crosses their path. It's all about community here, so if you get assaulted by a handful (or two, or three) of confetti, it just means you've been accepted as part of the family.


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Make sure you come hungry, and be prepared to indulge yourself in sweet cookies and deep fried pastries that will tingle your taste buds. Of course you can still find plenty of pasta with rich sauces or pistachio cream, but the sweets steal the show at Carnevale. My two favorites are "chiacchiere" and "crispelle". Chiacchiere are like cookies, made from strips of dough that are deep fried, and then topped with dusted powdered sugar or melted chocolate. I recommend trying both, as I can’t choose a favorite. Crispelle are another deep-fried Sicilian specialty. They are made from a ball of dough that is either fried plain and drizzled with honey, or filled with ricotta cheese. Again, I insist that you try them both and determine your own favorite.


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Deep fried crispelle in progress!
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How do you want your crispelle?

Acireale is the perfect backdrop to immerse yourself in this historic and cultural celebration. Recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage site for its baroque architecture, Acireale is an architectural and artistic gem. “Reale” means “royal” in Italian. As you walk down the main street of the historic center, Corso Umberto, you can imagine that many of the buildings were built as palaces for its royal citizens and wealthiest families.


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We're all family now!

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Are you ready to celebrate Carnevale in the beautiful city of Acireale? Here’s everything you need to know!


When do they celebrate Carnevale in Sicily?


Carnevale in Acireale lasts for about two weeks each year, ending the day before lent. Typically this is around the end of January/beginning of February. The dates change from year to year due to the variation in when lent begins. The city of Acireale has a website dedicated to Carnevale with the official program for each year.


How do you get to Acireale?


Acireale is just north of Catania, about 30 minutes by car. The closest airport is Catania Fontanarossa Airport. If you are driving to Acireale just for the carnival, you’ll have to find street parking just outside the historic center, as the entire center will be shut down and is pedestrian only during the festivities. I would try to park along Viale Principe Amedeo on the north side, or along Via Galatea on the east side. I absolutely hate parking in Acireale, whether there is a festival or not, so my best advice is to go early and plan to stay all day. Better yet, stay a night or two!


After parking, to get into the festival you’ll head for either Piazza Indirizzo on the north side or in the general direction of Piazza Duomo di Acireale on the south side. Like most things in Sicily, it tends to be pretty chaotic, so if all else fails, just follow the crowd.


If you’re traveling to other places in Sicily I do recommend renting a car, because the train lines in Sicily are not as fast or as frequent as in other parts of Italy, and there are many beautiful places that are difficult to reach by public transportation. That being said, it is possible to reach Acireale by train from the Catania’s central train station (Stazione Centrale). There is no direct train from the airport, but it’s easy to get to Catania city center and then take a train to Stazione di Acireale. Here’s a link for more information on getting to Catania’s central train station from the airport.


After reaching the train station in Acireale, I suggest that you take a taxi to the historic center. It’s possible to walk to the city center from the train station, but it will take about 30 minutes and part of the route is on a rather busy street.


What else can you do in Acireale?


I highly recommend staying a few days in Acireale if you have the time! It is a gorgeous city built along the eastern coast of Sicily with stunning views of the Ionian Sea. Nearby, you can find beaches, volcanic coastlines, and of course, Mount Etna smoking away just behind you.


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Explore Acireale's historic center and Baroque architecture

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Walk through Acireale's Villa Belvedere for beautiful views of the Ionian Sea

With ancient Greek roots dating back to the 6th century, Acireale is one of nine cities that bear the word “Aci” in their names. Acireale came to be a military stronghold for the various civilizations that settled here over the centuries: the Greeks, Romans, Normans, Spanish, and Arabs to name a few. You can glimpse traces of all of these civilizations as you walk through its crooked, cobblestone streets, past churches, municipal buildings, and old palaces. You can taste it in the local cuisine, a perfect blend of Italian and Mediterranean with hints of North African influence. Check out this article for information on Acireale, how it got its name, and what to do in its sister “Aci” towns.


 

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Check out some of the other articles on my European Destinations page or read more about Sicily below!





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